Bottom Line
Driving toward more tread life
Tips for lowering your cost per mile and increasing the life of your tires

After fuel, tires are your biggest operating expense. So it can be frustrating for owner-operators who see their trucks getting barely 100,000 miles before the steer tires have to be pulled while their buddies, covering a similar route, regularly run twice as far on their steers.

What gives? Why do some operators get double the amount of tread wear on their tires as others? It’s an expensive question for those not obtaining all the mileage they think they should be getting.

To get better mileage, look at your tires in three ways: the technology used in the tire, driving habits and maintenance practices.

Selecting top-quality tires, fortified with the latest technology, is essential to optimizing tire mileage, according to Tim Miller, marketing communications manager for Goodyear. “The old adage that ‘you get what you pay for’ definitely holds true with tires,” he says.

Major tire manufacturers produce tires with materials, reinforcements and tread designs to optimize tire performance. In addition, companies such as Goodyear develop tire casings that support multiple retreadings, which help increase a tire’s cradle-to-grave value and lower costs of operation.

“At Goodyear, we combine extensive research and real-world testing to find the right mix of technologies that help our customers gain the optimal performance from their tires,” Miller says.

“In commercial tires, it’s all about long tread life, low rolling resistance, and the casing, which is built for multiple retreads.”

But fleets and owner-operators go about measuring value and the true costs of their tires differently. Fleets evaluate cost per mile by determining how many miles are delivered by the original tread, as well as the cost and mileage of the tire’s first and second retreads. Those running fuel-efficient treads can even factor in improved fuel mileage.”

According to Miller, lesser-performing tires typically provide fewer miles in the beginning and might not support multiple retreads. “Yes, they cost less, but you end up buying more tires and forgoing multiple retreads that save money in the long run,” he says. “Those in the know focus on cost per mile, not initial tire cost.”

For owner-operators, with just one truck, the luxury of rotating tires in and out for retreading is a moot point unless the operator wants to run two sets of tires – not economically viable for most operations.  

“Owner-operators will typically trade in their tires for casing credit and then can use that credit toward a new tire, or a retread,” says Miller. “So, what you receive for your casing is factored into your cost per mile.

“Here again, quality pays,” says Miller. “A premium brand like Goodyear will allow the dealer to offer, on average, $40 to $65 for a virgin casing depending upon the model, size and condition. A mid-priced tire might get you a $40 casing credit, and an economy tire typically will get you nothing. There really is no market for retreads based on a low-end tire. If you trade in a retreaded tire, the casing may still have value, especially if the casing is a premium tire – same with a second retread.

“And the size tire makes a difference,” continues Miller. “Some regions see 11R 24.5 as the most popular size, while low-profile 24.5 are virtually non-existent. So there may not be much of a market for the low-profile tires, and therefore the dealer will offer less for the casing.”

Driving habits
Another major contributor to long tire life is driving style, which can boost tire mileage and lower cost per mile. “An experienced driver following good driving and maintenance practices could achieve up to twice the removal mileage of a less experienced driver,” says Miller.

Cornering cuts a tire’s overall mileage.

“Most tread wear occurs during cornering maneuvers,” Miller says. “Any high wheel cuts, or sharp turns – particularly high wheel cuts at highway speeds – will contribute to excessive tread wear. Even high wheel cuts in parking lots or highway off ramps accelerate tread wear.”

Excessive tread wear is caused by “scrubbing” the tread elements in the tire footprint, Miller says. “Any maneuver that contributes to a lot of scrubbing of the rubber across the road is going to be a detriment to long mileage to removal.”

The route traveled and how the driver reacts to changes in elevation also affects tread wear, according to Miller. “A driver sometimes doesn’t have much control over the load he’s pulling or the route he follows, but he has total control over how fast he takes those inclines,” Miller says. “Putting more torque on the tires and making them work harder reduces tire mileage.”

Overall, higher speeds reduce tire longevity. Fuel economy and tire cost per mile are affected by vehicle speed. Jackrabbit starts and hard braking will increase tread wear.

Maintenance and selection
Good tire maintenance practices work in concert with smart driving practices to achieve longer tread life. Miller says that closely monitoring inflation pressure is critical in extending tire life. You should also check for proper alignment, wheel bearing and wheel condition, and suspension components.

Largely overlooked in extending tire wear is choosing the right tires for the application. Tires with the correct tread depth and composition for driving conditions will last longer. “There’s a misconception that a tire with deeper tread will always achieve more miles to removal,” Miller says.

“However, this is not always the case. If you put too much rubber – particularly in line haul applications – on the road surface, tread elements and blocks will ‘squirm,’ leading to irregular wear and faster tread wear.

“Many fleets have a cost-effective policy to remove steer tires at a tread depth of 6/32nds or 8/32nds (to ensure the casing can be retreaded),” he says. “For an owner-operator, we suggest you monitor the smoothness of your tire with your fingertips. If and when you feel irregular wear beginning to happen, you can either pull the tire for casing credit before the condition gets to be too bad, or move it to the trailer position and run off the remaining good tread and pull them at 2/32nds.

“It often comes down to musical chairs with your tires, but that can be difficult since you have one truck and only so many wheel positions.”

Miller points out that while some linehaul drivers are able to achieve 200,000 miles on steer tires and double that on drive tires, many operators would be happy to simply improve their tire mileage.

“Starting with top-quality tires and a sensible tire management program can deliver tire mileage and fuel economy that result in competitive advantages,” he says. LL