Why it’s important to choose the right tires for your semi-truck
Every trucker has heard it a million times: The tires are the only part of the truck touching the road, so take care of them at all times. This advice has become so commonplace that it likely gets overlooked among the wide range of safety and performance checks drivers make each day before hitting the road.
It is imperative, though, that truckers ensure their tires work at peak performance at all times. A damaged tire presents an immediate safety concern for the driver and other motorists on the road. Let’s take a minute and look at what truck drivers should look for in their tires and the best ways to maintain them for safety and efficiency.
How to Pick the Correct Tires for Your Truck
The best tires for each driver depend on the type of truck piloted and the driver’s typical routes. Advances in tire technology continue to provide benefits, but even then, truck drivers may not be comfortable with some of the performance or cost tradeoffs that happen.
The traditional dual tire structure remains the most popular, but wide-based low-resistance tires continue to grow in popularity. As their name suggests, these tires provide less resistance than traditional tires, offering drivers improved gas mileage. When the price of diesel fuel is low, these types of tires are used less, as they need to be replaced more often; however, when the price of fuel climbs above $4 per gallon, they may become more cost-efficient over time.
How to Take Care of Your Truck Tires
No matter what type of tires you use, it is vital they work properly. Here are some tire maintenance checks all drivers should regularly make.
- Check air pressure.
Over- or under-inflated tires can reduce the performance of a truck and alter how it drives or reacts in an emergency. Drivers should manually check their air pressure before every trip to ensure it meets the manufacturer-designated standards. Larger fleets should consider using tire pressure monitoring systems (TMPS) and continuous tire inflation systems (CTIS) on trailers. While they bring an added cost, these systems ensure tire pressure remains safe and consistent.
- Check tread depth.
Along with air pressure, the depth of tire treads should be checked before every trip. The standard way is to put a penny with Lincoln upside down between the treads. If Lincoln’s face is visible, it is time for a new set.
- Rotate tires.
Based on where they are on a truck, tires can receive uneven wear and tear on the tread. Rotating tires every 6,000 to 8,000 miles can help expand their life span. Along with rotating tires, complete a full three-axle wheel alignment as well. While these measures may seem tedious, they go a long way in keeping tires on the road.
- Ensure proper wheel torque.
This is easier than it sounds. Wheel torque is the simple act of adjusting the lug nuts on your wheels. Wheels that are either too tight or too loose can cause damage while driving, so take a few minutes and check each one before you start a trip.
- Practice good habits.
Tires are designed to perform a certain way. Driving too fast, making hard stops, or accelerating too quickly can quicken tire deterioration. Continue to drive in a safe manner that follows all road laws and best practices to protect tires and other valuable equipment.
- Fix problems when they happen.
For busy truckers, it can be easy to neglect small items that need fixing. Too often, these smaller problems grow into larger ones that can increase the cost of repairs. If you notice something is wrong with a tire or any part of your truck, make an effort to fix it as quickly as possible, so it does not turn into a larger problem.
- Stay up to date.
New information about tires and other preventative safety measures constantly change and are continually updated. Even experienced drivers need to ensure they have all the latest training and adhere to new standards and laws when driving. Drivers can never have enough training, so put yourself in a continuous learning state to enjoy long-term success.
Drivers today must work within several standards and regulations to properly operate on the road. This can feel like a lot at times. These steps are important, and taking smart care of your truck and its tires will provide sustainable financial benefits for you and your operation.
Working as a long-haul owner/operator is a difficult, dangerous career not meant for the faint of heart. Ever-changing road and weather conditions, unfamiliar locations, 70-hour workweeks, and almost total isolation—the modern owner/operator faces unparalleled challenges day in and day out. As the winter season creeps in, drivers have their work cut out for them as they deliver all of those unbelievable Black Friday deals and Santa’s nice-list promises. With that in mind, it’s imperative that owner/operators plan ahead for the harsh winter weather and prepare their trucks for what is sure to be one of the busiest holiday seasons to date.
