Tyres serving light commercial vehicles are not likely to have it easy. Whether fitted to 3.5-tonners loaded to maximum payload capacity, shod to the wheels of urban vans on muti-drop delivery work or toiling off-road on pick-up trucks, they need to withstand everything that’s thrown at them.
Durability, economy and, above all, safety are key requirements.
But according to tyre safety organisation Tyresafe, economic pressures during the recession have led many operators to cut corners when it comes to ensuring their fleets run on tyres in prime condition. As a rule of thumb, if fleets are not changing their vans, they’re not likely to be changing their tyres either.
“Tyresafe is seeing businesses trying to save money, but they are compromising on safety. Low tread depths are a minefield,” says a spokesman for the organisation.
He claims the Department for Transport (DfT) had reported 1200 casualties (defined as deaths or injuries requiring hospital treatment) related to faulty tyres in 2011 and adds that Tyresafe is trying to educate van fleet operators to carry out regular tyre checks.
“The need to check tyres needs to be hammered home,” he says. According to the spokesman, a rise in incidents reported late last year was the first since Tyresafe formed in 2006; the numbers had fallen in the previous four years.
In an investigation last year Tyresafe purchased a random sample of 50 part-worn tyres from around the UK. It commissioned an independent expert to inspect the tyres and found that 98% of them were being sold illegally. But more concerning was that over a third were found to contain potentially dangerous forms of damage or non-compliance.
“Although a number of clear regulations exist that permit the sale of part-worn tyres, it’s obvious from our investigation that these are not being adhered to,” comments Stuart Jackson, chairman, TyreSafe.
Jackson acknowledges that operators are turning to part-worn tyres in a bid to cut costs but argues this is a false economy. He claims Tyresafe’s research shows the average cost per millimetre of usable tread on part-worn tyres is £6.33 – a 16% hike compared with the £5.32 cost on an equivalent new tyre.
“Even if properly marked, it is impossible to know the history of a part-worn tyre, which makes it extremely difficult to be sure about its internal condition and safety credentials,” continues Jackson. “With rigorous quality controls on all new tyres, fitting these as replacements is undoubtedly the safest option. What’s more, it’s often the best value too.”
Tyresafe emphasises that well- maintained and properly inflated tyres save money. It says a tyre under-inflated by 10% will increase fuel costs by up to 4% and reduce the tyre’s life by 15%.

Going Continental

Continental Tyres launched two new products for vans at this year’s CV Show. The ContivanContact 100 is designed for rugged use on hard- working panel vans while the ContivanContact 200 is targeted at passenger-carrying LCVs, like minibuses, and for use on better road surfaces, such as those found in the UK and Germany, where it has been designed to improve safety.
Continental’s brand manager Peter Robb says the tyres improve upon the firm’s existing Vanco2 products, which he claims are fitted to 40% of new vans in the UK. He says the use of optimised silica compound has improved grip in wet conditions while also reducing rolling resistance to boost fuel economy.
“The 200 produces more car-like handling and performance while the 100 is more durable,” Robb says.
He adds that the 100’s tread was shaped to improve stone rejection and so reduce potential damage to the tyre, and that the tyre has a 15% longer-mileage lifespan than its predecessor and would typically be put to use on panel vans such as the Mercedes Sprinter and Ford Transit. It will be fitted to the new Sprinter when it launches later this year but operators can also choose to retrofit the 100 to their existing fleets.
Robb says The ContivanContact 100 has European tyre-labelling values of ‘B’ for fuel economy and for wet grip performance while the 200 achieves a class-leading score of ‘B’ and ‘A’ for the respective criteria.
“It overcomes the wet grip and rolling-resistance incompatibility,” says Robb, “so you get better braking and fuel consumption. It can grip when it needs to and roll when it needs to.”
Robb says competition has increased with a growing demand for budget tyres. He admits Continental’s share of the aftermarket – about 15% – is far lower than its share of the new tyre sector.

Winter tyres

Cold weather tyres remain a niche product despite their increasingly high profile in the marketplace. Continental’s Robb reckons that of the roughly two million LCV tyres manufacturers supply annually to dealers, just 110,000 are winter tyres. Hancook Tyres’ marketing manager Mark Grace puts the figure at only 4% of the total market of approximately five million LCV tyres on the road.
Robb says sales actually dropped by 13% from 2011 to 2012 because two consecutive harsh winters before last year’s meant dealers had already stocked up. But he expects the prolonged cold weather after Christmas to have pushed up volumes again. He points out that some fleets, Ocado’s grocery home-delivery service, for example, already fit cold weather tyres all year round.
“You lose a bit of efficiency and braking distance in summer but get a much better braking distance in winter,” Robb says.
However, he suggests the ideal cycle is to fit winter tyres from October to March then switch to summer tyres. The cost of the changeover is balanced out, he argues, by saving on wear and tear, keeping vans on the road and by achieving the best fuel efficiency in each season. He claims the price gap between winter and summer tyres has narrowed to 5% from 20%.
Robb stresses that winter tyres do not just work better in snow and ice but at any temperature below 7ºC.
The main difference between summer and winter products is in the compond of the rubber – winter tyres are designed to remain flexible at lower temperatures. There are also key differences in tread, with winter tyres containing more sipes (small incisions), which provide “biting edges” in snow.
Robb explains: “The best grip for snow is snow, and snipes hold snow.”
Hancook’s Grace adds: “We’re trying to educate the population that it’s worth fitting winter tyres. People see them as an extra cost because of the initial outlay but it’s not true because you get a longer life.”
ATS Euromaster, which launched a dedicated cold weather tyre service for UK fleets in 2010, made a £10m investment in high-grip stock for winter 2012/13 – a 60% increase over the previous winter. It says two-thirds of the winter tyres it fits go on LCVs and claims to have supplied more than 10,000 new cold weather tyres to 20 NHS and private ambulance fleets during the six-month period from October 2012.
George Price, assistant operational support manager at North East Ambulance Service, says: “Fitting cold weather tyres has worked well. We can respond to 999 calls with the peace of mind that our crews are able to reach patients safely in adverse weather conditions.”
The fast-fit firm says it also refitted thousands of winter tyres for fleets, which it had stored in its “tyre hotels” since the spring.

Socking it to you

Autosock, a Norwegian product distributed in the UK by Cumbria-based John Jordan, offers an alternative to snow chains in extreme weather conditions, or even to winter tyres if icy conditions are not expected to persist for long, for operators who do not wish to go to the trouble and expense of changing to cold weather tyres and storing their summer stock.
Autosocks are reusable textile socks that fit over the vehicle’s driving wheels to provide extra grip in ice or snow by improving dry friction between wheel and road surface. Andy Greensmith, business development manager at John Jordan, says the product can be fitted within two minutes and takes up no more space than a folded shirt to store. Greensmith says Autosocks are used by major van fleets such as British Gas and BT and cost about £70 a pair.