Feeling that bitter bite outside? If you're among the many who've been experiencing some frigid temperatures this winter, it's a good time to think about a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) for your trucks — that c-c-cold isn't very conducive to d-d-drivers wanting to check tire pressures.
"When we talk about checking tires manually, anyone who's done this knows that sooner or later, you're going to get really tired of fighting to try to get the gauge on the inside dual if you're running dual tires," notes Trey Thompson, an advanced systems engineer at Continental. "You'll measure the outside tire, and the inside tire must be one or maybe two psi different, because they're right there together, right?
"Well, with electronic tire pressure monitoring, you get the inside dual's real pressure every time," he continues. "You get all the tire measurements, regardless of whether it's snowing or raining or whatever it's doing. You take that factor out of it."
A TPMS can make life easier for your drivers and give a more complete, rather than momentary, readout of trucks' tire pressures while providing warnings of improper inflation. The cold, of course, also confuses things a bit since it causes compressed air in tires to contract and show lower pressure, particularly if you're checking them after a truck or trailer's been sitting all night.
Beyond a likely seasonal dip in motivation to check tires, here are eight more reasons fleets should consider installing a TPMS in their trucks:
1. It's safer.
While TPMS — typically a low-pressure warning — has been required in new U.S. vehicles under 10,000 lbs. since Sept. 2007, such systems aren't required for heavy trucks. Perhaps that's counterintuitive, given the additional mass and weight of commercial motor vehicles and potential consequences and costs of a blowout. A primary factor in requiring TPMS in passenger cars was safety.
"Keeping your tires properly inflated will improve safety for your fleet. Under-inflation causes tires to wear faster and increases the likelihood of a blowout," says Ross Ormsby, national sales manager at Doran Manufacturing. "Additionally, underinflated tires increase stopping distances and reduce handling capabilities of your equipment."
"Safety involves not only protection of our assets but protection of people's lives," Thompson points out. "The last thing you want as a fleet owner is a vehicle with your name on the side of it being shown on the news because it was involved in an accident or lawsuit."
2. Lower fuel consumption and emissions.
Underinflated tires cost your fleet money. Zach Zaroor, distributor account manager at PressurePro, notes that studies by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) have shown that every 10 psi of under-inflation in a commercial tire causes a fuel economy drop for the vehicle of half a percent.
"Further, 53% of tractor tires are at least 5 psi underinflated, while 57% of trailer tires are at least 5 psi underinflated," Zaroor adds, citing DOT data. "Each psi of under-inflation is causing a fuel economy drop."
While fuel is a top cost for fleets, "more consumption of fuel creates more emissions," Thompson says. "Underinflated tires also create more consumption of natural rubber, because your tires don't last as long. So that's also a reduction of a natural resource."
3. Longer tire/ tread life.
"As any of our service people will tell you throughout Continental, the number-one issue that we get called in to fleets to listen to why they're not happy is irregular wear on their tires," Thompson contends. "And the number-one reason for irregular wear is typically air pressure-related, and it's more likely going to be under-inflation than over-inflation."
"I promise you, most likely all of your steer tires are 10% underinflated at some time or another," he adds. "That's almost a guarantee, particularly as axle weights have gone up and more and more vehicles require an H-rated or 16-ply steer tire."
Not only can under-inflation cause irregular wear, it can damage tire casings and preclude re-treading. "One of the main reasons that casings get rejected at a re-treader is for bead damage, which is typically related to overloading — and overloading is the same thing as underinflated," Thompson points out. "The amount of load that a tire can carry is directly related to how much air pressure is in that tire."
"Often, people think that they have the correct amount of air in their tires, but they haven't taken the time to scale their trucks out and compare that to the load and inflation tables that are provided by all tire manufacturers and make sure that they have the proper air for that load," he says.
4. Fewer breakdowns.
"Nobody should be surprised that 67% of road calls are related to tires, followed by batteries, starters and other the other parts that fill up the remaining 33%," notes Thompson. And when fleets have to deal with roadside calls for a blowout, they'll face the cost of the service, the tire casing is likely toast and interrupted drivers who aren't making money won't be happy about it.
But there's even greater potential loss, Thompson says. "What about the costs related to lost business? I'm working with a car hauler right now that lost a huge account related to delivery issues, and it's had a big impact on their business — so road calls can directly lead to lost business."
5. More accurate, and saves time and expense.
It takes real time for drivers to go around and check the pressure in, say, 18 tires, and that's time where they could have already been on the road and earning, and closer to a delivery. So that's all money lost that a TPMS could eliminate.
