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Where rubber meets retread

Where rubber meets retread

It‘s pretty simple when you lay the facts out about retreads to fleets: they‘ll save them a lot of dad-gum money.” -Robert “Bobby” Ford, assistant center manager, Goodyear Truck Care Center, Dallas TX.

Got a chance to sit down with Ford and Scott Schranck the other day and talk not only about how retreading truck tires can save fleets money but also about how proper tire maintenance can save them even more - and may determine whether fleets get an opportunity to retread their tires or not.


(Scott Schranck checks over tires being readied for inspection and then retreading. The barcode Scott is pointing to allows Wingfoot to track each tire individually for fleet customers -- vital when it comes to compiling wear pattern evidence that may reveal alignment or other wheel issues.)

Schranck, regional business operations manager for Wingfoot Commercial Tire Systems LLC - the retreading arm of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. - explained to me that the economics of retreads is pretty simple. “On average, a retread is one-third the price of a new tire and is much more environmentally friendly,” he says.

[Below, Bobby Ford highlights the types of irregular wear that can damage truck tires -- preventing them in some cases from being retreaded.]

Industry figures note that it takes 22 gallons of oil to manufacture one new truck tire, most of it used to make the tire casing, which is then reused in the retreading process. As a result, it takes only 7 gallons of oil to retread a tire - and that‘s why retreading helps save annually more than 400 million gallons of oil in North America.

According to retreading expert Marvin Bozarth, one-time executive director of the former American Retreaders Association (now merged into the Tire Industry Association), more than 33.5 million tires on North American commercial vehicles wear out and must be replaced every year - and 16.5 million, or nearly 49% of them, will be retreads.


("Old style" retreading: this is where new tread is carefully stitched on manually once a tire clears inspection, the old tread is "buffed" off and any minor nicks and dings are repaired.)

“[Truck] fleets favor retreads over new tires because it makes economic sense,” he says. “That‘s because the cost of a retread is typically 30% to 50% lower than a new tire.”

In addition, the quality of retreads has improved in recent years to the point where they provide comparable life and performance to new tires, Bozarth adds. “In the 1960s and 70s, treads would wear out in 60,000 to 70,000 miles,” he explains. “Now a retread tire can go 200,000 miles or more, depending upon the wheel position and application. The tire construction has improved and today‘s tread compounds are more resistant to heat so they wear better.”

For example, the Buy Recycled Business Alliance (BRBA), an offshoot of the National Recycling Coalition formed in 1992 in partnership with 25 major American businesses, said that when the original tread is worn off the casing of a large truck tire, less than 30% of the tire investment is realized. Retreading can recover the rest of the investment, the group notes.


(These retreads are being loaded into the "chamber" where they will be "cooked" or vulcanized so the new tread firmly adheres to the old casing. As you can imagine, this process creates a lot of heat -- and with three chambers in Wingfoot's Dallas location in operation at any one time, added to the outside temperature on a typical summer day of over 100 degrees, being inside the building is like being in a sauna at times.)

Thing is, though, truckers won‘t get the benefits of retreading if they don‘t care for their tires properly in the first place, stressed Goodyear‘s Ford. “Tire wear comes from heat, generated by frication on the pavement and low tire pressure,” he says. “The lower the tire‘s air pressure, the hotter it will run and the faster it will wear out. And we‘re talking about running 10% to 15% under-inflated here, too.”

That includes not only maintaining proper tire inflation pressure but also pulling the tire before all of the original tread is used up - usually between 6/32nd and 5/32nd of tread depth, according to tire industry averages. Go below that and you risk damaging the tire casing and thus eliminating the possibility of retreading that tire.

I also toured Goodyear‘s Wingfoot retreading facility down here in Dallas, TX, to get a glimpse of all the technology and care being expended on retreads - largely because more and more fleets in these tight economic times are beginning to realize retreads can save them some serious money.

[And of course, I could NOT resist the chance to have some fun, as the video below illustrates ...]

“Typically, it takes a full day - one 12 hour shift - to go through the entire retread process for one tire,” Ford told me, trying to be heard above the din of tires being buffed, repaired, then retreaded. “Naturally, when fleets are sending us hundreds of casings at a time, we can‘t turn them all around that fast, so we typically offer a seven-day turnaround window for them.”

About 75% of truck tire wear during the year occurs between April and October, leading to a falloff in retreading activity during the remaining months - the biggest drop from December through February - simply because the heat brought on by spring and summer temperatures is a major tire killer.

“It all depends on the state, though,” adds Schranck. “Florida, where it‘s warm almost all year round, only sees a 10% drop in business over those months, whereas in an area like Dallas we may see a 20% to 25% drop.”


(Good as new: once vulcanized, painted and tagged, retreads get stacked in preparation for shipping back to customer fleet terminals -- by trucks, of course.)

Ford stresses, though, that it all goes back to properly taking care of tires. “You must keep them properly inflated - not only does that prevent irregular wear, it improves fuel economy as well,” he says. “Take care of your tires and you‘ll save a lot of money over time.”