Treading a fine line to safety and efficiency

Date: Thursday, July 9, 2015   |  

As modern vans have become bigger and heavier, making sure that they are shod with the right tyres is crucial, as Martin Gurdon discovers

Vans are serial consumers of hard parts, with tyres in particular often leading particularly tough lives.
When it comes to replacement, fleets now have available to them an increased variety of van tyres, but this, according to Andy Fern, Michelin’s fleet car and van national sales manager, poses a challenge to fast-fit centres.
“There’s a greater variety of sizes, and we’re seeing a migration from 15- to 16-inch wheels,” he says. Fern describes the LCV tyre market as “still very concentrated”, but as successive generations of vans have become bigger, heavier, more powerful and capable of handling ever-larger payloads, so the tyres they need are growing in size too.
“Compared to vehicles of 20 years ago, the modern van is a significantly different beast,” he says, adding that there’s a bewildering range of tyre types and sizes among rival vehicles, although he predicts there will be an eventual wholesale move towards 17-inch tyres.
Fern points out that tyre bays and fast-fit centres generally have not become bigger, so storage space requirements are ever more acute. However, he reckons that modern logistics, with just-in-time deliveries, mitigate this to some degree. He also believes that operators and drivers should factor in tyre maintenance as part of a vehicle’s working life, so that downtime is predictable and controlled, and the tyres themselves are not distress purchases.
Mike Williams, head of national accounts at fast-fit giant ATS, thinks one way van operators can have more control over tyre-related costs is in educating drivers.
“There’s a real awareness about reducing vehicle downtime, so that vans operators don’t lose time with vehicles stuck by the side of the road having tyres repaired, but there’s still more that can be done, and prevention is better than cure,” he says. Williams thinks drivers should be educated to check tyre condition, and in particular pressures, on a daily basis for safety and operational reasons. “It’s all about driver awareness. How do you brief drivers about things like kerb damage?”  
Kwik-Fit fleet director Peter Lambert reckons that modern vehicle telematics have a role to play here, saying that he speaks from experience due to also being responsible for Kwik-Fit Mobile’s  fleet of 200 vans. He says such equipment fosters better mechanical sympathy and has other peripheral, positive impacts on everything from fuel usage to insurance claims. He, too, thinks that daily tyre inspections should be part of a van driver’s job, adding that “it’s not rocket science”.
Everyone we spoke to conceded that LCVs are likely to see the inside of tyre bays more often than passenger cars because they’re likely to be on the road more often, particularly with delivery operations that have flourished due to the rise of internet shopping, and whose vehicles are kept busy, sometimes in urban environments, where  tyres can be on the end of punishing encounters with kerbs and street furniture.
The temptation to go for budget rubber is obvious. Unsurprisingly, Fern, Williams and Lambert say this is a false economy, a view shared by Steve Crawshaw, commercial vehicle consultant at leasing firm Leaseplan. He suggests that specialist tyres, such as Hankook’s recently launched Vantra LT, which is described as a “light truck” tyre, where everything from tread pattern to sidewall stiffness has been engineered with vans in mind, have the potential to be more cost-effective because they are likely to last longer, and can take more of a battering than their cheaper brethren.
He thinks the inherent reliability of many modern vehicles means some drivers operate in “a red light culture”, only clocking that there’s a problem when a warning light appears, and quite often ignoring it. Beyond tyre pressure warning lights – which are becoming increasingly common – there’s nothing to flag up sidewall damage, uneven wear or even over-inflation. Longer service intervals can also be a source of tyre-related problems, he suggests.
“Take the Vauxhall Movano with a two-year, 30,000 miles servicing gap. You’re not going to get to that mileage without something needing doing with the tyres,” he says. “It’s unlikely  front tyres will last that long.”
Crawshaw also believes that drivers and fleet managers need educating about their vehicles’ tyres, in terms of understanding weight ratings as well as their overall condition.
Interestingly, Leaseplan offers a no-quibble tyre replacement agreement, and does not recommend drivers undertake roadside tyre changes. At one point, it supplied vehicles with spare tyres but no jacks, but has since reversed the policy “because the last thing you want is someone trying to change a wheel on a 3.5t Sprinter with his wife’s Fiesta jack”
A case of man, rather than vehicle management.


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