The humble tyre may not seem like an incredibly high-tech piece of the modern car, van or truck, but there are a number of progressive manufacturers looking to correct that opinion. While those four contact patches may add up to little more than an A4 piece of paper, their role in transitioning an engine's power to the road cannot be underestimated.
Moreover, when conditions get tough, a good tyre can prevent aquaplaning, and even be the difference between stopping in a controlled manner and skidding out of control under harsh braking. Consequently, there are myriad benefits to putting tyre management and maintenance at the top of the agenda, especially for fleet managers who have a number of vehicles to look after.
So, what are the things to look out for and the best practices to follow when attempting to ensure that tyres stay in the best condition possible? Well, here are four to consider:
Worn out tyres can quickly present issues as soon as road conditions worsen.
1. Checking wear and depth
Tyre manufacturer Michelin explained that adequate tread depth is an absolute necessity. Essentially, if the amount of rubber left on the tyre falls below a certain limit, then it will not be fully effective. In fact, when the road is particularly wet, the amount of tread is what disperses water.
Consequently, if tread depth isn't up to standard, the tyre's effectiveness can be severely limited in adverse weather conditions. Nokian tyres has carried out a significant amount of research around this phenomenon, with surprising results.
Tyres that have a tread depth of less than 1.6 millimeters start aquaplaning on excessively wet roads at the relatively slow speed of 76 kilometres per hour (kph). Tyres that are brand new with all of their tread intact didn't begin losing grip until speeds hit 96 kph.
Consequently, when motorway speeds in New Zealand are considered, worn out tyres could quickly present issues to drivers as soon as conditions worsen.
Michelin explained that its tyres actually have tread depth indicator markings that begin to show if the rubber is in danger of wearing out. With such a feature, there's really no excuse in letting tread depths get down to dangerously low levels.
2. Keeping track of tyre pressures
Again, this may seem like a relatively routine piece of maintenance, but it's one that has huge potential to impact a vehicle's performance in a number of ways. For instance, inadequate tyre pressures can actually increase the chances of spinning out of control, as overarching traction is decreased.
Moreover, under-inflated tyres can also be an issue from an economy point of view. Goodyear explained that rolling resistance is increased when tyres are below the optimum pressure, meaning that the vehicle – and the engine in particular – has to work harder.
In turn, this burns more fuel and impacts economy. Consequently, for fleet managers who are leveraging business fuel cards, maintaining tyre pressures is a must.
3. Carrying out repairs
There are a whole host of hazards on the road that can damage tyres. Broken glass, nails and screws are typically the worst offenders, and the latter can even get lodged in the tread of the tyres themselves.
However, rather than write off the set, rubber repairs can prove cost effective. This is particularly relevant to fleet managers who are operating on a tight budget, as fixing one tyre will typically make much less of a financial impact than replacing a whole set.
While repairs may be the go to for many, it's important to ensure that they're carried out only when necessary and that the work done is ultimately safe. Automotive Fleet contributor Bob Abram explained that the Rubber Manufacturers Association offers these guidelines:
- Repairs must be limited to the tread area only.
- Two or more repairs cannot overlap.
- Both a rubber stem plug and a patch for the tyre's inner must be fitted on punctures as one or the other individually will be ineffective.
- Repairs must be performed by removing the tyre from the wheel – it's impossible to properly carry out repair work if the rubber is left on the rim.
Of course, the best idea is to consult with a specialist before carrying out a repair, and ensuring that those tasked with vehicle maintenance know the difference between a good and a bad tyre repair.
The bottom line
Fleet managers may not spend much time thinking about tyres, but there are cost saving and safety benefits to be had by individuals that can be proactive. If tyres are well maintained, the amount of money the company at large spends on fuel could be reduced.
Naturally, this may not be noticeable in one or two vehicles, but a large fleet could be impacting its company's bottom line if all of its tyres have pressures that are below the optimum by as little as 10 per cent.
Moreover, the safety of drivers has to be a top priority, and sending them out onto the open road with well-kept tyres can give them the best chance of staying in control – especially when conditions get tough.