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  June 6th, 2024 | Written by

When Should You Prioritize Tire Balancing for Your Semi-Truck?

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Maintenance is one of the biggest ongoing costs for any fleet, and tires account for many repair issues. Still, many truck fleets overlook the importance of tire balancing. While it’s a common practice among consumer cars and lighter-duty commercial vehicles, it’s less prominent with semis.

Read also: More Than Just Trucks: 5 Diverse Career Paths With A Cdl

That trend is changing as more attention falls on fleet operating costs and long-term optimization. However, views still differ. Even as the industry comes around to the importance of this practice, approaches to when semi-truck tires should be balanced vary widely.

The Run-to-Failure Approach

Many fleets operate on the run-to-failure method. This approach isn’t unique to tire balancing but may be more common than other repair concerns because many companies still don’t consider it mission-critical. It takes time to balance tires — especially when there are 18 of them — so many businesses only do it when a tangible issue arises.

The idea that this method saves time and money is a misconception. Tires account for 2% of total average fleet costs and don’t last as long without balancing. Unbalanced tires will also limit trucks’ fuel economy, and fuel accounts for 28% of all expenses. 

Fleets that only balance their tires when an issue is already visible lose more money to inefficiency and frequent tire replacements. However, these higher expenses aren’t immediately noticeable, which leads to widespread misconceptions that regular balancing is less efficient or more costly.

The Mileage Approach

As fleets move away from run-to-failure methods, many embrace a mileage-based approach. This is the most straightforward way to be proactive about tire balancing. Companies simply follow their OEM’s recommendations about balancing tires after so many miles.

Many tire companies recommend balancing every 20,000 miles. Considering the average semi-truck drives over 62,000 miles annually, that means at least three balancing-related maintenance stops each year per truck. Small operations may not have an issue with those figures, but they can add up to significant downtime across a larger fleet.

Of course, this downtime is often less impactful than the long-term productivity losses and costs stemming from improper balancing. However, the mileage approach still has some efficiency problems. 

Consider that the need to balance tires doesn’t always happen along a predictable schedule. Road conditions and truck-specific factors substantially impact tire wear. Consequently, the 20,000-mile benchmark may be too wide a gap for some vehicles and too frequent a schedule for others. 

The Data-Based Approach

Recent digitization trends in the industry have led to the emergence of a newer, more precise method. Up to 82% of logistics companies will adopt predictive analytics over the next few years, and this technology lets fleets take a more proactive, vehicle-specific approach to tire balancing.

It starts with Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, which gather real-time data from a truck, such as its vibrations, tire inflation levels, engine performance factors and more. The system alerts fleet managers when this information suggests the vehicle will need maintenance. In the context of tire balancing, that means getting real-time updates when a tire is having issues.

The biggest advantage of this approach is that, unlike the mileage method, it tailors schedules to specific vehicles. Fleets balance different trucks’ tires as needed, not by a general number that may or may not apply to the situation. This precision removes worries over unnecessary downtime from unneeded balancing. 

At the same time, predictive analytics recognizes tire wear before it’s evident to drivers. Consequently, this approach also reduces downtime and costs compared to the run-to-failure method. Despite these benefits, this tech-centric strategy can be expensive to implement and challenging to get right at first.

Which Tire Balancing Approach Is Best?

Predictive maintenance offers the most potential for time and cost reduction of any tire balancing strategy. However, it’s also the hardest to implement. Upfront costs aside, the AI models analyzing this data are tricky to program correctly and can produce many false positives without careful calibration, leading to more downtime.

Given the costs and complexity, a data-driven approach isn’t ideal for everyone. Smaller fleets or those with less experience with AI or IoT technology may see more improvement from the mileage method.

In some cases, a hybrid approach is the best way forward. Fleets may use predictive maintenance for their most heavily used vehicles while going off mileage for the rest. This mix of solutions makes it easier to balance costs and efficiency. Generally, a run-to-failure approach is not ideal.

How to Get More Out of Tire Balancing

Regardless of which approach a fleet chooses, it takes more than just an optimal schedule to get tire balancing right. Companies must also use the right equipment, which — much like balancing approaches themselves — vary based on circumstances.

A 3D automatic balancer can calculate tire width, diameter and distance between weight locations in a matter of seconds, making them the most efficient option. Still, this speed doesn’t always guarantee accuracy, and 3D balancers can be expensive. Consequently, smaller operations may benefit from a cheaper but more manual 2D balancer.

It’s also important to recognize that even the most sophisticated equipment is only reliable if it’s calibrated correctly and employees know how to use it. At the same time, the industry will need another 101,989 auto technicians by 2026, but entry into the sector is falling. As a result, it can be hard to get enough experience in the garage to ensure a fleet uses these tools correctly.

The solution is often to emphasize training and upskilling in current employees. Any technical skill is teachable, but fleets must educate workers before implementing new balancing technology. That’s even more important when adopting a more advanced, data-based approach. 

Even Advanced Tires Need Balancing

While tires have come a long way, they’re still not invincible. Even the most cutting-edge versions need balancing, and the ideal way to approach this maintenance isn’t always obvious.

Heavily manual, run-to-failure strategies are never ideal, but the best option beyond that depends on a fleet’s budget, size, needs and workforce. Accounting for these factors is the first step to more cost-effective tire balancing.