New-tire and retread manufacturers spend millions of dollars on R&D to find the perfect combination of tread wear and performance. Years ago, engineers had to physically skive out the new pattern in “green” tires and then test them on a wheel or a track before production could begin. Today, most companies use finite element analysis to create computer models that can simulate everything from load to ambient temperature. The end result is a much shorter time period from concept to construction.
But even the most sophisticated software cannot account for the infinite number of variables that have an effect on tire performance, so manufacturers are constantly testing new designs in the field before they ramp up production. In some instances, they are even willing to provide them at little or no charge. All they need is a customer, or potential customer, who is willing to give them access to the vehicle on a regular basis so the tread depth and wear pattern can be documented.
Some fleets are constantly testing tires and retreads because they understand the complexity of the relationship between the vehicle, the driver and the road. Certain rubber compounds and tread designs may deliver excellent mileage in one application, yet not in another. It's far from an exact science, so simultaneous tests are usually conducted in different climates and operating conditions.
Before agreeing to a test, fleets should make sure that the parameters and objectives are clearly stated. If Brand A is being compared to Brand B, then it is extremely important that the drivers and routes are similar so the results are not compromised by driving styles or geography. Just remember that even though the company doing the testing wants to prove its product is superior, it's still obligated to ensure a fair test.
One phenomenon that is almost impossible to explain is how one particular tire always seems to run great in select applications. I've seen this happen numerous times and continue to scratch my head when it does. It usually involves drive and trailer tires, but steer positions are not exempt. Here is an example of how it might work:
A fleet has been running Brand A for years with minimal problems on most of its equipment. But a couple pieces of equipment always seem to have problems. After checking the alignment, inflation pressures and suspension, everything seems to be the same as the rest of the units. The dealer offers to bring in Brand B for a test, but the fleet manager had a bad experience with those tires years ago and vowed to never run them again. This continues until the mechanic finally convinces the manager to give Brand B a try. Lo and behold, Brand B runs better — and before too long, the entire fleet is running Brand B.
People are naturally resistant to change. I've always said that change is medicine that's best taken in small doses. Tire companies are constantly striving for technological improvements and innovations that result in better mileage and performance. Fleets should not automatically discount changing to a brand just because it did not perform well in the past.
In many applications, it really doesn't matter what you put on the rim as long as it is properly inflated and loaded. Some brands may deliver more mileage while others might offer improved retreadability. But the distance between the top and the bottom is closing fast, so maybe it's time to run a few tests and see how your tires stack up.