Hot Wheels

From the tiniest nails to the largest steel beams, the debris littering a construction site can easily wear or even puncture the tires on equipment such as backhoe loaders and compact wheel loaders, costing money both in productivity-robbing downtime and tire repair and replacement. That’s why it’s important to thoroughly research tire options before buying. Making the right tire choice on the front end can prevent costly headaches over the — hopefully long — life of the tire.

It’s not uncommon for those responsible for purchasing construction equipment tires to base their buying decisions solely on the purchase price, many times choosing the least-expensive option, says Bob Smith, compact line business development manager for Michelin North America. While this may be the most expedient and understandable decision in the short term, he says, companies that take the time to study their true costs find it more expensive in the long term, when the costs of downtime, repairs and shorter service life are factored in. Smith says the right tire can pay for itself in the first three months.

Look at the Total Picture

As companies seek to become more efficient in a challenging economy, it’s not unusual for them to turn to efficiency experts to examine their operations and identify better ways to deploy personnel. But efficiency considerations shouldn’t stop there. Equipment malfunctions and resulting downtime carry heavy costs, both in repairs and human hours. That’s why it is so important to understand the equipment, application and conditions, as well as how long the tires can hold up under use. To get a clear picture of the total cost of a tire, purchasers should take into account:

  • Expected tire life
  • Cost per hour of the tire based on original price
  • Cost of replacing a worn-out tire
  • Cost of emergency service calls
  • Cost of lost productivity due to tire failure-related equipment downtime

“Keep track of the frequency of flats and the cost of downtime to your business,” advises Smith. “Elimination of downtime — not the price of the tire — is the key to saving money. Ask yourself truthfully how much it costs to have an entire crew idled because of another damaged tire, plus the service call for repair.”

Smith adds that different segments have different expectations in terms of length of service. While heavy-duty truck tires need to run 150,000 miles or more for the total cost of ownership to become apparent, compact equipment tires are just the opposite.

“With our XMCL, the radial Michelin provides to the compact equipment market, all we need to do is save an operator one service call, and the tire has paid for itself,” Smith says. “And given the puncture hazards on construction sites, a tire failure can easily occur within the first two weeks after installation.”

Go Radial

While it’s true that radial tires have a higher initial price, the benefits that radials provide deliver a lower total operational cost over the life of the tire. Traditionally, the light construction industry has lagged behind truck and automotive markets in upgrading from bias-ply to radials. But more fleet owners are considering radials because of their longer tread life, greater durability, better traction and improved operator comfort, says Todd Gillespie, North American training manager for Michelin.

Radial tires are built to withstand harsh conditions, which makes upgrading an ideal consideration for equipment operating on a construction site, says Gillespie. Radials are more resistant to blunt impact, punctures, cuts, sidewall damage and other injuries. Steel belts in radials can help stand up to punctures and damages that dramatically shorten the life of bias-ply tires.

Gillespie cites the XMCL radial tire, introduced by Michelin in 2006, as an example. The XMCL delivers a tread life that is up to 46 percent longer than its predecessors, and its reinforced sidewalls are up to 10 percent more resistant to punctures, he says.

In traditional bias-ply tires, the tread and sidewalls share the same casing piles, so all sidewall flexing is transferred to the tread. This results in uneven ground pressure, reduced traction and increased friction, all of which combine to accelerate wear and tear, Gillespie says. By contrast, radial tires feature separate sidewall and crown-belt tread construction, enabling them to work as separate components and preventing the transfer of flex to the tread.

“This creates a wider, more rectangular footprint that remains stable and in constant contact with the ground or the floor,” Gillespie says. “In this way, the radial tire delivers better traction and reduced tire wear along with the inherent puncture resistance.”

Get the Guarantee

Another way to stretch your tire dollar is to choose a tire that has the support of the manufacturer, especially when that support comes in the form of a guarantee. This can save significant money in the event that a repair or replacement becomes necessary, says Smith.

It’s as important to research how firmly the manufacturer stands behind its tires as it is to understand what advantages a given tire design delivers, he says. High-end guarantees, some manufacturers promise a full refund if operators are dissatisfied in the first 90 days of ownership, can show how much confidence the manufacturer has in its products, he says.

And manufacturer guarantees can give you a safety net to try higher-end tires. “Initial outlays can be daunting, both to spend and to justify in budgeting,” Smith says. “But when you know you can get a refund if you’re not happy, that gives you incentive and freedom to consider other options.”

Make an Informed Decision

Although some people may see tires as a commodity or an afterthought, the fact is that they’re a big investment. Like the equipment they go on, tires affect your efficiency, productivity and bottom line, both at purchase and throughout their life cycle. The more research you do, the more differences you’ll see between your tire options. Smith advises equipment owners to take time to make an informed decision about the tires they put to work on their sites. Remember, he says, your tires are the only thing between your equipment and the debris-littered worksite.

“Selecting the right tire for your machine and your application can mean the difference between an active, productive worksite and a site plagued by downtime and costly, frequent repairs,” Smith says.

Michael Burroughes is the director of marketing for agricultural tires at Michelin North America Inc., based in Greenville, S.C.


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