Here are five tips for winterizing your semi-truck to stay safe and save money while on road:
1. Inspect Your Battery
Many people don’t know this, but extreme weather can zap the charge from a vehicle’s battery. According to Farm and Dairy, “Cold temperatures wreak havoc on batteries because they slow the chemical reaction inside of the battery. Though batteries can function under myriad conditions, the cold weather tends to degrade high-quality batteries and may render subpar batteries useless.” The last thing an owner/operator needs is to wake up to a dead battery as their truck sits in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere, therefore losing valuable driving time and increasing expenses. Avoid battery problems by inspecting the battery connectors for corrosion, securing the mounts, and checking the electrical components. If the battery is over two years old, consider replacing the battery prior to peak season.
2. Install an Electric Block Heater
Diesel engines require significantly more heat to turn-over than their gasoline counterparts—the combustion range for gasoline is 700 to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit while the range for diesel is 1,000 to 1,200. In cold enough temperatures, a diesel engine may struggle to turn-over, and during the most inclement winter weather, there may be no viable way for the engine to reach the necessary temperatures. This can be avoided by installing an electric block heater to keep the engine warm while the vehicle is off overnight, ensuring it rolls over on the first try regardless of the weather outside.
3. Check Your Tires
Ideally, drivers should inspect their tires religiously as tire blowouts account for roughly 6% of semi-truck accidents. The need to inspect tires increases with the colder weather as worn-out, damaged, or underinflated tires can struggle to gain traction in snow and ice, creating unsafe driving conditions. Additionally, owner/operators need to pack the correct size and number of tire chains in case their route takes them through a state where semi-trucks are required to use chains. Tire chains are an owner/operator’s best friend when driving on icy terrain; they can make all the difference between reaching your destination safely or sliding into a ditch—or worse. Stay prepared and plan ahead.
4. Inspect Your Cooling System
A semi-truck’s engine cooling system has to work overtime during the winter months. This is due to the fact that the harsh winter weather forces the engine itself to work significantly harder than in the warmer months. The cooling system should be thoroughly inspected and tested by a mechanic prior to the winter season to make sure no hoses are worn or damaged, hose clamps are tight and secure, and the radiator has no damage or leaks. If the cooling system fails, the entire engine will fail along with it, costing you precious dollars and quite possibly your deadline. The last thing an owner/operator wants is to be stranded on the side of the road with no fix other than replacing the cooling system completely.
5. Prepare an Emergency Kit
Sometimes, no matter how much you plan, or how much you prepare, you still run into the proverbial—or literal—bump in the road. If an owner/operator finds themselves stranded in harsh winter climates while in route to their destination, it can be incredibly dangerous without the necessary supplies to ensure your safety and survival. Always prepare an emergency kit to protect yourself from the weather or other threats you may face while on the road. We recommend including the following items in your emergency travel kit:
● Extra blankets
● First aid kit
● Flashlight and extra batteries
● Canned food and bottled water
● Snow boots
● Snow shovel
● Flare and flare gun
● CB Radio
● Extra coolant, washer fluid, engine oil
● Extra fuel filter and fuel filter wrench
● Spare Diesel fuel
● Tire chains
These items will make sure you are safe, protected, and have extra supplies on-hand in case the problem can be easily solved—such as low oil levels or running out of fuel.
Picture this: You’re on the road and the inevitable happens… You get stopped for a roadside inspection. Such blitzes can happen at any time but are particularly enforced during certain times of the year. For example, Operation Safe Driver Week took place in July 2020. During that time period, law enforcement observed over 66,000 drivers engaging in unsafe driving on roadways and issued 71,343 warnings and citations.
There’s also the annual International Roadcheck. In this three-day period, the emphasis is placed on compliance with federal regulations, and inspectors use the North American Standard Out-of-Service Criteria to spot any violations. Last year’s International Roadcheck revealed staggering results. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, of the 3.36 million inspections conducted, 952,938 driver violations were noticed, of which 199,722 were out-of-service (OOS) conditions.
