The 411 on Extending Semi-Trailer Tire Life

Fact: Out of all the over-the-road trailer breakdown events that our Star Breakdown Service (SBS) division handled in the last three years, 39 percent were caused by tire issues. As alarming as that number might sound, it’s even more of a shock that, on average, tire repair and replacement costs account for ~50 percent of total breakdown expenses for many companies—not including Department of Transportation (DOT) fines. So why are tires responsible for so many over-the-road breakdown events and DOT violations? Weather and road hazards are definitely factors but standard equipment specs, preventative maintenance (PM) and pre/post-trip inspections play a much bigger role.

“People are often looking for a quick way out,” explains SBS Senior Account Executive Don Lunardini, “but shortcuts only lead to high detention times, violations and potential safety hazards that could impact lives and insurance.”

Extending tire life not only keeps the roads safer but also provides substantial cost savings, better fuel economy and improved DOT compliance. To help, we have put together a list of pre/post-trip inspection tips that will help ensure tires are road-ready and reduce DOT violations.

TIP #1: Tire Pressure

Inflate tires to recommended Pounds per Square Inch based on your load. Check inflation prior to each trip. Dual tires should be within four psi of each other.

TIP #2: Valve Caps

Inspect the valve caps. Make sure they are properly secured. If valve caps are missing, promptly get them replaced.

TIP #3: Tire Damage

Visually inspect all tires for damage such as bulges in tread, cuts in sidewalls, nails, or other foreign objects embedded in tread. Does this seem like a lot? It’s better to take this time pre-trip than over-the-road. Also, visually inspect to see if anything is lodged between dual tires.

TIP #4: Tread Depth/Wear

Measure tread depth to ensure each tire is at a good tread depth. As tread depth decreases, the trailer tires become subject to punctures or road hazards. The last thing you want is a tire blowout that jeopardizes your ability to meet delivery obligations. Be sure also to inspect tires for evidence of uneven wear patterns.

TIP #5: Tread Depth Difference

Like mismatched air pressures, mismatched tread depth can also lead to irregular wear issues and possibly a tire-related breakdown event.

“When tires are in their first life, it is best to check with a tread depth gauge to ensure the tires are within 4/32nds of one another,” Lunardini explains. “If you are inspecting retreads due to various casings expanding and contracting at different rates, it is better to utilize a circumferential tool to qualify the actual height of the cap and casing. Also, check with your retread manufacturer as they identify the circumference on the sticker so the technician can match up two retreads that are the same circumference.”

TIP #6: Suspension/Alignment/Balance

Ensure there are no suspension components in need of repair or replacement. Perform alignments with your maintenance provider at recommended intervals.

The Payoff

Taking the time to inspect semi-trailer tires thoroughly prior to each trip is tedious but the payoff is immense. The more times you do it, the easier it becomes to spot issues that could turn into costly over-the-road breakdowns or DOT violations. Adopting a preventive, proactive approach to maintaining semi-trailer tires—and any other component for that matter—is the first step in reducing over-the-road expenses, driver downtime and other stressors related to equipment breakdowns. 

“Leading with proactive measures could greatly impact profitability—and that starts with taking five extra minutes inspecting equipment before a trip,” Lunardini adds.

Adopting the tips mentioned above will help prevent unscheduled maintenance events but some breakdowns are still inevitable. We can help you with both proactive and reactive maintenance—whether at one of our branches or over-the-road. Contact us today to get started.