Preventing Highway 'Gators' That Give Trucking A Black Eye

April 29, 2013

Highway "alligators," those strips of tread strewn along our nation's highways, give trucking an undeserved black eye with the motoring public and also represent a huge loss to the trucking business, in terms of increased costs. It's a common misconception that the vast majority of the "Gators" on the road come from semi trucks. And the common myth is that most truck tire failures are the result of retreads. But research proves that to be a fallacy.

According to truck tire specialist Peggy Fisher, task forces with the American Trucking Assns. Technology and Maintenance Council, along with state Departments of Transportation collected roadside tire debris at 13 locations across the nation to determine the type and cause of tire failure.

"We were very careful to count only larger scraps to reduce the possibility of counting the same tire twice and all the pieces were examined by tire engineers to determine tire type and cause of failure," Fisher says.

"Over one third of all roadside tire scraps in our surveys came from passenger and light truck tires, not heavy duty truck tires," Fisher adds. "That's especially significant, because the number of retreaded passenger and light truck tires is almost zero. So, these tire scraps couldn't be the fault of the retreading process.

The Tire Retread Information Bureau debunks the following myths about truck tire retreads:

Myth: Rubber on the road comes from retreaded tires. Fact: The rubber pieces you see on the road come from both new and retreaded tires in equal proportions to their usage on roads. Multiple federal and state studies have proven this fact and that most of the rubber on the road comes from truck tires and is caused mainly by underinflation, overloading, and tire abuse.

Myth: Retreaded tires are not as safe as new tires. Fact: Retreaded tires as just as safe as new tires. Adjustment percentages of retreaded tires are about the same as new tires. Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that nearly all tires involved in any tire related accidents are underinflated or bald. Properly maintained tires, whether new or retreaded, do not cause accidents. Retreaded tires are used safely everyday by ambulances, fire engines, school buses, and aircraft.

Myth: Retreaded tires can't be driven at highway speeds. Fact: Yes, retreaded tires can be driven at the same legal speeds as comparable new tires with no loss in safety or comfort.

Myth: There are certain driving conditions where retreaded tires should not be driven. Fact: Retreaded tires can be driven wherever comparable new tires can be driven.

While recapped tires may take the heat as the main cause of "Gators," the real enemy of commercial truck tires is underinflation and has been estimated to cause nine out of 10 tire failures.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. warns that running underinflated tires can cause:

  • Separations
  • Circumferential Breaks
  • Higher Risk of Road Hazard
  • Loss of Fuel Economy
  • Uneven/Irregular Wear
  • Higher Risk of Road Hazard
  • Higher Downtime Expense
  • Loss of Casing Durability

The Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) reports that 10% underinflation will shorten tread life by 9% to 16%. Using an average tire price of $250, that underinflation costs you $25 per tire. And, because you'll change tires more often, you'll pay more in tire service fees, along with downtime, according to Bridgestone.

TMC suggests that each 10% results in a similar loss in tread life. So 20% underinflation could cost you $50 per tire. And if underinflation exceeds 10%, you may have bigger problems. Like flats and emergency road service calls that can cost anywhere from $100 to $1,000, Bridgestone adds.

Excessive deflection weakens steel cords excessively. And it's accepted as a fact in the tire industry that underinflation is a major contributor to premature tire removals. And flexing can generate excessive heat, the enemy of tire casings. Running underinflated can reduce the number of retreads you can get from one casing.

Underinflated tires can be dangerous. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration using data gathered between 2005 and 2007 conducted a study that found vehicles with tires underinflated by 25% or more were three times as likely to be involved in the crash linked to tire problems.

"Tire problems are inherently hazardous to vehicle safety," the NHTSA report said. "When these problems emerge in the pre-crash phase, the time window for attempting a crash avoidance maneuver is normally very small."

Both TMC and the Rubber Manufacturers' Association (RMA) recommend that any tire found to be 20% or more underinflated should be immediately removed from service, demounted and inspected for damage. Goodyear offers the following Do's and Don'ts for maintaining proper tire inflation pressure:

DO: Do maintain proper minimum inflation for load carried per the manufacturer's recommended guidelines. Do maintain mated dual tires at equal inflation. Do use sealing-type valve caps. Do check inflation at frequent intervals. Do keep inflation air dry.

DON'T: Don't permit tires to operate underinflated. Don't "bleed" air from warm tires to relieve pressure buildup. Don't reduce tire pressure to obtain a softer ride. Don't run with one tire of a dual assembly at low pressure or flat.

Don't inflate to cold pressures beyond rated rim capacity.

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