At some point in your trucking career, you will be flagged down for a roadside inspection. Passing or failing inspection, however, is ultimately contingent on your preparedness. Listed below are the top four ways you can plan ahead to pass a roadside inspection.
1) Make Sure You Have Proper Documentation
There are a total of eight inspection levels. Level III inspection is specifically centered on the driver’s credentials, which includes but isn’t limited to a CDL review, medical examiner’s certificate, plus the record of duty status, and more. Among the top 25 truck driver violations last year, driving without a valid medical certificate ranked at #2. This is merely a one-point violation, but it’s easily avoidable when owners/operators keep themselves organized.
Unfortunately, when you’re in a rush to hit the road, staying up to date with important documents can easily fall by the wayside. It’s helpful to already have a binder or folder consisting of the documents the inspector will need. Such documents include a driver’s license, registration, vehicle insurance, medical examiner’s certificate, record of duty status, annual inspection records, hazardous materials paperwork, IFTA card, and permit credentials.
2) Have a Pre-trip Checklist Ready
During a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) Level I Roadside Inspection, there are some equipment problems that can lead to trip delays, citations, or worse yet, an OOS order. In order to avoid the three aforementioned issues, make it a habit to address the following items daily: replace/mend deflated or worn tires, adjust brakes or other brake-related problems, secure your load, take care of oil leaks, and repair any damaged lights or windshield.
Another facet of the checklist needs to include understanding how your electronic logging device (ELD) works. In the event you’re flagged for an inspection, you’ll need to know how to email your e-logs to the inspector. This will help expedite the entire process quickly, so you can get you back on the road.
What if you covered your checklist, but encounter an issue and an unexpected inspection on the road? Be transparent with the inspector about anything that may cause further inspection. This can mean the difference between a waiver of citation(s) or incurring a violation. If you recently discovered the issue, tell the inspector and take steps to handle it promptly.
3) Keep up with the Maintenance of Your Truck
This tip goes hand-in-hand with having a pre-trip checklist. Staying safe on the road for you and others is the top priority—besides passing the roadside inspection. And the key to safety comes down to the upkeep of your truck.
When you start your semi-truck, take time to do the following:
- Check the tires for punctures, pressure, and air leaks.
- Ensure all your lights are working properly. This is not to be taken lightly. A broken light is a six-point violation, and in some instances, can result in an OOS.
- Make sure your truck’s windshield is clean. Not only is this highly important to your safety and that of others, but it also can make or break your chances of getting pulled over by law enforcement for an inspection.
- Perform a Driver’s Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) to ensure you’re meeting the law’s standards for your truck. This includes checking things such as your battery, clutch, exhaust, and more. Covering all your bases by paying attention to detail can help you not only pass a potential inspection but will also help you stay safe.
4) Don’t forget to conduct a post-trip (and en route) inspection
Let’s face it: Roadside inspections are part of being a trucker in the U.S. Whether you’re a rookie or an expert truck driver, you need to get into the practice of conducting routine inspections en route and post-trip. A solid post-trip inspection gives you time to address an identified problem before the truck makes its next trip. Much like the pre-trip checklist, the post-trip inspection list is equally important. Though it’s time-consuming, such a task will help in keeping you safe for your next trip and possible inspection. So, take time to check major details such as the functionality of your brakes, windshield wipers, steering efficiency, and tire condition.
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Semi-truck maintenance can be expensive and unpredictable, but it’s a necessary evil that comes along with ownership. It’s tempting to put off repairs until damage occurs, but regular maintenance is crucial to preventing more serious problems down the road. Preventative maintenance can save costs and eliminate downtime for your truck. Annual repairs and tune-ups are recommended by industry professionals, but how often are they really necessary, and how much should you be saving for them? Here are our recommendations for how to keep up with your annual semi-truck maintenance.
What Yearly Maintenance is Necessary?
