Run-flat prevention

Return on investment for systems deserves a second look

In every line of work, there are always some inevitable problems that appear to be without a solution. Saying these are the costs of doing business is simply easier than saying there has to be a solution, but we just can’t figure it out. When it comes to preventing run-flat tires in the trucking industry, the search for nirvana has led us to travel numerous roads, most of them with obstacles that cannot be avoided.

The fact is that flat tires cannot be avoided. Road debris, curbs and other hazards are going to breach the pressurized air vessel. In some cases the damage will be repairable and in others it will not. The key is making sure that the tire and/or casing is brought to a professional repair facility for a fair and educated assessment.

You can’t talk flat prevention unless you start with liquid sealants. These products are guaranteed to stop the leak—and many of them are quite effective in that respect. But the sealant typically makes a mess on the inside of the tire, so it needs to be washed out before it can be properly repaired or retreaded. Unfortunately, this often comes at an additional cost. Even if the object is removed and the sealant continues to stop the leak, the damage to the belt and body cables is still there, and it doesn’t repair itself down the road.

The newest entry in the race to prevent flats is the solid sealant. The concept of a solid sealant is to coat the inner liner under the tread with sticky material that will maintain its shape while the tire is rotating and then seal the area around a penetrating object or the void left by one. Although there appears to be a market for this type of sealant, the damage is still not removed, it is extra weight, and the repair process is difficult to say the least, so expect extra charges.

Then there are the automatic inflation systems that provide constant air to the trailer tires. While they are very effective at reducing tire cost and extending tread life, they are also limited to trailers, and the driver is only notified that a tire is losing air. The driver has no idea how bad the situation is or how many trailer tires are losing pressure, so this lack of information can and often does lead to expensive guessing if they choose to bank on the system staying ahead of the air loss.

Finally, fleets can install electronic tire pressure monitors in each tire that will allow the driver to see the actual inflation pressure at each position. The notification of air loss would be instantaneous, allowing the driver to resolve the problem as soon as possible while at the same time protecting the tire and casing asset. Even though a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) works on every wheel position, this technology still hasn’t caught on with mainstream trucking.

Flat tires cannot be prevented, but they can be easily identified and properly repaired before the casing is in jeopardy of an early exit that would ultimately require emergency road service. In fact, TPMS becomes fool-proof when the inflation pressure data is monitored via telematics, which means drivers cannot ignore the in-cab warning indicators. If you’re looking for a solution to the run-flat problem, the technology is in place. With rising tire prices and roadside service costs, the return on investment deserves a much closer look.

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