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Posted: August 1, 2014 by Jim Park

Getting away from deep lug designs can save you fuel.

Who isn’t concerned about fuel prices these days? We’re looking for any angle we can to shave a few pennies off the cost-per-mile, so have you considered your tires as a source for savings? Improper inflation hurts but maybe your tread pattern is costing you money, too.

If you’re running lug tires, as most Canadians do, you might be reluctant to switch to a rib design because of traction concerns. You may not believe it, but Tim Miller, Goodyear’s marketing communications manager – and a former tire designer – says perception often has more to do with the choice of tread pattern than hard data.

“We find that an aggressive looking tread probably does more to please the driver than to actually make the truck work better under less than ideal conditions,” he says. “If you can get away from deep lug tread designs you can make substantial gains in fuel economy.”

Miller points to U.S. truckload giant Schneider National as a case in point; When you’re that big, a tenth of a mile per gallon can mean $7 million in fuel savings. A lot of other factors come into play, too, such as road speed, aerodynamics, etc., but every bit helps. “I can tell you that if you’re running rib tires all around on a vehicle, you’re going to save fuel. That’s a certainty,” Miller stresses.

Schneider National had to do a bit of a selling job with the drivers when they began using the Goodyear 302, with its ribbish appearance. It’s a cross between a lug and a rib tire, Miller notes, but it has more than adequate traction qualities and better fuel economy qualities. Drivers were concerned about traction.

“After they went through the training and familiarization with the tire, nobody complained anymore,” says Miller. It remains Schneider’s drive tire of choice, and has been for more than 20 years.

On the other hand, you have a fleet like Reliant Transport, which hauls milk from dairy farms around Newfoundland and Labrador to a processing plant in St. John’s. It’s a year-round, 24/7 operation, and that means running in the mud on the farms, on gravel roads, and through some of the worst winter weather anywhere in North America.

Traction is a high priority, says Reliant Transport’s general manager Scott Johnson. He needs tires that are reliable and give his drivers a good, sure feel for the road, regardless of the road conditions. “We’ve tried lots of options, but a [deep lug tread] works best for our tractors in the winter,” he says. “I know a less aggressive tread would give us better mileage, but in the snow and mud, our priorities are traction and preserving casing life, not trying to get an extra 15,000 miles out of the tire.”

As for a potential loss of traction with rib tires, the jury is out. As Miller puts it, if a driver was stuck in snow with a set of rib tires, his or her perception would be that if it were running lug tires that wouldn’t have happened. But who knows, maybe the lugs would have got stuck too?

“And I’ve heard it said that it’s almost impossible to make a truck tire hydroplane – given the weight and the footprint of the tire,” he claims. And then of course, there’s ice. And I’m sure you’d agree, that on ice, the tread pattern isn’t going to make a lot of difference either way. You’re going for a ride.”

So, do you really need a lug-tread drive tire? This is Canada after all, but many drivers spend a majority of their time on something other than snow – where a lug tire is best suited. Given the potential fuel savings, perhaps it’s worth asking if the handful of days in a year when a lug tire might be best isn’t too much of a compromise for the better fuel economy of a rib tire? H


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