When I started as a technician in my family's tire dealership 23 years ago, I can honestly say I had no aspirations to stay in the tire business. At the time, I figured the money was good, the work was steady and eventually I would finish college and get a real job. My plan worked to perfection and after graduation I began working for a large car rental company.
But somewhere along the line, I missed the tire business and returned to the dealership as a commercial salesman and eventually became the service manager. A little more than nine years ago, I joined the International Tire and Rubber Association and developed a training and certification program that has reached over 15,000 truck tire and wheel service technicians. It's been a wild ride, to say the least.
As the senior vice president of education and technical services for the Tire Industry Association, I work with all the tire, retread and wheel manufacturers to develop procedures for technicians and maintenance personnel. I've served as chairman of several task forces for the Technology and Maintenance Council and am an active participant in the tire and wheel study group. I never thought that those summers on a service truck would become so valuable.
I am fortunate to have an incredibly unique perspective on the truck tire and wheel industry. Over the past two decades, my career has enabled me to see things from the perspectives of a technician, a tire dealer/retreader, a tire/wheel manufacturer and a supplier. I've also seen and heard what works and what doesn't work for fleets in the field.
Now I have the opportunity to pass that knowledge and experience onto the readers of FLEET OWNER. To illustrate how this column is going to address the industry, let's take a quick look at nitrogen inflation.
The importance of proper tire inflation has been drilled into the heads of the transportation industry for as long as anyone can remember. Now that nitrogen separation units have become commercially available, the salesmen are no doubt lining up at your doorstep.
Some of them will tell you that you can inflate your tires with nitrogen and never worry about them again. Others will say that irregular tread wear will disappear if you invest in their equipment. While they're not entirely correct, they are not necessarily incorrect, either.
First of all, tires naturally lose 1-2 psi per month when inflated with standard air, which is already 78% nitrogen. Filtering out the other gases and inflating with pure nitrogen dramatically reduces the rate of pressure loss. But since nitrogen has no effect on punctures or valve stem leaks, regular inflation pressure maintenance is still necessary. Nitrogen will definitely reduce the number of tires that require a few additional pounds of pressure, which will in turn reduce irregular tread wear — but by no means does it allow you to ignore your tires altogether.
Another issue is that most commercial tire dealers do not have nitrogen inflation capability in the shop or on mobile service trucks. So if your tires are serviced by outside vendors, inflating with nitrogen may not be an option. Likewise, installing nitrogen equipment in just a few of your locations will probably not have a significant impact on your bottom line.
Finally, if you choose to jump on the nitrogen bandwagon, be aware that the membrane or filter will need to be replaced on a regular basis — at an additional, and sometimes substantial, cost.