Stepping up the pressure

Starting with the 2008 model year, all new vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 lb. or less must be equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS).

Starting with the 2008 model year, all new vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 lb. or less must be equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). Unfortunately, there is currently no standardization among these systems.

Making matters worse is the fact that tire debris on North American roadways continues to get lots of attention. From the Florida congressman who introduced a ridiculous piece of legislation to ban retreads altogether to the sixth caller on talk radio, retreaded tires are guilty as charged in the minds of most motorists.

And we've recently learned that government wheel tests may lead to some form of “retread” regulation, even though the data shows that retreads are not responsible for all of the tire debris on the road, and the majority of failures are not related to the retread process. Nonetheless, the retread industry will unite and loudly proclaim that poor inflation maintenance is the culprit.

Given all this, can a government mandate for TPMS on medium- and heavy-duty trucks be far behind?

This is not to say, however, that tire pressure should ever be far from the minds of fleets and their drivers. With very little, if any, indication that fuel prices will improve in the near future, fleets need to do everything they can to improve fuel mileage. And monitoring tire pressure should be at the top of every list.

First of all, rolling resistance increases when tires are under-inflated. The problem is magnified during the summer, when hot pavement can cause fatigue in tires that are just a few pounds under-inflated. Internally, these tires are slowly breaking down; if the pressure gets low enough and the temperature high enough, it's time to buy another set of mud flaps. Fleets have enough motivation to stay on top of tire inflation without having the government breathing down their backs.

I find it interesting that the government seems to view tires as dangerous products requiring regulations — even though their own data shows that fatal truck accidents associated with tire failures are only 1.9% of the total. Nevertheless, they're proceeding with new testing standards for truck tires that will likely include retreads, and may even pursue truck TPMS as an answer to the rubber-on-the-road problem.

What does that mean for fleets? Higher tire and retread costs, no doubt. But in the government's opinion, every motorist will be safer — and that's all that counts. They'll be singing that song when they meet with the truck and trailer makers.

TPMS is already available as an option on some medium- and heavy-duty trucks, and many trailers are equipped with automatic tire inflation systems. The technology is in place for fleets that want to monitor tire pressure electronically anywhere in North America. They can literally receive an email in the maintenance department the minute a tire starts going low.

I believe it's no longer a matter of “if” TPMS will be mandated for trucks and trailers — it's only a matter of “when.”

Trucking industry doesn't have to sit back and take whatever the manufacturers shovel. It's time to start asking questions about how they're preparing for TPMS, and whether the systems will be compatible.

When it comes to purchasing vehicles, fleets have power. If they don't use it collectively to force standardization, TPMS costs could outweigh tires.

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