Poor tire maintenance is a real concern in Europe

July 25, 2013

A low standard of care and maintenance has recently been cited in Europe as the primary reason for the early replacement of truck tires right across the continent. No doubt this is a global problem, but it never ceases to amaze me how European fleet operators seem to willingly “leak” unnecessarily increasing truck operating costs at a staggering level.

I recall hearing not so long ago that a leading UK-based division of a worldwide haulage management company (who shall remain nameless) replaced almost 34,000 tires from its fleet of 55,000 vehicles during 2012. Breaking down this amazing statistic, it seems that 5,200 tires (15.64%) were changed due to unrepairable puncture damage and 20,000 tires (59.47%) due to normal wear and tear.

However, the remaining 8,429 tires equating to almost 25% had to be changed because of other damage caused by poor maintenance checks with 1,164 tires (3.44%) due to the tires being below the legal minimum tread depth of 1.6 mm. At the same time, a further 2,312 tires (6.83%) had sidewall damage and 1,856 tires (5.48%) showed uneven tracking. Also, 1,131 tires were found to have irregular wear issues.

There is no doubt that the same appalling tire care statistics can be applied to most truck fleet operations throughout Europe which is amazing when you consider that if poorly maintained, the life of a commercial tire can be reduced by up to 50% and in some cases as much as two thirds, costing the industry an unreal amount of money.

So where is the root of this problem and how can it be solved? Well, the blame has to be placed on the shoulders of fleet truck drivers who are primarily responsible for the on-going care and maintenance of their vehicles. If irregular tire wear is spotted and attended to in its early stages then the life of the tire can be recovered.

We all know that professional tire care is essential to ensure the maximum value from a set of truck tires, but it appears the industry still has a long way to go to eliminate this important problem and save companies a substantial amount of money in the bargain.

On further investigation I found that one of the most consistent areas of neglect was under-inflation whereby the tire’s contact patch with the road surface is effectively reduced to just two small outer edges of the tread. Therefore a full vehicle load placed on these minimized areas will drastically reduce a tire’s overall performance.

So the obvious solution is perfectly clear and it’s just a case of somehow getting all heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers to systematically check their tires on a daily basis for pressure, undue wear and damage.

As I previously stated some leading haulage companies and organizations are already moving toward implementing employee rules making driver’s responsible for the condition of their vehicle’s tires.

At the moment there is no law in Europe whereby drivers are legally bound to keep their tires in good condition at all times, and even though road traffic police are increasingly pulling over trucks for safety inspections, the amount of unsafe tires on European roads is considered totally unacceptable.

Perhaps the only way this problem is going to be solved is through compulsory tire maintenance courses for drivers, but even then, a driver may know how to maintain his tires but that doesn’t mean he is going to be bothered doing daily inspections.

If haulage fleets want to add to their operating costs by replacing tires on a frequent basis then that is their concern, but there is still the huge safety risk of having large trucks on European motorways with defective tires.

As a footnote, it’s worth noting that throughout Europe, national railways seem to be increasing their business transportation services to offer a rival freight option and this development could prove to be a serious threat to road haulage in the future.    ■

John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 20 years. In 2004 he launched his own company, Sapphire Media Services, as a business media consultant with clients around the globe. Stone also writes for tire and automotive-related publications in Europe, South Africa and Asia.

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