The nature of many vans’ existence means their tyres get a pounding so it is vital operators take a proactive approach to maintenance, as Martin Gurdon discovers.
Philosopher Thomas Hobbs is not someone who regularly gets quoted in What Van? but his description of life as “nasty, brutish and short” might apply to many light commercial vehicles.
While some get through life delivering laundry or being used by small traders who are keen to make them last, others are hammered across building sites, thumped up and down kerbs or thrashed on motorways by drivers who see them purely as tools to be used and disposed of. Such intense usage means that tyres in particular, can suffer.
So does the drive-and-forget existence of many of these vehicles mean visits to the tyre bay are often for distress purchases rather than planned maintenance?
Kwik-Fit Fleet’s corporate sales director Martin Towers certainly thinks so. “Proactive maintenance definitely isn’t what it used to be,” he says. Towers suggests that the downtime involved in taking a vehicle off the road for tyre-related maintenance is a disincentive for fleet operators and owner/drivers alike, who instead often wait until there are problems, which can ultimately cost them more time and frustration, particularly if the covers they need are out of stock. The recession has played its part too, but simply being busy is a major factor for this not-so- benign neglect, he reckons. “This very much depends on what tyre policy and service plan is in place. However, across the market as a whole, there is a growing understanding of the role tyres play in managing cost and reducing vehicle downtime,” suggests Lee Kelly, Goodyear Dunlop 4Fleet’s consumer fleet business manager.
Towers believes tyre labelling, which came into force in the second half of 2012 to give a graded indication on efficiency, noise and wet-weather grip, has been an irrelevance. “For LCVs it’s about costs and longevity, and labelling doesn’t cover these things,” he says.
However, Mark Grace, Hankook Tyres’ marketing manager, disagrees. Although he thinks the public’s perception of labelling “has been slow coming”, it has led to increased product literacy, informing choices of elements such as braking distances and rolling resistance, which he says can have a big impact on operating economy for larger fleets. Kelly takes a similar view.
The parameters for LCV tyres are well known, with choices about tread wear, sidewall strength, etc. dictated in part by the sort of work being undertaken. Towers suggests that mistakes are often related to how LCVs are actually driven.
“There is variability depending on policy and service programme,” says Kelly. “The key is to consider carefully what resource you have as a fleet operator – if you have your own workshops, how do you ensure a premium tyre policy is adhered to? If, on the other hand, you work with a service partner, it’s about setting strict service levels and ensuring maintenance programmes are regularly maintained.” Hankook Tyres’ Grace thinks ensuring “like-for-like” replacement is particularly important. Operators need to pay close attention to speed ratings and loading capacities. “Take the Transit. Some models are engineered for eight-ply tyres, others for 10-ply,” he says.
As vehicles depreciate, Grace concedes that budget will become more important, but insists that correct specifications should be maintained, particularly for the first three replacements, perhaps with appropriate budget tyres being considered after that.
Towers feels that as many LCV tyres are more likely to be replaced because of damage rather than being life-expired, budget plays a bigger part in purchasing decisions: “Someone with a nice Audi or BMW car will tend to be more selective. Brand can be important to them, but it’s different for LCV users – if the tyres are a bit noisier, they just turn up the radio!”