Money Matters: Tire Costs

Money Matters: Tire Tactics


Choosing the right tires for your pickups—and when to make seasonal changes – improves both the corporate bottom line and employee safety


By Robin Walton

Growing up in a small town, I often saw the logo of a large lumber company that incorporated the words “safety first.”

A penny is a good tool to measure tread wear. Flip ol’ Abe upside down and place the penny into the tread grooves. If the top of Lincoln’s head shows, then the tire is worn out and needs replacing.

I keep that slogan in mind when making decisions to improve the bottom line of our company — right down to ­developing a strategy for what types of tires we use on our pickups.

Tire selection might not seem like an important item to most business owners. But tires play a crucial role in more than employee safety; they also affect the company’s financials through fuel economy and ­vehicle ­maintenance/repairs.

The problem with choosing the best tires to run on your pickup fleet is it almost always involves compromise.

For instance, the stock street tires that come on most work pickups grip really well on dry pavement and deliver good fuel economy but don’t work so well in winter conditions or around jobsites where mud and loose gravel are prevalent.

Conversely, the over-size mud tires on my brother-in-law’s pickup perform great in off-pavement job conditions. However, they are expensive to purchase and to operate because of the added weight and rolling resistance, which means a drop in fuel economy.


Fuel economy is one of the big considerations for developing our company’s tire tactics, which is why Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires are now on the budgetary radar screen.

LRR tires have been available since the early nineties and have experienced resurgence as the original equipment on a variety of green vehicles including electric and hybrid offerings.

With a push from the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandate, vehicle manufacturers have been asking tire manufacturers for LRR tires to fit a wider variety of vehicles. That has led tire makers to develop new technologies and techniques to gain an edge in the race for better fuel economy.

Some of the gains in LRR tires are found in weight savings; the tires are designed with lighter materials, resulting in less rotational mass and an improvement in fuel economy. Tread life also improves, helping reach ROI long before the tires are due for replacement.

As an added bonus, less weight means less wear on pickup ­components such as brakes, shocks and steering parts.

The price of these eco-friendly tires should continue to fall as the technology evolves and demand rises.

Keep in mind that if the current tires on your pickups still have a lot of tread life in them, don’t jump to LRRs because there isn’t enough of a margin to justify a premature swap.

That is, of course, unless you are swapping the winter mud/snow treads for tires that do well in drier conditions. Then the switch to LRRs might be a good move.

Tire Inflation Monitors

 In fall of 2000 Congress passed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act that requires all vehicles have tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) to indicate under inflated tires. Automakers were required to be 100-percent 

compliant by September 1, 2007.

Pickups built prior to 2008 may or may not have a Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS). Even if the vehicle is equipped with TPMS, it might be based on Anti-Lock Brake feedback (a work-around) instead of having actual sensors inside each tire.

What TPMS fails to do is help maximize fuel economy and minimize tread wear: it only alerts the driver when tire pressure falls below a certain pressure threshold (25 percent under-inflation) where safety becomes a serious issue.

If you are serious about reducing operating costs and increasing driver safety, make it the responsibility of the drivers to manually check tire pressures before they roll out of the shop. It takes less than 5 minutes.

Tire selection is critical to a pickup’s performance on the jobsite.

If your vehicles are going to vary the load that they carry, make sure that proper inflation is maintained according to the tire inflation pressures listed on the driver’s door placard (NOT the pressure on the tire sidewall). Don’t forget to check pressures on the trailer tires, too.

Treadlife/Mileage Warranties

 Read the fine print before making a purchase based on tread-life/mileage warranties.

Most limited tread warranties do not apply when tires have been used in commercial applications.

If a tread warranty does cover your tires, it usually requires that the tires cannot be replaced until they reach the wear bars (at 2/32 inches, which is the legal limit and when they should be replaced.)

Under warranty, the full set of tires must be replaced at the same time to prove that you kept the vehicle alignment and inflation of the tires in proper spec.

(In business, record keeping is really important, so keep a mileage log of alignments, tire changes and tire rotations.)

Work with your tire dealer to gain insights into a tire that may cost you $50 more but will last longer and give you better fuel economy, which will save you money in the end.

Tire warranties with roadside assistance can be an important tool to get your crew back on the road.–RW


About the author: Robin Walton has been a licensed contractor for more than 20 years and has 16 years of financial accounting and systems experience. With a degree in accounting/economics and hands-on construction experience, she understands the day-to-day business of contractors and landscapers.