Major engine repair can cost up to $22k, so preventative measures are cheaper in the long run. While the intricacies of your truck are unique, there are a few measures that are standard for all trucks. While many are relatively cheap and mundane, they can prevent engine and body damage that could potentially cost you a small fortune in repairs. Here are the most important methods of regular truck maintenance to keep in mind:
- Checking tires for wear
- Regular oil changes
- Fuel Vent Cleaning
- Brake checks
- Add Grease to Moving Parts
- Check Radiator for Leaks and Fluid Loss
Some Repairs Are More Important Than Others…
While all regular maintenance is important, there are three things that are especially crucial: tires, radiators, and oil changes. These are particularly important because they can cause the most expensive damage if left unattended.
Replacing your worn tires is essential for responsible truck ownership due to the dangerous alternative. Popping a tire on your route becomes a massive collision risk once you lose control of the vehicle. When you drive with worn tires, you risk damaging your own truck, public property, as well as posing a massive public safety risk. It’s important to be able to recognize when your tires have worn down too thin. Most semi-truck tires have clear indicators of this, known as “tread wear indicators,” and if they’re visible, it’s time to replace. They usually just look like flat bars running the width of the tire. A good standard to follow is to reassess every 100,000-150,000 miles or if you notice a cracking or bulging along the sidewalls of the tires.
Oil changes are vastly important, and if you don’t keep up with it, you’ll start to see a plethora of problems with your engine. Oil changes clean out sludge and grime, and without them, your engine could overheat and cease its normal functions, leading to a much bigger bill. While your truck might have a light that comes on on your dash when it’s time, the best way to be sure of your oil situation is to regularly check your oil stick.
It’s important to check for leaks in your radiator and replace any fluids that appear to be running low. These efforts also aid in the prevention of an engine overheat. Engine care is especially important considering that it can be one of the most expensive repairs you’ll ever have as an owner-operator.
How Much Should You Save?
It can be difficult to judge how much money to put away from each paycheck towards a maintenance fund. These costs will differ dramatically depending on various factors. One of the most important factors is your own skillset. Doing the maintenance yourself will be a fraction of what it would cost you to go and have it done by a professional. If you’re not well versed in semi-truck maintenance, you’ll have to fork over significantly more dough, but the quality is the most important priority when it comes to taking care of you and your livelihood. Additionally, the type of truck that you have matters. Older trucks tend to have more expensive maintenance proceedings due to the rarity of their parts and the added wear and tear.
While there is no exact formula, there is a usual estimate based on miles driven that industry professionals recommend using. Usually saving between 5-10 cents per mile driven is a good idea, but if you’re finding that you have to save more than 15 cents per mile, it might be time to consider replacing your truck in favor of a more dependable option.
Staying Safe and Financially Secure
Breaking down due to poor maintenance can not only cause expensive repairs, it can majorly cut into productivity, as you have to stop your route and seek help. Sometimes you even have to forfeit your haul and therefore lose out on the pay from the entire trip, putting you behind on paychecks with the added stress of repair bills.
It can additionally be dangerous to not have a properly functioning semi, as many of these repairs are essential to having total control of the truck. It can be especially unsafe if you break down on a route and you’re in an unfamiliar place without immediate assistance. All of these factors are important to consider before getting a semi-truck, as these procedures are part of operating costs that will determine your overall profit and lifestyle. If you think you’re ready to take it all on, contact Mission Financial to get started with your semi-truck financing!
While you may find the picture above amusing, there’s nothing amusing about spending more money for fuel than you need. Your fuel prices are high enough without them receiving any extra help. While many ways exist for you to lower your fleet’s fuel costs, let’s look at six of them right now. Here are the top ways for fleet owners to start conserving fuel.
1. Regular Preventive Maintenance
The number one and most impactful method for reducing fuel costs is implementing an effective regular preventive maintenance (PM) program. Regularly scheduled PM, which can improve a truck’s fuel economy by up to 40 percent, includes maintaining engines and related components as well tires.
- Regular engine oil changes are a must for your trucks because they’re one of the biggest components to PM. The United States Department of Energy states you can increase per-truck fuel economy by as much as two percent by using manufacturers’ recommended engine oil grades. Additionally, look for engine oil labeled as “energy conserving”; it contains friction-reducing additives that help increase fuel economy. Less friction means oil will circulate more easily through the powertrain, which helps improve fuel economy.
