Low rolling resistance tires have become an increasingly popular choice among fleets due to their potential to make vehicles more fuel-efficient.
While these tires can reduce a vehicle’s fuel consumption by 6.28%, such savings are only possible in optimal conditions. Low rolling resistance tires are more expensive than standard tires, both in terms of upfront costs and maintenance, so before you invest in them for your fleet, you should do your homework on whether they can actually bring you savings in the long term.
This article will explain the factors that you should consider when calculating the total cost of ownership of low rolling resistance tires and how you can determine whether they’re a good investment for your fleet.
1. How much can you afford to invest upfront?
Low rolling resistance tires are a relatively new technology, first being manufactured and marketed in the 1990s.
As such, the sophistication of these tires has increased significantly since they were first developed, and the difference in quality between different models of low rolling resistance tires can vary hugely.
Tires can be designed to reduce rolling resistance in two ways:
- They can be created with lower tread depth than standard tires, which saves fuel by minimizing the friction between the tire and the surface of the road.
- They can be manufactured with silica compounds and emulsifiers that lower roll resistance without reducing tread or traction.
More affordable rolling resistance tires are usually manufactured in the former way, meaning that what you may gain in fuel efficiency, you will likely lose in tire durability and traction. The latter tires are more expensive but are more likely to deliver fuel savings without compromising a vehicle’s safety or increasing their downtime.
Low rolling resistance tires should only be considered if you are in a financial position to commit to kitting out your fleet with the more state-of-the-art tires.
2. How much of your fleet’s operational costs are currently spent on fuel?
The only benefit of low rolling resistance tires, as far as operational efficiency is concerned, is that they can improve your fleet's fuel economy. Considering that low rolling resistance tires come at a higher upfront cost than standard tires, their adoption makes most sense if lowering your fuel costs is a priority.
Fuel costs generally take up around 60% of a fleet’s annual operational costs. Therefore, if your fuel costs run at lower than 60%, then chances are that you should be looking at streamlining other areas of your operations to save money.
Minimizing vehicle downtime and reducing insurance premiums by putting in policies that decrease dangerous driver behaviors are two areas that could generate a quicker ROI than implementing low rolling resistance tires across your fleet.
If, however, you regularly exceed your fuel budget, as 53% of fleet companies claim to, then switching to low rolling resistance tires may well help reduce this expense.
3. How carefully do you monitor and maintain your tires?
Low rolling resistance tires can only improve fuel economy when they are kept at optimal pressure. While keeping your vehicles’ tires at optimal pressure may seem trivial, a study by Continental found that 34% of fleet vehicles ride on tires that are regularly underinflated.
Investing in low rolling resistance tires and then not properly inflating them wastes money for two reasons. Firstly, low rolling resistance tires cannot do their job in reducing rolling resistance when they are underinflated. The increase in rolling resistance when driving on underinflated tires far outweighs any reduction in rolling resistance that low rolling resistance tires may offer.
Additionally, riding on underinflated tires reduces their overall lifespan as they wear faster and are more prone to punctures and blowouts. Reduced durability and more regular replacements are already disadvantages of using low rolling resistance tires, so failing to keep them fully inflated only worsens these drawbacks.
There are two ways to best ensure that your vehicles are always traveling on inflated tires:
- Through driver education: Ultimately, drivers are in the best position to monitor and manage their tires. Tire pressure should be checked every month and drivers should be held accountable for ensuring this happens.
- Invest in a tire pressure monitoring system: While this is an additional upfront expense, it can help ensure that you get maximum ROI from switching to low rolling resistance tires.
4. What terrain do your vehicles travel on?
The potential for low rolling resistance tires to improve fuel economy is affected by the average speed of your vehicle. The majority of the wasted energy caused by roll resistance is lost through heat. The faster a vehicle travels, the more heat is lost in this way, so the greater impact low rolling resistance tires can have on minimizing fuel consumption.
Low rolling resistance tires are therefore most suitable for highway fleets traveling a long average distance per journey. As well as performing best at higher speeds, low rolling resistance tires are not ideal for the rougher and more uneven terrain that comes with jobs related to the mining and construction industries.
Tracking the numbers that underpin your fleet, such as average miles traveled per day and average speed, is essential to calculating the total cost of ownership and potential savings of low rolling resistance tires.
5. How streamlined is your maintenance function?
For all their fuel-saving benefits, low rolling resistance tires require more frequent retreading and replacement than standard tires.
These additional maintenance costs should be factored in when calculating the total cost of ownership of low rolling resistance tires. If you have in-house tire technicians who can replace and repair tires cheaply, then these costs will be unlikely to mitigate the fuel-saving benefits of low rolling resistance tires.
However, if you outsource your tire maintenance, these additional costs – combined with the additional vehicle downtime that these tire repairs and replacements cause – could be a significant black mark against investing in low rolling resistance tires.
As we can see here, while low rolling resistance tires can improve your fleet’s fuel economy, the decision to invest in them should consider several factors. By using telematics, you’ll be able to track these factors better and make more informed business decisions as a result.