"Checking tires is expensive, and it's terribly inaccurate if you're checking tires with a tire gauge," contends Thompson. "Even a brand-new tire gauge out of the box is only going to guarantee an accuracy of plus or minus 3 psi; most electronic tire pressure sensors are going to guarantee reliability within less than 1 psi. So they're more than three times more accurate than a hand-held gauge."
"And by the way, that's before that hand-held gauge has gotten dropped or gotten dirty and all the things that happen in someone's back pocket," he adds.
6. Can tell you more than just pressure.
TPMS products from Doran, Continental and PressurePro can all tell, among other things, tire temperature as well as pressure. That can be a critical piece of information in terms of tire life.
"Over-temperature is the true death of a commercial tire," Thompson says. "If you look at an overloaded tire, you'll see a hard, brittle bead on that tire. That's due to excessive heat. If you've ever experienced a zipper rupture or heard someone discuss that, most people will tell you it's related to under-inflation.
"We point out that under-inflation creates excess heat in the tire. It's the excess heat that causes the tire to destroy itself, not actually the under-inflation," he continues. "Yes, under-inflation causes deflection in the sidewall, and that builds up heat. But it's the heat that causes the rubber inside the tire to break down, and it's also what causes the wires in the tire to snap."
On that note, Thompson uses an analogy of bending a coat hanger back and forth a number of times; at some point, the hanger will break. "And if you touch it where it snaps, you're probably going to get burned," he explains. "That's the same thing that's happening in the sidewall of an underinflated tire as it goes down the road."
7. Change culture and increase accountability.
While there are a number of ways a TPMS can reduce costs for fleets, there can be more benefits besides, Zaroor says, including creating a culture where tires and their performance are something the fleet is actively engaged in, rather than an afterthought.
"Whether it's your maintenance manager, your dispatch team or the owner of the fleet, we want everyone to be on the same page," he says. So it's important not only to get data and alerts about improper tire inflation in your trucks, but to know what to do about it.
"You want to take that information and turn it into a tool," Zaroor says. "You can contact the driver, contact the maintenance team. Let's say your vehicle is 1,000 mi. from home; let's say your dispatch team contacts that driver and says, 'Mike, I know you have a low tire. You're about 17 psi low. You have a Flying J two mi. ahead of you. Take exit 81 and please address this issue.'
"More importantly, if it isn't addressed, now you know," he continues. "So you can increase driver accountability and maintenance team accountability."
8. Can be integrated with your transportation/ fleet management system.
These three TPMS ambassadors spoke at the recent PeopleNet-TMW Systems in.sight conference, and all the companies' systems are now integrated with PeopleNet's telematics platform. Regardless of what TPMS product your fleet decides to buy into, Zaroor pointed out, know that TPMS technology has reached the "next generation" and could be a significant contributor in the growing Internet of Things on your trucks.
For example, Zaroor said, that means a TPMS can alert the driver and, as he'd noted, the back office as well, bringing everyone on board. But today's intergrated, data-ready TPMS products can be set up to send targeted tire pressure alerts, such as to a maintenance team at a particular terminal where trucks tend to be located and serviced.
And a TPMS integrated with your fleet management system can record and present data over time, showing alert information and tire health across the fleet. Thus, the fleet could start to look at tires in a proactive manner, much as proactive maintenance is being applied to other parts on trucks to monitor and intervene before breakdowns.
As fleet management systems themselves continue to evolve and become more sophisticated, this last benefit of a TPMS could well be the most significant, so keep that in mind as you're shopping and doing your homework.
Addendum: Your game plan
With that in mind, Doran's Ormsby has a few additional suggestions for a fleet that chooses to go with a TPMS to get the most out of it.
1. Know what to do.
"If you're considering integrating TMPS into your vehicles, you have to develop a plan of action for what to do when you get alerts, because you'll definitely get alerts," Ormsby says. "Know who in your organization is going to get the notifications for the various alerts, and also establish steps that the driver needs to take for those alerts."
2. Get behind it.
Like many other changes and new products a fleet can opt for, success can depend on whether the fleet truly gets behind them.
"You'll need buy-in at your organization from all levels to ensure success. You need management, drivers, maintenance technicians, your dispatchers, your break-down teams — everyone has to be on board," says Ormsby. "Everyone needs to know how the TPMS works, they need to know what the different alerts mean and they have to follow the steps you've put in place with your plan."