- During each of your trucks’ PMs, remove and clean the battery, its connectors, and cables, then load test each one. Something may fail under load, but better in your shop than on the road. Buy your mechanics a battery tester and ensure they know how to use it.
- Trucks’ coolant systems and pressure test caps must be checked during each PM. You don’t want coolant to boil, possibly leading to more costly repairs because of a faulty cap. By caring for your trucks’ cooling systems, you can prevent about 50 percent of potentially major engine failures.
- Don’t forget antifreeze. By “don’t forget,” we mean pay attention to the antifreeze you use prior to adding it to a truck’s cooling system. Newer engines contain metals such as aluminum that don’t play well with some of the chemicals added to engine coolants. Ensure your technicians understand which trucks require which coolants, and ensure they monitor the coolant condition of each truck.
- Lubricate, lubricate, lubricate – and not just engines. Kingpins and universal joints are two major weak points, so take care of them. Although some universal joints have been designed to run hundreds of thousands of miles without trouble, many eventually will require a normal lubricant regimen.
- Let’s talk a little bit about your truck’s tires. The United States Department of Energy maintains that for every one PSI drop in tire pressure, gas mileage will decrease by 0.4 percent. Also, ensure trucks maintain proper wheel alignment, as improper alignment can negatively affect fuel efficiency by up to 10 percent. Needless to say, keep your truck’s tires inflated to the proper pressure and check your wheel alignment.
2. Reshape Your Driving Behavior
The second way to conserve fuel is by addressing driving behavior. The United States Department of Energy has found aggressive drivers can reduce highway fuel efficiency by up to 33 percent and city fuel efficiency by up to five percent.
How can fleet owners shape driver behavior? One way may be to deploy in-cab tools such as coaching apps. Here are three in-cab driver coaching apps that can help increase your fleet’s fuel efficiency. Although they all differ from one another in particular respects, they share several commonalities:
- They draw their truck data directly from the engine control module through a truck’s data port.
- They all provide drivers with indicators regarding their driving performances.
- They all provide driver feedback and score them based upon driving technique, without relying upon fuel consumption data.
Deploying apps like these and having your drivers accept them will work best when you and your company trust your drivers. If you trust them, they’ll trust you and be more likely to accept new technology. Your drivers may even use apps like this to create friendly rivalries to determine who is the most fuel-efficient driver. You could even create company-sanctioned competitions complete with rewards for drivers and driver teams.
3. Fuel-Saving Technologies
Third, evaluate fuel-saving technologies you could implement in your fleet. If you haven’t yet, evaluate telemetry, automated manual transmissions, low-rolling-resistance tires, anti-idling devices, synthetic lubricants, automatic tire inflation systems, adaptive loading axles, full-tractor aerodynamic packages, and aerodynamic skirting for trailers. These are some of the low-hanging fruits you could grab.
4. Consider Truck Replacement
You might consider replacing older trucks with new trucks, even if you might be retrofitting older trucks with fuel-saving specs. Fleets can save $6,048 per truck in the first year of fuel expenditures when replacing a 2015 MY sleeper. That’s a 12 percent increase in fuel economy!
5. Analyze Your Truck Data
Perform some old-fashioned data analysis. How do patterns of fuel usage compare among your drivers on the same or similar routes? Who uses the most fuel, all things being equal? Which trucks present the lowest MPG? Could design or mechanical issues cause any discovered fuel efficiency issues? Maybe the route itself creates a fuel efficiency issue, which leads to the sixth and final top way for fleet owners to conserve fuel.
6. Optimize Your Route Plans
Don’t just rely solely on routing software; perform a route analysis the old-fashioned way. Road quality, traffic conditions, and speed limits influence a truck’s MPG. The shortest distance from one point to another may not always be the most cost-effective. Analyze idling time vs. driving time and design routes to minimize idling as much as possible. Also, look at the terrain your trucks travel on. The EPA’s fuel estimates assume operation on flat surfaces, so if your routes traverse hilly or bumpy roads, your vehicle’s MPG will be lower than the EPA’s ratings for your vehicles.
