Debunking the ‘gator’myth

No matter how much evidence exists, some remain in denial

While it can be a challenge to know what’s on the mind of real-world truck drivers, a few hours at the recent Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville, KY, proved that their opinions about retreading remain strongly divided. The Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB) sponsored a “Spot the Retread” contest and gave away more than $10,000 in free retreads. Yet despite the rising cost of fuel and tires, there were still a lot of drivers and owner-operators who refused to even consider the option of running retreads.

Of course, these same individuals are probably the type of people who still complain about the quality of the picture with their VCR and the complete lack of good cassette tapes. Technology means nothing to them. I tried to explain the concept of shearography to one company driver so he would understand how much retreads have changed. And then I pointed out the slight differences between the new tires and the retreads in the TRIB contest. I did this several times, but it appears that to some people, retreads are a lot like anchovies: You’re either all in or all out. There is no middle ground.

The primary objection from the VCR crowd was predictably the road gator. They were convinced that retreads fail more often than new tires, so the highways are littered with formerly retreaded tires. When I told them that NHTSA sponsored an independent study that proved the proportion of tire debris from retreads and new tires was similar to the proportion of those tires in service, most of them said they wouldn’t trust data from the same people who thought up CSA. They also were not interested in the data that concluded the top three reasons casings were removed from service were road hazards at 33%, maintenance/operational factors at 29%, and overdeflection at 14%.

By contrast, less than 10% of the casing failures could be attributed to the actual retread process. The most common issues were related to casing selection, repair and tread rubber application. It’s also important to note that less than 1% of all truck crashes had a “coded tire defect,” so safety concerns regarding the operation of retreaded tires are completely unwarranted since the tires in general are rarely the cause of an accident.

Temperatures are rising so tires with inflation pressures that are on the borderline will become the first candidates for a road call. Trailers that have been sitting for long periods of time are the most likely hiding spots. There needs to be communication between the dispatcher and the driver when a piece of equipment has been parked for a while. Drivers need to put away the thumpers and gauge each tire, which means fleets need to make sure there are inflate-thru valve caps on all the valve stems. Most gators happen when the tire overheats as the result of low inflation pressure. Any system or technology that can limit the time when a tire is subjected to abuse is going to save money in the long run.

Based on my experience, it looks like retreads are going to continue as the scapegoat for gators in the minds of most truck drivers. Company drivers run them because they have to (but they don’t like it), and quite a few owner-operators choose the perceived extra security of a new tire. None of the drivers wanted to hear about savings or performance. But the facts are the facts, and it is well documented that faulty retreads are not the primary cause of gators on the highways.

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