While the government and tire manufacturers wrestle over a new rating system for rolling resistance on passenger and light-truck tires, it appears that more and more trucking companies are already using fuel-efficient tread designs and rubber compounds. On a major scale, the impact can be measured by the millions of dollars in fuel costs saved even if it increases tire costs. Yes, you read that correctly. Low-rolling resistance tires and retreads typically have less tread depth than standard tires and retreads so they may need to be replaced more often.
Tire performance is defined by a number of properties. In the past, treadwear was the most important characteristic as fleets looked for long-wearing compounds that measured miles in the hundreds of thousands. Those in the waste-hauling business, for example, needed tires with cut- and chip-resistant rubber that could withstand the constant debris that collects along the curb, so the tire and retread manufacturers developed tires that last two and three times longer than their counterparts of just a decade or two ago.
But the name of the game lately appears to be fuel — even though prices are almost half of what they were just a year ago. Savings are savings in this economy, and having a fuel-efficient tire program in place makes perfect sense given the global instability in oil prices. It would be nice to think that fleets are protecting themselves from future oil spikes, but regardless of whether that's true, having low-rolling resistance rubber on the ground is still a good idea.
Since tire performance is ultimately a trade-off of properties, there have been some questions regarding the stopping ability of fuel-efficient tires and retreads. The truth is that a vehicle with these tires may require more distance to stop than a similar vehicle equipped with tires that feature a high-traction compound and design. But low-rolling resistance tires are just as safe as standard truck tires, so fleets should not be concerned about drivers losing control on wet or dry surfaces.
That being said, traction is extremely important in some parts of the country, especially during the winter months when fuel-efficient tires and retreads may not be the answer. One way to reduce rolling resistance is to limit the number of tread blocks that dissipate mud and snow. It won't be much of a factor in the summer or on dry days, but when the snow hits and the plows don't make it to the side streets or back roads, drivers may not be fans of the “fuel” tires.
Advances in rubber compounding and tread design have revolutionized the concept of application-specific truck tires and retreads. If fleets want deep tread tires that can deliver more than 100,000 mi. provide excellent traction, then they must understand it's going to come at the expense of rolling resistance. Likewise, low-rolling resistance tires are not designed to wear slowly or provide maximum traction so fleets should expect to replace them more often.
But the most important thing to remember is that the tire and retread manufacturers would never make safety a trade-off. I've been in this business for more than 27 years and I cannot remember a major recall of radial truck tires or retreads. With an unparalleled record of safety and a history of consistent performance improvements, fleets have no reason to doubt the reliability of the modern radial truck tire or retread.