Retread wish list: Jet Express cites quality casings, workmanship and a high degree of service as critical
With fuel and oil prices at all-time highs and expected to climb even higher, trucking companies that are feeling the pinch would be "foolish" not to look at using more retreads, says Kent Shelley, director of maintenance for Jet Express Inc., a carrier based in Dayton, Ohio.
"We've added right to the bottom line by using them."
Jet Express runs retreads on approximately 70% of the 5,800 wheel positions that Shelley oversees. The 23-year-old company uses them due to "the cost savings over a new tire. I can put a retread on for $100. The closest new tire is two times that price."
Shelley has been a tire buyer for nearly 20 years. Prior to joining Jet Express last December, he worked 17 years for Victory Express, a fleet in Midway, Ohio. "At Victory, we had a pretty extensive tire program. Tires became second nature."
He also worked for a large commercial tire dealership in Dayton before joining Jet Express, "where I got a taste of being on the front line."
The first thing Shelley looks for in a retread is casing quality.
"It seems like all the major truck tire manufacturers' casings have gotten better. (Oxidation resistance) has gotten better over the years; the tires don't seem to dry rot like they used to.
"Belt packages have gotten better. I look at the (belt package) as the foundation. The casing is what you're building upon. You can build the prettiest house you want, but if you put it on top of sand, it's going to fall apart. That's the analogy I use. I look for what I consider to be the best casing foundation."
Today's casings "now have at least a second life and maybe a third life," he explains. "I'm trying to stay in that second life. I'm trying to not cap twice. I believe that a casing can live once as an original -- in the steer, drive or trailer position -- and then go again, most likely in a trailer position.
"Everybody used to say, 'Those damn recaps!' Well, the casing failed before the retread did; that's what I see more than anything. The casing failed because it didn't have enough air in it or it ran over something."
Retread shop workmanship has improved, as well, he says. "The guys who put the rubber on the casing have to be conscientious. And you don't know until you step into the pool. You could pick a (retread provider) and go with them, and all of a sudden you have caps coming off.
"But these guys are monitored so closely, I don't care who it is -- Goodyear, Michelin, Bandag. When they adjust a tire, it goes against them." (Jet Express uses Bandag retreads supplied by Erlanger, Ky.-based Bob Sumerel Tire Co. Inc.) The partnership between retread user and retread supplier doesn't end with the initial product purchase, according to Shelley.
"It comes down to price and service. I try to be a good manager of retreads and inventory, but sometimes you get caught short. If you need a retread, they're going to have to run (one) out to you now and then... that's an issue.
"They have to step up should there be a problem in workmanship. And they have to work with you on billing and get your tires returned when you want them.
"Sumerel has gone to a program where they're using a hand-held reader," says Shelley. "I get a printout of every retread, every DOT number and what the tire went in for. This is a nice step."
Bob Sumerel Tire also sends out an employee to perform yard checks twice a week. "He walks our yard and looks for problems."
Tricks of the trade
Shelley says Jet Express probably will maintain its ratio of 70% retreads and 30% new truck tires. "You eventually have to buy new tires. There are going to be years where you'll need intakes of new tires."
This year the company was able to postpone a lot of new tire purchases. "An enormous amount of new tire inventory (had been) built here, and they don't get any newer."
Keeping the right mix of new tires and retreads in circulation is a high priority at Jet Express "If a casing is over five years old, we're looking at not running it."
Making sure that retreads are run as soon as they're produced also is crucial. There's no sense having a truck tire retreaded just to let it sit in storage, he says.
Putting retreads on wheel positions where they will yield optimum results is important, as well. "You figure a tire in the steer position is going to have 100,000 to 125,000 miles on it. If you're in a drive position, that tire is going to have 300,000 miles. If you cap it the first time, you'll get another 50,000 to 75,000 miles. But how much can you ask of that tire?"
Jet Express has taken steer tires off of trucks, had them retreaded and then moved them to drive axle positions. "Instead of taking (drive) tires that have 300,000 miles on them and asking them to go a total of 600,000 miles, I know (steer tires) only have 100,000 to 125,000 miles on them originally.
"The jewels are your steer tires. They're going to be your best casings because they're going to have the least amount of miles on them. "I've seen a lot of retreads challenge new tires... as long as the driver doesn't put them in a position where they get torn up. That's why picking a good casing is so important."