If you’re a veteran of the open road, you probably know as an owner-operator just how expensive it is to maintain a semi truck. But how exactly does that cost break down? It’s no secret that truck driving can be a lucrative career. But how do the costs of repair maintenance compare to average income, and what are your options to cover repairs if you don’t have the cash up front?
Today, a successful commercial truck driver according to CNN can make a median annual wage of $73,000 working for a privately owned fleet (such as Wal Mart). According to the Labor Department, the median salary for all truck drivers is around $40,000 a year. However, trucker wages have been steadily increasing alongside a national shortage of commercial vehicle drivers. The demand for more drivers has influenced private fleet owners in particular to offer more enticing benefits and gains. Truck driving is also a sustainable career, with the median age for drivers landing at 49 years old, slightly higher than the median age for all American workers (42).
With all the financial opportunities and benefits that lie in the commercial transportation industry, the costs of operation can still add up. Operating a commercial vehicle is expensive, and can cost up to $180,000 on a yearly basis by some estimates. Diesel fuel alone is one of the largest expenses, with semi trucks requiring up to 20,500 gallons a year in standard use. This equates to $70,000 of diesel fuel per year! This is 39% of total operating cost, or $0.54 per mile. If you operate a small fleet as a business owner, you’re especially attuned to these costs.
Most importantly, year truck maintenance and repairs are estimated to cost around $15,000 annually. Common issues include air/line hoses, alternators, wiring, and brake repairs. Additionally, annual tire expenses can run around $4,000 a year to replace 16 out of 18 tires on an 18 wheeler. So what happens when you run into trouble and need cash to finance inevitable semi truck repairs or maintenance? Commercial vehicle lenders provide a range of financing options.
1. Commercial Vehicle Title Loans
Commercial vehicle title loans can function as a means toward cash for repairs. You can utilize commercial lending for title loans when you own your semi truck and want to use that capital for a loan to cover the expense of repairs. When you take out a title loan, the lender holds your title as collateral for your loan. You make payments to buy your title back and regain ownership. The terms of your loan may depend on the value of your truck as well as your overall credit. You may also be able to approximately determine the your monthly payments and down payment using a loan calculator, or even a commercial loan calculator. While these tools are not definitive, they could help put your finances in perspective. As you consider your options, note that many commercial vehicle financing companies offer commercial truck title loans as well.
If you already have a commercial vehicle loan but need fast cash for repairs, you may consider refinancing your loan. If you’re refinancing, you’re already familiar with commercial truck financing, but you may not realize that refinancing could help reduce your monthly payments and save you money. You can use the money you save monthly towards the repairs your semi truck needs. Refinancing can help you direct money toward the demands of your business including tires, regular maintenance and repairs.
3. Personal Loans
It might be tempting to pursue a personal loan when your truck needs repairs and you’re short on funds. However, commercial vehicle loans for bad credit are readily available. Commercial vehicle loan rates can be slightly higher, but are usually more flexible on issues like bad credit or child support issues. Factors like established credit, collateral, a history of payments on a semi truck or home, and a clean record of bankruptcy or repossession will improve your rates on a semi truck repair loan. If you decide to pursue a personal loan, know that a credit check will be a part of that process. Personal collateral as well as business collateral can be useful when you’re trying to obtain any type of loan.
4. Commercial Vehicle Repair Loan
Many lenders offer loans tailored to your truck repair needs. Repairs on one semi truck can frequently run between $10,000 and $20,000. When you work in the commercial transportation industry, you know that every day you’re off the road is a day of revenue or income lost. Many lenders have flexible requirements to qualify for a truck repair loan, and offer loans for less experienced drivers or drivers with bad credit.
If you’ve run into some trouble with your semi truck and need options fast, don’t hesitate. You can finance your repairs to get back on the road and continue earning your living. Consider refinancing, a title loan, a commercial vehicle repair loan, or a personal loan when you’re at a crossroads.