At Your Service

| December 12, 2008

Certified mechanic and owner-operator Grant Sheldon says the emergency tire service he’s received meets his tough standards.

Owner-operator Grant Sheldon of Henderson, Ky., hauls Kenworth parts on a weekly expedited run between Ohio and Seattle. “I don’t have half a day to get a tire repaired,” Sheldon says. “I really have only a matter of minutes. There are zero excuses for being late.”

Sheldon therefore has learned a phone number by heart: Goodyear’s 4-TIRES NOW hot line. During a walkaround in Iowa, for example, he saw he had picked up a bolt in a drive tire.

“It wasn’t near my normal shop, so I called the Goodyear emergency line, and they referred me to a shop in Omaha, Neb., right on my way,” Sheldon says. “It worked very well. I drove right in, got it repaired properly, and drove right out again. I bet I wasn’t there a half-hour. It was almost like a pit stop.”

Sheldon’s experience pleases Goodyear spokesman Al Cohn. “Our goal is, up and running in two hours or less,” he says. “We can’t always meet that standard, but unless the guy is in the middle of Montana or something, we’re pretty good.”

Among the tire brands most popular with owner-operators, a couple offer toll-free numbers that owner-operators can call from the road not only to find the nearest authorized dealer but also to line up emergency service. Other tire makers are looking into launching such owner-operator services, perhaps by starting new programs or expanding existing fleet programs.

Bridgestone/Firestone launched its National Preferred program in 1996, designed to give even one-truck owner-operators the round-the-clock help of its fleet support center, says Dave Kolasinsky, manager of truck tire marketing. “A caller just tells us the location and who he is, and we do the rest.”

The service has grown at a strong pace since 1996, Kolasinsky says. “We have thousands of customers enrolled, from one-truck operations to a couple of hundred trucks, and every single day we’re processing applications. More and more smaller fleets are coming to us.”

Goodyear fields hundreds of calls a month to 4-TIRES NOW, which Cohn says was the first such service in the commercial tire industry. “It’s one of those programs – knock wood – that really doesn’t seem to have any issues,” he says. “Lots of people use it, and they’re happy with it, and we’re happy with it.”

Tire manufacturers offer emergency service to owner-operators partly to establish a direct relationship with a group of buyers who traditionally rely on truck stops or hometown suppliers, rather than dealer networks, says Continental Tire spokesman Clif Armstrong. “It’s really hard for manufacturers to get to the owner-operator with any sort of institutional service, and these plans offer one opportunity to do that.”

Continental’s own Truck Fix roadside assistance program isn’t set up yet to help smaller owner-operators, but anyone can locate the nearest Continental dealer at this site, Armstrong says.

Likewise, Michelin North America has not yet expanded its fleet service program, OnCall, to the owner-operator market. “Michelin is, however, currently working on a launch program for individual owner-operators, with more details to come,” says spokesman Christian Flathman.

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