Rubber Soul
Grant Sheldon and his meticulous attention to detail

For so many owner-operators, the line between profit and loss is thin. How thin? OOIDA member Grant Sheldon can tell you. It’s as wide as a piece of yellow chalk.

Once a week, Sheldon — a long-hauler based in Henderson, KY — jacks up the dual wheel assemblies on his tractor and trailer, marks a chalk line across each tread, and rotates the wheels 360 degrees. He scans the tread with his eyes and feels with his fingers for nails, bolts, chunks of iron — the little things most folks wouldn’t see until their tire guy emerges from the shop and plunks them on the counter with a “There’s your problem, Joe,” sort of remark.

They’re words Sheldon, who runs up to 5,000 miles a week hauling time-critical components into Kenworth truck assembly plants, likely won’t ever hear. This is a guy who’s so fanatical, so meticulous about tires that he performs all his own maintenance and repair work from a shop on his 27-acre farm.

“I do everything myself unless I get a flat on the road,” he says. “I enjoy it. It’s a good physical workout, it doesn’t require a lot of tools, and it really focuses my attention on the mechanical condition of my truck.”

Sheldon, a Goodyear devotee, developed his up-close-and-personal approach to tires during nearly 25 years of hauling sand and gravel in Southern California.

“Running in and out of construction sites, if you didn’t look at your tires every night, you’d have two or three flats a week,” he says. “I figured I could spend eight hours a week stewing and not working because of a flat tire, or I could spend that time doing a thorough, routine inspection of my tires and have a truck that was ready to go when I needed it to be.”

What Sheldon calls “routine” would be rigorous even for a truck fleet with a well-appointed tire shop. He rotates his Goodyear steer axle tires (G395 LHSs) from side to side every 40,000 miles and his drive tires (G372 LHDs) every 75,000 miles. That’s a lot of tire handling, but it pays off in even tread wear and can net a lot of extra miles in tread life. At 100,000 miles, Sheldon still has a healthy 14/32nds of an inch of tread remaining on his G395 LHSs.

“I can see these going to 200,000 miles, while the most I ever got on a set of steers before was 150,000,” Sheldon says. “I’m also getting 350,000 miles on my drive tires and 150,000 miles on the G314s on my trailer positions.”

In an effort to be more economical, Sheldon has been trying retread tires on his trailer positions at his Goodyear dealer’s suggestion. After a year, he’s running his second set of retreads after successfully getting 150,000 miles on the first set of retreads using his casings.

The pillars of Sheldon’s tire program — proper inflation, regular inspections and repairs done right — are things anyone can apply, even a one-truck owner-operator equipped with little more than a stick gauge and the name and phone number of a good tire shop.

The biggest influence on tire life is inflation pressure. At normal speeds, running tires 20 percent under recommended pressure reduces tire mileage by 16 percent and fuel mileage by 2 percent.

“Check your tire pressure at least once a week, and do it when the tires are cold,” Sheldon says. “I use a stick-type gauge and have it calibrated every now and then. I only keep it a couple of years. It’s important to use a good gauge and make sure it’s reading accurately.”

Running overinflated is just as bad. A rigid tire is more vulnerable to cuts, nicks and punctures. And keep the temperature in mind: For every 10-degree F decrease in temperature, the pressure will drop 2 psi. During the colder months of the year, check your tires more often.

Look for safety-related damage like cuts, cracks, blisters or bulges, but don’t stop there. Distortions in the tread, feathering or cupping can indicate other problems with your vehicle, like bad wheel alignment or bearings.

Sheldon also checks tread depth.

“I usually go down to 4/32nds, depending on whether or not I’m going to cap the casing or want casing credits,” he says. “Some people run the tread right down, because they know the retreader’s going to take it off anyway. But I don’t want to risk damage to the casing.”

Mounting and repairs
Unless your name is Grant Sheldon, chances are you’re not mounting or fixing your own tires.

“My best advice to owner-operators is to establish a working relationship with a tire dealer,” he says. “In 35 years of trucking, I’ve had two tire dealers. Befriend the people. Work with them. The dealer has a vested interest in keeping you happy.”

Cleanliness is important to Sheldon.

“You can have the best tire in the world, but it won’t perform as well if it’s mounted on a dirty rim,” Sheldon says. “Whenever I take a tire off a vehicle, I scrub the bead area and the entire inside of the wheel with a wire wheel buffer to remove all the debris. Also, I take a vacuum cleaner and clean away any loose rubber from the inside of the tire. I’ll take a can of soapy water, dump it in there and wipe the inside of the tire.

“Does it help? Some things I do are real important to mileage and safety, and a couple are probably just me being particular.”

They just work particularly well.