Smooth Rolling: Saving Fuel with Low-Resistance Tires

Of the four categories of fuel-saving improvements to tractor-trailers suggested by the EPA and NHTSA, low-rolling resistance tires are not a bad place to start updating a truck. The current benchmark price, according to Truckinginfo, is $252. The EPA lists hundreds of companies to choose tires from, but the list only considers 6×2 trucks, something that seems problematic for the moment, although the Phase 2 shift is expected to go more smoothly than the previous round of new regulations. This is the first time such a broad environmentally focused program is being put in place for the commercial trucking industry. While the new regulations do not start until 2018, it is a good idea to start saving money for the new wave of products that will be released and the new prices. While manufacturer prices will go up, the EPA says drivers should recover the costs of the new equipment with a few years, just from fuel savings.

The worry about the EPA’s list being for 6×2 tires is that many trucks still use 6×4 configurations because of their resale value. The advantage, however, of a 6×2 is the weight-reduction and fuel savings. Two years ago, the uptake was slow in the US, mostly because of concerns about traction; the first comment on that article suggests that the resistance has more to do with “the devil you know” feelings. Drivers might be comfortable, however, with a 6×2, and the savings sweeten the deal. The only issue is that not every state allows them yet. Emphasis on yet. As Phase 2 draws nearer, freight carriers should be lobbying for improvements to infrastructure and new permissions for new equipment that was previously made illegal.

However, having extra tires does mean extra costs. Overdrive predicts that the cost of tires will increase by 3.1% by 2018. The EPA’s huge list of manufacturers and options for retread tires, however, means that price shopping will become easier. The most popular brands right now are Michelin and Bridgestone. Still, at least a hundred other brands are out there, all SmartWay approved, meaning they boast 3% increase in fuel efficiency. However, many brands are insanely cheap, and not in a good way. The companies are new, largely unheard of, and for some reason, a price tag of under $200 a tire does not bode well. While this might seem like a good deal to companies that opt to buy new tires instead of retreading the ones they have, there are some legitimate safety concerns. If it really is so easy to get on the SmartWay list, how many of these companies’ tires are worth their salt? The difficulty in purchasing some of them does little to improve the amount of driver testimonies for these. The increase in difficulty in just finding a reliable tire, however, does work to major tire makers’ benefit. Reliable brands will weather the influx of cheapo tires. As long as the configuration and air pressure matches the manufacturer standards, everything should be fine.

As it stands now, while meeting the 2018 Phase 2 standards is not necessary, it might be nice to take advantage of what is already on the market.

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