Renewed retreads

The same research and development that keeps new tires ever more durable and fuel-efficient is being introduced to retreads more quickly than ever by tire makers.

“They are all incorporating new tire design, tread rubber compounding, etc., into the retreading side of their companies,” says Harvey Brodsky, managing director of the Tire Retread & Repair Information Bureau.

That transfer became more pronounced in the past five years or so, says Marvin Bozarth of Bozarth Tire Industry Consultants. The trend accelerated in recent years when diesel prices surged and fleets wanted to reduce fuel costs while optimizing treadwear.

“Every time we develop something new on new tires, we’re looking to mimic it on retread soon thereafter,” says Marc Laferrierre, vice president of marketing for Michelin Americas Truck Tires. For example, Michelin makes available for its retreads a pre-molded tread that combines two compounds – one that lays next to the casing to hold down heat and reduce rolling resistance and the other on top to enhance wear characteristics.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber is introducing more of its new tire compounds into its retread, says Rick Thomas, Goodyear project manager for commercial retreads. “We’re using some of our new-tire plants to provide materials for retreads,” he says.

In addition, Goodyear matches retread designs to those of new tires. For example, Goodyear has introduced a G287 retread to complement its G287 new tire, introduced a few years ago for all-position, over-the-road service. Other retread models are following new models in local, off-road service.

Last year, when fuel prices rocketed above $4.50 a gallon, retreaders jumped to offer compounds that improved fuel efficiency.

“We saw a lot more interest in our FuelTech drive and trailer” retreads, says Chris Hoffman, manager of Bridgestone Bandag Tire Solutions’ truck/bus radial and retread product marketing. “Those use a compound with very low rolling resistance. They offer our best fuel efficiency for retreads and match new-tire fuel efficiency.”

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Thomas says that long tread wear has always been the leading feature for retreads for line-haul usage, but recent volatile fuel prices have pushed fuel economy to a close second.
Despite these and other technological advances of the retread industry, as well as growing acceptance by many cost-conscious fleets, there remains some resistance among owner-operators.

“If I were driving in town, I might consider [retreads],” says Jim Weishaar, owner-operator of Samaritan Trucking of Show Low, Ariz., leased to Dallas Mavis. “But it’s impractical out on the road. I can’t afford any downtime.”

Brodsky maintains, however, that retread adjustment (or failure) rates have improved dramatically through the use of sophisticated retread testing techniques. “Today’s adjustment rate for top-quality retreaders is less than 1 percent,” he says.

Weishaar says he expects to get 200,000 miles from tires. He bought his current Michelins slightly used and estimates they’ve run 235,000 miles and should be good for another 40,000 to 50,000 miles.

Laferrierre contends that an operator who gets 250,000 miles from a set of new tires “could easily get 200,000 miles out of a set of fuel-efficient retread tires. If you’re going for fuel-efficient compound, you’re going to improve your fuel economy by 4 to 5 percent, while you might sacrifice 15 to 20 percent in mileage.”

Gary Loew, an owner-operator from Veguita, N.M., who works with Desert Dog Logistics, ran about two years on retread tires with few problems when he was based in Spokane, Wash., and drove mostly in the North. Now that he drives Southwestern lanes, he has switched strictly to new tires.

“When temperatures go over 100 degrees in the air and who knows how much more on the road, the recaps didn’t hold up,” he says. “They were coming apart. I was down a couple of times a week waiting for tire repairs.”

Brodsky contends, however, that retreads perform just as well as new tires in extreme heat. “There is ample evidence from many sources that properly maintained retreads will perform exactly the same as any virgin tire in any temperature,” he says. “‘Properly maintained’ is the key, because any tire that is not properly maintained will fail, given enough time. This means the tire must have the proper amount of air for the load and the vehicle must be properly aligned.”

The question of whether a retread can stand up to the heat is one of many properties Goodyear retreaders consider in selecting compounds and determining how many times a casing can be retreaded. Thomas says, “A key property you see from a compound is how hot the casing runs – how much heat is generated. Our casings are designed to be very heat tolerant.”
Retreads match new tires for performance not only in hot weather but also for staying intact. Studies have determined that retreads are no more responsible for roadside rubber than new tires. Underinflation or overloading, Brodsky says, are the culprits in most failure cases.

One of those still unconvinced of retreads’ quality is Todd Krause. The owner-operator from Kanawha, Iowa, leased to Bennett Motor Express, says he’s never tried retreads: “I’ve always run on original rubber. None of my friends run retreads – not one.”

Still, those willing to try them are increasing. Laferrierre points out that more miles were driven on recapped tires in 2008 than on new treads by all Class 6-8 vehicles – an estimated 14.4 million miles on retreads, 14.3 million on new tires.

Tire manufacturers believe that retreads will gain greater acceptance levels in tough economic times because of their cost advantage. Hoffman sees more fleets using retreads to cut costs and increase tire longevity. “When fleets buy that premium tire casing and that tread wears off and they dispose of that casing, they’re not utilizing their assets,” he says. “That asset will often yield as many as four retreads. If they retread their casings, they can retread for 40 to 50 percent of the cost of a new tire.”

Brodsky says that if owner-operators give retreads a chance, they will find tires that will deliver performance similar to new tires at a much lower price. “He will know that he can take his tires and have them retreaded and get back into service with mileage that will approximate, within 5 percent, the mileage he got with his new tires. And he can get that retread tire for about $150, compared with the best price of $450 for a new tire. Once we convince him, we will own him.”