MANAGER: Ken Bartos
TITLE: Maintenance director
FLEET: Hoovestol Inc.
OPERATION: 235 tractors, 425 trailers
Keeping drive, steer and trailer tires properly aligned on a big rig is a mundane maintenance chore at best; one apt to be put off by a fleet because of the vehicle downtime and amount of elbow grease required by technicians. Wheel alignment machinery itself doesn't come cheap either, costing upwards of five figures in some cases.
Yet Ken Bartos, maintenance director for Eagan, MN-based mail carrier Hoovestol, says wheel alignment is absolutely critical to saving money for his fleet — and it's the cornerstone of his maintenance philosophy. “Alignment has a huge impact on tire costs,” he explains. “Irregular wear due to poor alignment not only reduces the total mileage you might get on a new tire, it could potentially harm the casing, leaving you without the ability to get credit for it or retread it.”
Properly aligning the wheels on a tractor, much less on a trailer, takes time — a very precious commodity in any maintenance operation. It takes an hour just to check the alignment, Bartos notes. If alignment work does need to be done, it results in a minimum of two hours of vehicle downtime, something not easily digested in the go-go world of trucking these days.
Hoovestol settled on a threefold alignment strategy: purchase a full-on wheel alignment machine, align the wheels of all new trucks before they are put into service, and invest in high-mileage tires for all positions.
The carrier bought its own machine back in 2005 and now does vehicle alignment when a new tractor comes into service. “That's been huge for us,” says Bartos. “We ensure proper alignment from the start so we know tires are running true. We'll then do a re-alignment only if we see a problem developing.”
Another key is to ensure the front air-ride suspension on Hoovestol's Volvo VN670s are at the right level. “We keep close tabs on the air bag level. Too low or too high will really impact ride as well as wear on tires,” Bartos notes.
Since each tractor gets a maintenance inspection every 15,000 mi., tire pressures are checked and topped to 95 psi, with trailer tire pressures checked every three months. “If we notice any irregular tire wear during nominal PM [preventive maintenance] checks, we put the vehicle up on the machine,” explains Bartos. “That includes the trailers.”
The company is also now rolling on higher mileage tires, using Goodyear G395 LHS steer tires, G372 LHDs in the drive position and G316 LHTs for its trailers. As a result, Hoovestol is now getting far longer mileage and more uniform wear out of its tires in all positions. Prior to 2005, the fleet typically achieved 100,000 mi. on the steers and 400,000 on the drives. Today, it's pulling tires at 5/32nds worth of tread depth at an average of 160,000 to 212,000 mi. on the steers and 450,000 to 550,000 on the drives. “We haven't pulled trailer tires yet, but mileage seems to be excellent as well,” Bartos says.
Those are some pretty solid numbers, considering Hoovestol's fleet averages 38 million mi. per year, with each truck averaging close to 200,000 mi. per year.
And the alignment strategy is also paying off where the company's retreads are concerned. Once Hoovestol removes new tires, they're taken to one of Goodyear's Wingfoot Truck Care Centers for casing credit, and new tread is put back on the tractors and trailers. “Rejection rates are very low on our casings,” says Bartos.