Seasons Change but Importance of Proper Tire Choice, Maintenance Remains

Photo By Mike Bullman
A participant inspects a tire during the 2015 America’s Best School Bus Inspection Skills & Training Competition in Kansas City.

It’s the start of summer, but school buses continue to make runs across the nation. That means maintaining tire maintenance and selection should be at the top of mind for fleet managers.

Nokian Tyres Director of Products and Pricing Steve Bourassa has announced in a company press release that commercial fleets should consider using all-season or all-weather tires once the temperatures warm up, because winter tires will be risky for drivers and traffic.

Company officials said several tests have confirmed that winter tires perform poorly in the summer, due to wet asphalt and a slower turning radius. Bourassa added that using winter tires in the summer will cause instability and reduce steering ability.

“On a hot summer day, you will need to make steering corrections with winter tires, even when driving straight,” explained Bourassa, “since the tire will have more lateral flexibility than all-season tires, which are more rigid.”

The release stated that winter tires have a softer tread and therefore will wear down quicker in warmer climates. However, school districts have developed processes and routines to keep their tires longer and in better shape.

All-weather tires are a solution for many school districts. Horseheads Central School District in New York uses all-around weather tires in its fleet, to achieve better traction and to log more miles.

Jason Johnson, the equipment service manager for Horseheads Central School District and president of the New York Head Mechanics Association, said his district is trying to take advantage of the summer weather and get more life out of the tires.

Johnson said the district bases its tire purchases on location and routes, but it also strives to get the most years out of its tires, by using caps or retreads. Caps allow the district to save money, but also allows the tires to have more life out of their casing.

“A lot of districts will use caps. The cap is the tread part. and then down the side about an inch and a half,” Johnson said. “So, sometimes we can put two to three caps on one tire, on a casing. We try not to run any casing longer than … seven to eight years, and we try to have no more than three caps on a tire. It’s very hard to do that, but those are our terms.”

Joel Mooneyham, director of transportation at Waller ISD in Texas, doesn’t experience the same kind of inclement cold weather as Johnson does. But Mooneyham said he purchases tires based on geographic location and the type of runs the buses are traveling.

Mooneyham added that if a bus travels more on rural or gravel routes, the tire tread choice should be based on what runs best in that environment. That is compared to running school bus routes in busy cities, which would call for substantial tire tread for paved roads and highways.

“No budget can afford to buy one type of tire for one season and another type of tire for another season,” Mooneyham said. “They are going to try and pick a tread design that will work for all seasons of their climate and for the road application as well.”

Both directors agreed that proper tire maintenance and routine check-ups help gain more life out of the tires. Johnson said that every 1,000 miles or 30 days, whichever comes first, the district performs routine checks of tire wear and air pressure. Technicians watch how the tires are wearing and look for odd wearing.

“The tires on a school bus are so hard to keep in check, because you have a load of kids on, and then you don’t have a load of kids on,” Johnson said. “So, you are not at the constant weight on the bus. Depending on the amount of weight on a tire, it could wear differently than with no weight on it. We are always having those things come at us and we have to take that into effect on how the tire is going to wear.”

Mooneyham stressed that a good quality maintenance program is one that is proactive and data-driven. By having steps that address concerns and issues quickly, he said you are more able to identify the culprit of any extra wear early on.

“You have drivers that [hit the] curb. That sidewall of that tire will tell you if it’s being curbed,” Mooneyham said. “You have to identify early on, is it driver behavior or is it the route? Is the route such that the driver is in a situation with a 40-foot bus that it can’t help but curb to make the turns? You have to be able to identify why the drivers are curbing, and then deal with that.”

Mooneyham said that by having a tire maintenance program that involves routine checks, curbing will be distinguishable. Once the sidewall is compromised, the tread on the tires is irrelevant, because you would have to replace the entire tire for the safety of the students, he concluded.

However, every school district runs its operation differently, with its own budget and its own way of doing things. Due to the high tire prices, districts do everything they can to save on tires and squeeze additional mileage out of the tire, such as by maintaining the correct air pressure.

Johnson said air pressure is a huge culprit for tire failure. By having the correct amount of air pressure in a tire, the tire life can be extended by quite a bit, he stressed.

Editor’s Note: Joel Mooneyham is speaking on the challenges of proper tire maintenance next month at STN EXPO Reno