For trucking fleets, especially those in the long-haul sector, fuel is a make-or-break expense. A recent Transport Topics article reported a 9.5-cent rise in the price of diesel fuel, making the national average $4.022 per gallon. So anything that can help cut fuel costs automatically increases profit.
One of the factors helping reduce fuel costs for the long-haul industry is the replacement of dual tires with wide-base tires, especially on heavy-duty tractor trailers. Originally developed decades ago, the first iteration of these tires had some drawbacks; but in 2000, a new generation wide-base single tire was introduced that corrected any of the earlier limitations; in fact, the new models have substantially more positive attributes. The latest models deliver improved fuel efficiency, excellent vehicle stability, reduced vehicle weight, and superior handling for over-the-road fleets. And as the quality has increased, so has the demand. Kevin Rohlwing, Senior V.P. of the Tire Industry Association estimates that this product line will see substantial growth in 2013. In fact, six different manufacturers are now producing versions of the wide-based single tires.
So how much can companies save by replacing their dual tires with wide-base singles? Consider that tire rolling resistance is responsible for 32% of a vehicle’s fuel consumption. Wide-base tires reduce rolling resistance. According to many of the tire manufacturers, carriers can see fuel savings of up to 10% (most carriers estimate a 3% to 6% savings, based on driver behavior, loads, and roads travelled), and weight savings of 700 lbs. up to 1,300 lbs. (the variance here depends on whether the fleet is replacing both trailer and drive tires and whether the wheels are aluminum or steel). Meant to be used originally on trailers, these new generation wide-bodies are now being designed and used for steer and drive as well.
Besides fuel and weight efficiencies, there are other advantages to these tires. According to a 2010 Executive Report, published by the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE), the benefits include:
- Lower overall means purchase price: as less tires…less wheels…less cost
- Easier tire pressure and overall tire maintenance (for the same reasons as above. In addition, drivers or technicians won’t have to reach for the inside valve stem as they do on duals)
- Improved ride and handling
- Increased brake life, up to 20,000 miles per tractor. This is due to increased air being pulled across the brake drum.
- Elimination of dual matching concerns. Dual tire setups will mean higher rolling resistance since no two tires, mounted back to back, are exactly the same dimension
So what’s the resistance to this fuel-saving move? For some, it’s just an overall resistance to change. Plus, many fleet managers may be remembering the disadvantages of the earlier models. But there are some issues to consider:
- Retrofitting equipment. Since the wide-base tires have different attributes, if a fleet is replacing existing duals with the single wide-base, there need to be more robust bearings and possibly, different brake canister brackets as well
- Earlier replacement than duals due to wear on the tread face
- Improper inflation will have a faster negative effect than it would on duals
The biggest concern is the “one tire down equals two tires down.” If a driver is riding with single wide-base tires, one tire failure can result in significant breakdown costs; when a dual tire fails, the driver can often coast to a repair facility. And the truck with the wide-base tires isn’t moving until the replacement occurs.
But, with all the new CSA rules and regulations, switching to the wide-base tires will be beneficial as these tires have been engineered to comply with EPA SmartWay fuel-saving verification standards for long-haul vehicles. And the agency has estimated that driving on wide-base tires can cut emissions of carbon dioxide (the most common greenhouse gas) by more than 5 metric tons annually.
To decide if wide-base tires are the right move for your business, you should analyze the cost per mile of your current dual tires and compare that with the anticipated cost per mile of the new models. Then educate yourself to the costs and advantages from each manufacturer. Only after you’ve done your homework should you move to make any changes.