A topic that has escaped this columnist’s attention for too long was brought to light in a letter from Murray Tanner of Summerville. It deserves serious consideration.
“In August 2011 we made an auto trip from Charleston to St. Louis and back. Travel was entirely on interstate highways.
“In over 50 years of driving, neither my brother nor I have ever seen so many pieces of tires along the roads. They were in traffic lanes, on shoulders, in the medians and in the grass well beyond paved shoulders. Sizes ranged from a few inches to pieces the full tread width and a foot long up to what appeared to be the full circumference of the tire.
“Tread pieces did not appear anywhere near bald. On our return we began watching carefully through Tennessee and Georgia and seldom drove a mile without seeing many, many pieces. We still see such pieces along the roads around Charleston, even where lower speed limits exist.
“Several times, when driving 65 mph and well behind a truck, which obscured pavement visibility ahead, we came upon very large pieces in the traffic lane when adjacent traffic prevented any significant evasive action. Early in the evening, in Georgia we saw a large stake-body pickup truck moving slowly along the shoulder while walkers picked up and tossed in tire pieces. It seemed likely the truck could be filled in just the next couple miles.
“After returning home, a local trucking company owner told me he uses only American name-brand tires of good reputation but has had a few failures. He said molded in the sidewall in fine print was 'made in China.' On a recent auto trip out of state, he had a large tire piece fly off a truck well ahead of him, bounce off the road, then pass completely over his car. Another person told of a very large piece coming off a truck, being hit by the car ahead of him, flying high in the air then landing on top of his own hood. Considerable damage resulted.
“A long-time tire dealer told me there are a lot of retreads in use and he believed heat was the cause of failures.
“A relative with over 60 years in car servicing, major rebuilding, and salvaging told of his semi trailer being unused for two months, then shedding two almost complete treads when he hooked it up and started to pull away. Date codes showed the tires were barely over four years old. The tires had been bought new and had considerable tread remaining. In contrast, he checked tires on a special pickup truck he built in the 1970’s and found one tire with a couple small cracks and the other three with no obvious defects. He replaced all four of these tires, which were over 30 years old!
This situation has to be widespread and hazardous! Yet, we have not seen recalls, warnings or anything in the media about the problem. We speculated on poor quality new or recapped tires, overloading, ambient temperatures, etc.
In our past driving experiences we have seen equally high temperatures so doubt that is the current major cause. What is the cause of this and are the government transportation authorities investigating or doing anything about it?
Are there sufficient tire checks by drivers while in route, and can visual checking even spot a tire that will soon come apart?
• Do you know what is really causing this current problem and what is being done about it?
• Are foreign-made tires a major part of the problem?
• Are there a lot of really bad tires in use?
• Why hasn’t the media reported it?
• Why aren’t warnings or recalls involved?
• Is this one reason why some trucks have a warning posted on the back claiming no responsibility for damage caused by objects flying from tires?”
On a recent trip out-of-state, the tire problems described above were discussed with a trucking company owner, who preferred not to be named.
He attributed truck tire deterioration to several basic reasons:
1. Truck weight, particularly on a given axle, even though the truck passed OVERALL WEIGHT LIMITS, AS MEASURED BY STATE SCALES.
2. There was an inference that some other truckers violate established weight limits.
3. Sometimes, air inflation is not properly administered to each tire.
4. Today, there are more trucks on the road, which increases the incidence of tires blowing.
5. Re-treads are an overwhelming reason for tire failures. For cost reasons, many companies are choosing to re-tread, rather than buying new tires.
6. Summer heat, of course, is a contributing factor.
In conclusion, this tire company owner made an unsolicited comment regarding another cause of concern — at least to truckers. He criticized highway truck speed limits, which single out trucks, but not buses. He said, “Buses with 60 people aboard” are not subject to lower truck speed limits. "They meet and exceed passenger car speed limits.”
This subject of truck tires breaking up begs another question: The wisdom of South Carolina now allowing trucks to have a Gross Vehicle Weight of 100,000 pounds — up from 80,000 pounds? AND, what effects will the new regulation have on truck tire reliability?
Thank you, Murray Tanner for your insightful letter!
Dr. George G. Spaulding is a retired General Motors executive and distinguished executive-in-residence emeritus at the School of Business at the College of Charleston. He can be reached at 2 Wharfside St. 2A Charleston SC 29401