Chris Chase is president of Rice Tire, which services fleets through 10 commercial locations, 63 delivery and emergency road service trucks, and a retreading plant.

Chris Chase is president of Rice Tire, which services fleets through 10 commercial locations, 63 delivery and emergency road service trucks, and a retreading plant.

The wheel refinishing business at Donald B. Rice Tire Co. Inc. is up 22% over last year. “Our fleet customers expect us to be able to refurbish their wheels while we have their casings out for retreading,” says Chris Chase, president of the Frederick, Md.-based dealership.

Fleet managers rank their fleets’ operating costs at the top of issues pressuring the commercial trucking industry, according to research conducted by Modern Tire Dealer and its sister publication, Heavy Duty Trucking. As operating costs rise, fleet owners and managers look for ways to economize. One option is to refinish a truck’s wheels, a process that extends their life and restores them to a like-new condition. Wheel refinishing also helps keep fleets compliant with federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations requiring removal of rust, dirt and debris from wheels.

“The refurbishing process gives the wheel a like-new appearance but just as importantly, it allows us to do a thorough inspection of the wheel to make sure it is fit to be put back into service.”

Rice Tire technicians reject roughly 12% of wheels customers send for refinishing. “The most common reasons for rejection are cracks in the face of the wheel and oblong bolt holes. There are wheels that would still be on the road if the fleet hadn’t sent them in for inspection and refurbish,” says Chase. Other conditions that require wheels be placed out of service are missing or illegible Department of Transportation (DOT) stamps; heavy rust, corrosion or severe pitting; and bent flanges.

A partner in refinishing

Chase credits the increase in his refinishing business to his company’s partnership with International Marketing Inc., which goes to market as IMI. The Chambersburg, Pa.-based company specializes in products and services for the trucking industry. “Their training and their expertise and support are a large reason we have been able to increase our volume so much this year,” says Rice.

IMI’s offerings range from internal tire balancing and tire sealants to tire maintenance, wheel safety products and wheel refinishing systems. The company says its turnkey wheel refinishing system is used by tire and wheel dealers at about 200 locations in the United States. Wheel refinishing provides a way to cost effectively remove old coatings and rust, coat the wheel to slow future corrosion, and to cure the wheel to ideal safety specifications, according to Jeff Redding, national equipment and coatings manager.

Technology is evolving

Chase says the technology of wheel refinishing is constantly evolving. “We’ve been doing this for over 15 years and have seen improvements in the ovens, shot blasters, paint guns and in the paint itself. We put in a new oven last year and the curing temperature and times are much more precise than with our previous equipment. There are also improved methods to test the finished product to make sure the paint is at the right thickness and cured properly.”

Rice Tire offers wheel refinishing to its commercial customers along with retreading, 24-hour road service, polyfill flat proofing, giant OTR service, and alignment and other mechanical services for all types of vehicles.

The company operates a network of 10 stores that service both local and national fleets in the Maryland; Washington, D.C.; and northern Virginia markets. All 10 stores offer pick-up and delivery service to fleet customers.

“In most cases, our sales person or a delivery driver will pick up mounted wheels. We dismount the used tires and send them out for retreading and send the wheel out for refinishing. For some customers this is a daily process; for some it’s weekly,” says Chase. Turnaround time is usually one week, but it may be a little longer during busy periods.

Retail business is growing, too

All Rice Tire stores offer retail tire and automotive services. The company recently added five service bays to its Cumberland, Md., store. Rice Tire is in the engineering phase of adding six bays to its Frederick, Md., store. “The Frederick addition should be done in mid- to late-2017. The additional bays in both stores will allow us to greatly increase our retail tire business in both markets,” says Chase.

Rice Tire is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2016. Its roots go back to 1929, when Donald B. Rice Sr. founded a one-man gasoline service station in Frederick. The modern-day Rice Tire dates its origins from 1956, when the senior Rice added large construction and commercial vehicle tire sales and service to his business. The company rebranded in 2014, and now goes to market as Rice Tire.

The third generation of the Rice family is running the company today. “Our company plans on continuing to expand. We are always looking at acquisition opportunities in addition to expanding our current facilities,” says Chase.  

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