The myth behind using retreads on steer axles

Sept. 15, 2010

No bus shall be operated with regrooved, recapped or retreaded tires on the front wheels.” Other than the redundancy of including “retreaded” and “recapped” in the same sentence, Title 49, Part 393.75 (d) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations is quite clear.

So why is the use of retreaded truck tires on the steer axle so readily dismissed? There are no government standards prohibiting it. As Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau (TRIB) will tell you, the retreading process will work just as well on a steer tire as it will on a drive or trailer tire.

Waste companies equip their haulage trucks with retreaded steer tires. You also can find them on FedEx and UPS trucks. So the steer axle is not taboo when it comes to retreaded tires on slow-moving vehicles or inner-city fleets — which beat the heck out of the tires.

In addition, the major retread suppliers offer steer tire treads, although they are referred to as “all-position” treads.

“Fleets are able to, at their discretion, utilize all-position retreads in any wheel position, including steer service,” says Gary Enterline, product segment manager for Michelin Americas Truck Tires, a division of Michelin North America Inc.

“For example, the Michelin XZUS all-position tread could be used on steer axles for specialized, low-speed, start-and-stop applications like waste haulers and other local trucks.”

Michelin does not target retreads for steer tires on long-haul, highway trucks, he says.

“We find that fleets with good tire management programs purchase new steer tires and then retread those casings for use on drive and trailer axles. As a result, the market demand for retreading steer tires on Class 8 trucks is relatively low.”

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has a similar philosophy.

“Goodyear does not offer a steer axle-specific tread pattern in its retread products,” says a company spokesman.

“While it’s not a widely used practice, there are cases where retreaded tires are used on the steer axle position. This primarily occurs in local use trucking.”

Just because retreaded steer tires are accepted for limited applications doesn’t preclude their use on over-the-highway vehicles, he says.

“It’s really up to the user, the truck fleet, whoever it is operating the truck.”

Then why the misconception? Why, in general, do fleets shy away from retreaded tires on the steer axle? Brodsky says it’s by choice, not by mandate. And the key centers on tire repairs.

“You’re never certain about a tire repair if the repair had been made by someone other than the retreader who is retreading the tire. There also is the possibility that the repair materials could be defective.”

Because the retreader can’t vouch for the repair, the industry errs on the side of caution, which, as a bonus, takes potential litigation out of the equation.

“If the tire fails in the drive position, the vehicle won’t overturn,” says Brodsky. “Other tires can carry the load. If the tire fails on the steer position, someone could die.”

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations do not prohibit nail hole repairs in the tread area of a steer tire. Neither do the tire industry’s own standards, although they limit the number of allowable nail hole repairs in a steer tire to one. No bead area repair is acceptable.

According to the “Industry Recommended Practices for Tire Retreading & Tire Repairing,” a tire cannot be used on the steer axle of a long-haul truck if it has been “previously retreaded.”

However, in local service applications — where casing age and fatigue are not a factor — it can be retreaded more than once, as determined by the fleet manager “in consultation” with the retreader.

(“Local service” vehicles are limited to a maximum of  55 mph “for no more than 50 continuous miles.”)

TRIB is working on an updated position paper for the use of retreads on steer axles. “We are trying hard to solicit comments from many of our members who might have something to add,” says Brodsky.

There never has been an issue about retreading steer tires and moving them to a drive or trailer axle, he adds.  ■

If you have questions or comments, please e-mail me at [email protected].

About the Author

Bob Ulrich

Bob Ulrich was named Modern Tire Dealer editor in August 2000 and retired in January 2020. He joined the magazine in 1985 as assistant editor, and had been responsible for gathering statistical information for MTD's "Facts Issue" since 1993. He won numerous awards for editorial and feature writing, including five gold medals from the International Automotive Media Association. Bob earned a B.A. in English literature from Ohio Northern University and has a law degree from the University of Akron.