How to buy … Tyres

Published in  Fleet World, June 2010

They’re black, come in a range of prices, the legal tread depth is 1.6mm and you mustn’t mix radials and cross-plys on the same axle: surely that’s all a fleet manager needs to know about tyres?

Well, actually, no. There’s quite a lot more that they should know. (But you expected me to say that).

The first thing to consider is your duty of care. Tyres come in different sizes, loadings, speed ratings and tread patterns. Are you sure the right tyres have been fitted to all your cars?

When was the last time your drivers checked the tread depth of their tyres? A month ago? Three months ago? Never? Nowadays cars have such long service intervals that it’s positively dangerous to rely on the garage to check them when the car is serviced. At a fleet industry event some years ago, one of the fast-fit companies took the opportunity to walk round the car park and check the tyres on the delegates’ cars. 20% had at least one tyre at or below the legal tread depth of 1.6mm. Which is really quite scary.

There are many different tyres on the market at widely different prices. As it happens I was in my local fast-fit only yesterday and I overheard a conversation between the manager and a customer on just this topic. Two of her car’s tyres were bald and needed replacing. She asked how much the tyres would cost, and he swivelled round his PC screen so she could see the prices, saying  “you can spend from £40 to £140 per tyre, so why don’t you just choose a tyre in the middle – which is exactly what she did. There was no discussion about the speed ratings of the tyres, the fact that premium tyres are likely to last longer and have better road-holding than budget tyres. You get what you pay for. Do fleet managers know this? I think they should.

If you have a large fleet and buy many tyres, your annual spend will be significant, in which case it’s probably worthwhile for you to establish a relationship with a tyre company or a fast-fit company. They will offer you good advice, safety checks, and, of course, volume purchase discounts. Many fleet managers go out to tender for tyre supply, and this is good practice if your fleet is large.

Have you considered using energy saving tyres? These are tyres with ‘low rolling resistance’ which means they reduce fuel consumption – and CO2 emissions – without affecting comfort or grip.

You can also specify ‘run flat’ tyres that protect the driver against the effects of a high speed blowout, and allow the car to be driven for some distance before the tyre needs to be replaced.

There are a number of companies that offer retread tyres. These are environmentally sound because the main part of the tyre is simply used again. They are cost-effective and legally they have to be manufactured to a high standards. Currently, few company car fleets use them though they are widely used by commercial vehicles.

You can buy used tyres remarkably cheaply from back-street operators. One close to my office charges just £25 to supply and fit a premium-branded used tyre that might cost £120 new. They obtain these tyres from written-off cars at scrap yards, just before the cars are crushed. The people running these operations know nothing about the history of the tyre, and indeed very little generally about tyres. No experienced fleet manager would ever allow these tyres to be fitted to their cars. Avoid.

Professor Colin Tourick


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