Stop and take note because I believe we may be on the cusp of a revolution in the truck tire industry. Like the tubeless tire on a single-piece rim that replaced the old multi-piece tube-type and radial-replaced bias, the trend towards replacing duals with wide singles is no longer a trend. Years ago the weight and fuel savings were not enough for most fleets to look past the shorter tread life. But the price of fuel keeps going up and treadwear is improving so the number of converts continues to grow.
While all of this adds up to lower costs for fleets, it’s going to take a toll on the entities responsible for demounting and mounting these behemoths. A typical wide single assembly weighs about 250 lbs., which means lifting and maneuvering it puts more strain on the body. A truck tire changing machine is the best solution to this problem; in most cases, all the technician would have to do is roll it up on the platform and work the controls. But this type of equipment is expensive—and tire irons are not.
That’s why a lot of technicians prefer to demount and mount tires on the vehicle. It’s a subject that comes with controversy for several reasons. First, by not removing the assembly from the vehicle, some service providers feel they will still be held responsible for a future wheel-off since they didn’t torque the fasteners at the time of service. Others believe that the standard of care when demounting and mounting on the vehicle only requires them to inspect the fasteners. If everything looks serviceable, they should not be held liable.
The deciding factor is the type of tire that will be mounted. If a new tire is being mounted, then the procedure can take place on the vehicle because federal law allows tires on single-piece wheels to be inflated while the assembly is still attached. If the tire has been retreaded or is returning to service, then it should be inflated in a restraining device because it could experience a “zipper” rupture. Therefore, servicing the tire on the vehicle really isn’t an option.
Personally, I see the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. On the plus side for the “on-the-vehicle” crowd, I definitely see the time and safety advantages associated with not lifting the assembly. My personal belief is that if a service provider does not loosen the fasteners, then a visual inspection of the wheel is all that is required. But I also recognize that ignoring someone else’s improper installation can be seen as contributing to the problem.
New technology often creates new problems and this is only going to get worse as wide singles become more popular. Poorly trained technicians can do a lot of damage to the beads with tire irons, so knowing the qualifications of the individuals doing the work is important. Likewise, a tire changing machine in the hands of the wrong person has the potential to create even more damage, which means fancy equipment does not indicate the level of service.
If fleets are going to start relying on wide singles for the majority of their tractor and trailer positions, then the people doing the work must be held to a higher standard. The consequences of a 250-lb. wheel-off are unimaginable, and a flat on the highway due to a torn bead is going to be very expensive. When technicians are properly equipped and trained to service wide singles, then the savings should be easy to recognize. When they are not, people are more likely to get hurt and the cost benefits will never be realized.
Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at [email protected]