Management by exception is a tempting scenario in today's fast-paced, time-scarce work environment. A surveillance system or programmed watchdog that automatically screens out routine problems and alerts us only to situations requiring immediate attention is indeed appealing.
But you won't get optimum performance from your tires if you take that approach. For one thing, how well your tires perform depends on a number of different people involved in a variety of activities: mounting, maintaining inflation, retreading, repairing and driving. Coordinating these activities requires active management.
Tires are unique in that they're especially dependent on good maintenance. This includes periodic visual inspection, inflation maintenance and repair, as well as attention to vehicle conditions related to alignment, suspensions, shock absorbers, torque arm bushing maintenance, driver habits, and even fifth-wheel lubrication.
Although they can exhibit a variety of symptoms, the tires themselves are not always the culprits. It takes training, knowledge and experience to accurately determine whether indications of fast or irregular wear, for example, are the result of a problem with the tire itself or of something else altogether — another vehicle component, bad driving habits or the idiosyncrasies of a specific vocational application.
Examples of this include the severe irregular wear conditions on shoulder lugs of many high-tread drive tires when used on early-generation air ride tandems, or rapid shoulder wear of both steer tires on some truck models with compliant (soft) rear suspensions combined with high-torque drivetrains. Driver complaints of poor steer tire traction on short-wheelbase, tandem-drive tractors used in delivery service is another. In each of the above cases, the tires themselves were not the primary cause of the problem.
Such multi-faceted situations tend to become overly complicated. And when third parties are involved, blame can be placed inappropriately.
Since it's become more common for fleets to outsource portions or even all of their tire programs, it's more important than ever that someone knowledgeable be responsible for coordinating the efforts and monitoring the performance of multiple suppliers.
Modern tubeless radial truck tires have evolved to be so reliable and durable that it is tempting to take their performance for granted, especially when lots of other issues are competing for a maintenance manager's time and attention.
While it's true that tire problems, especially those of emergency proportion, have become less frequent and severe than ever, tires are still typically a fleet's second-highest non-personnel operating expense. So your tire program can have a large impact on the company bottom line — even if you aren't experiencing any day-to-day emergencies.
Therefore, it makes sense — and cents — to take advantage of the information available about how components affect one another. Training programs, materials, diagnostic procedures and other information are widely available from tire and vehicle industry sources. In addition, experienced technicians can provide valuable input.
The ultimate challenge is to construct and maintain a tire program that coordinates the basics of proper tire selection, inflation maintenance, tire servicing, record- keeping and cost analysis. Exceptional, cost-effective tire programs go far beyond the approach of managing by exception.