Tires can impact church budgets

A successful tire maintenance program uses stewardship to protect the bottom line.

By David Hubbard

In this harsh economic climate church leaders who also own and operate buses are forced to squeeze the most out of their vehicles. Church administrators will take measures to ensure that buses last as long as possible and will also find ways to reduce fuel consumption. However, few people realize that tires on a bus comprise the third highest cost after labor and fuel.

Bus tires take serious punishment as they transport passengers. Sidewalls take the brunt of curb damage and treads are subject to scrubbing and punctures from nails and other debris. Also, temperature changes result in unanticipated pressure loss. These issues make a formal tire maintenance program and policy critical to bus maintenance.

The first step toward a written policy for tire maintenance is to establish a baseline. Operators should collect tire data for at least one year to pinpoint certain changes that may create greater efficiency or cost savings.

Measure the data

An effective policy should stipulate and record several measurements:

•  Established air pressure data

•  Loads carried by vehicles

•  Frequency of tire inspections

•  Removal timelines for retreads

•  Expected life of the tire casing

•  Inspection of failed or end-of-life tires

Anyone handling the tires and tire equipment should be trained. In fact, OSHA requires anyone  who touches a tire to have basic training from manufacturers or through the Tire Industry Association (TIA).

Check air pressure

At its most basic, the tire program must require drivers to check air pressure and the condition of the tires in all positions during the pre-trip and post trip inspections. Handle repairs immediately to avoid further problems. If the tread has reached the specified retread pull point or DOT minimum tread depth, pull the tire.

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The following is a checklist from Michelin for better tire maintenance practices. It’s important to note that tire pressure is mentioned three times because it should be the focal point of any tire maintenance program.

1. Check tires for correct air pressures. Every shop should have a master air gauge and arm every driver with an accurate pressure gauge and instructions to check the tires daily.

2. Drivers should conduct a visual inspection of their tires prior to operating the vehicle. They should look for signs of irregular wear in the tread or shoulder areas and examine the tires for bubbles or bumps caused by air infiltration or foreign objects.

3. Check the owner’s manual or the vehicle load and tire information placard to determine precise air pressures for the loads that the vehicle is designed to carry.

4. A tire that is 20 percent below the optimal air pressure is a flat tire. A tire that runs under these conditions will experience casing fatigue that could lead to a catastrophic failure or a zipper rupture. If the tire has run 20 percent underinflated, scrap it.

5. Never weld or apply heat to the wheel when the tire is mounted on it. This can cause serious damage to the tire and can cause the tire to explode, causing personal injury.

6. Store tires properly when they are not in use. Place them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to avoid premature aging.

7. A tire that runs 10 percent underinflated will lose 10 percent in tread wear and will come out of service quicker.

8. Beware of mixing tires on a bus, especially across an axle. Try to match tires with the same tread depths, same tread patterns and same height or diameter.

9. Keep tires clean with regular washings with warm soap and water to prevent premature aging and deterioration of the rubber.

There are two approaches to tire maintenance. Some prefer to take care of it all in house, while others choose to outsource all or part of the program. Regardless of the option, it is a good idea to work with a dealer willing to work with owners in reducing overall tire cost.

David Hubbard is the editor of BusRide, Phoenix, AZ.
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