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Proactive maintenance will help your tires survive winter

Sept. 19, 2017
During the winter season, as trucks travel across the country in varying climates, tire pressure can change substantially along a route.

With more than 14 years of experience dealing with truck tires and preventative maintenance strategies, Jason Evans knows better than anyhow how weather can impact the expected life cycle of tires.  Currently director of North American store operations for GCR Tires & Service, he successfully developed an organizational playbook for more than 230 locations in North America and worked closely with the service and training department to develop the GCR Tire Assessment process that was rolled out in 2016. In this guest column, Evans shares some preventive maintenance tips for tires as trucking heads into the winter months.

Winter is coming, and for truckers, that can mean frozen wheel hubs, ice-encrusted rims, flat spotting and low tire pressure. The time is now, before temperatures drop, for truckers large and small, to ensure that proper tire maintenance measures are undertaken to best manage their assets in the wintry weather ahead.

Proactive tire maintenance is the foundation for truckers to maximize uptime. There are specific conditions to consider during the winter months to mitigate risks caused by inclement weather. Key considerations include:

  • Drastic changes in tire inflation pressure resulting from travel between warm and cold climates;
  • Significant tread wear or “flat spotting” caused by variations in traction on ice and pavement; and
  • Improper truck handling due to misalignment and balancing from ice and debris buildup.

Changes in ambient air temperature affect the speed of air molecules in a tire, and this is what causes the fluctuation in tire inflation pressure.

As air temperature lowers, the speed of the air molecule slows, resulting in a lower pressure inside of the tire.

During the winter season, as trucks travel across the country in varying climates, tire pressure can change substantially along a route.

Such a shift can cause low tire pressure, which not only is a safety concern, but also a cost concern. Low tire pressure increases a tire’s rolling effort on the road, which translates to higher fuel costs.

Photo: Sean Kilcarr/American Trucker

A good rule of thumb is that for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the temperature drops, tires running at 100 psi [pounds per square inch] can drop approximately two psi.

To ensure tires are running at peak performance, truckers should check tire inflation pressure before each shift during the winter season.

Just as under-inflated tires can be an issue in the winter, over-inflation also can be detrimental.

Across the commercial trucking industry, tires tend to be run at higher than recommended inflation pressure levels and such over-inflated tires can have adverse effects on a tire’s ability to grip optimally in winter conditions.

That’s why truckers should maintain their tire pressure in accordance with the load being carried to maximize safe driving performance. For more information on applying load and inflation tables for a truck’s specific loads, refer to the tire manufacturer’s product data book. 

Tire tread is another critical component for a fleet, especially in winter months when roads are slick due to ice. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has mandatory minimum requirements for tread depth on all commercial vehicles, 4/32-in. for the steer tire position and 2/32-in. in all other positions to ensure commercial truck tires have the appropriate level of tread for operation.

In winter weather, drivers should watch for what we in the industry refer to as “flat spotting.”

Flat spotting occurs when a tire makes contact with pavement after sliding on ice. This causes the tread on a patch of the tire to wear down in a segment of the tire.

Not all truckers realize DOT tread minimums are measured at the lowest tread depth of the tire, so flat spotting can take a tire out of commission prematurely simply because a small segment of tread measures below the DOT minimum.

When it comes to cold weather, truckers should be sure to utilize drive tires with the deepest tread in the position that propels their tractor.

In majority of chassis on the road today with dual drive axles, the passenger side rear duals typically will be the tires applying majority of torque to the road.

As a result, these duals will normally wear faster than the other drive tires. A simple way to verify that you have the most tread in the proper position is to check the tread depth on each of the drive tires.

Photo: VDOT

By documenting the tread depth on each drive tire, you can easily see which two drive tires should be positioned in the passenger side rear dual position.

Tread depth gauges are cheap, simple to use and commonly found in truck stops or through most tire service providers.

By being proactive in your tire maintenance, you can ensure that your equipment has the best traction while minimizing premature tire wear that can lead to unpredicted downtime.

But it’s not just tires that drivers need to monitor in colder weather – the wheels, rims and hubs of a truck need special attention to prevent issues caused from weather debris on the road.

Salt, dirt, ice and snow often get caught in these areas, causing a false imbalance diagnosis where the driver will detect a vibration.

While most drivers would assume this off-centered motion is the result of an imbalanced tire and wheel assembly, in reality the ice and debris build-up on the wheel or hub can be the root cause of the issue.

A way to minimize ice and debris-related issues is to wash the equipment with warm water regularly, ensuring all assets are clean and not being weighed down by winter debris.

A truck that is out of alignment can become an unnecessary danger when transitioning from ice to pavement.

Proper alignment is critical to prevent steer skidding when drivers hit ice, making it crucial that equipment is accurately aligned.

In addition to following the above best practices, having a trusted dealer and service partner can make a big difference in maintaining, managing and servicing tire assets.

Truckers should look for a service provider with a broad national footprint to ensure consistent tire maintenance across an entire fleet, regardless of location.

A trusted service provider also understands that a good tire maintenance program is designed not only to address the tires themselves, but also the environment in which they must perform.

By understanding the route and role of each tire, a service provider can work with truckers to create a tire maintenance program tailored to each customer’s need to ensure winter doesn’t put a “chill” on your company’s bottom line.

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