Maintenance Q&A – November 2019

Hurricane prep, all-position tires

November 2019

Paul Abelson

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Q. I got caught in the fringes of Hurricane Dorian on U.S. Highway 1 in North Carolina. It was a scary experience, like you’d think. I run all over, but the company I’m leased to specializes in the Southeast, so I never know when I might be in this situation again. I tried to plan to avoid it, but the tail end caught me. My question is, what can I do to be ready before I have to go near one of these things?

A. If you have no choice and absolutely have to go near a hurricane, there are three key factors to consider and maintain for: traction, vision and reliability. Lose any one of them, and your best course of action is to pull over and wait it out.

Traction

This starts, literally, where the rubber hits the road. Make sure you have adequate tread depth on all tires. The tread acts like a water pump, moving water on the road surface away from the contact patch so the rubber can maintain its friction with the road. When a tire can’t remove water fast enough, the tire rides up onto a film of water, a phenomenon called “hydroplaning.”

It’s like driving on ice. The deeper the tread, the greater its ability to move water. If your tires still have life in them but are worn down by 40% or more, consider saving them for next summer and replace them with a new set. Pay special attention to steer tires. They carry a higher load per tire and contribute disproportionately to braking.

Traction also includes brakes, which are necessary for control. Make sure that stroke is as equal as possible so they apply evenly. Uneven brake application in marginal conditions can result in skids or jackknifes.

Vision

In heavy weather, visibility will be compromised. You need to maintain everything involved in the process. Make sure wipers are operating, and replace blades if needed before entering a storm zone. Apply polymer glass coatings (Rain-X and similar products) on all glass surfaces, including side windows and mirrors, not just windshields. Coat headlights to help others see you better while improving your vision.

Reliability

There’s nothing worse than breaking down in the middle of heavy weather. Maybe you can limp to safety, but more often you need to ride it out until help arrives. Even if your running gear breaks down, you’ll want to stay comfortable. That means your HVAC must function. That, in turn, means your engine and electrical system must work. Top off your fuel with quality diesel before you enter a storm zone. Use an additive to manage water. Full tanks minimize condensation.

HVAC depends on electricity. Make sure batteries are topped up. If needed, clean terminals and coat with dielectric gel. Be sure defroster vents are clear and the blower is working. When traveling at speed, high air pressure can mask low fan function. When you’re stopped, you need the fan.

Be sure all fluids are topped-off, fan belts and hose clamps are tight, and hoses are in good condition. If you might be driving through standing water, it makes sense to grease all suspension and drivetrain fittings to waterproof them. Be sure grease fittings are covered, if not with dust caps then at least with a drop of grease over the fitting.

Don’t forget things you’ll need personally. Prep your cab the way you would for winter, with a supply of drinking water, nonperishable food, a blanket and a change of clothes. Have your cellphone fully charged, and have a functioning CB. In nasty weather, cell towers may have gone down. I was once stranded in a blizzard with only my CB for communications, and it saved my life.

I hope these suggestions help, but the best thing you can do, if possible, is to avoid the storm to begin with.


Q. My 2016 Pete will need new tires soon. I have a chance to buy 18 at a good price from a nearby fleet that’s cutting back its size. The problem is, they’re all all-position. I’ve been using specialized steer, drive and trailer tires most of my career. Should I get the all-position or buy for each one?

A. Under perfect driving conditions, you’ll never notice a difference, although the drive and trailer tires may not last as long.

The steering position is the most demanding, so most all-position tires are based on that one.

They provide directional stability, carry the heaviest load and are, individually, stressed most during braking. They also contribute more to ride quality. Their treads have to channel more water to avoid hydroplaning in heavy rain. That’s why all-positions are based on steers.

Drive tires provide traction and braking. They transmit torque to the road. They must have “bite” in all conditions, including snow and off-road. Even when designed for on-highway economy, they usually have lug treads or diagonal edged ribs, often with sipes (grooves in a tire tread to improve traction), for increased bite.

Trailer tires are designed to be free rolling to contribute to fuel economy but must have high lateral stiffness for directional stability. They also need reinforced or protected sidewalls to resist damage from curbing.

Tread compounds differ, too. Drive tires are softer to conform and grip the road better. Their treads are deeper to compensate for wear. Trailer treads are optimized for long life and lower rolling resistance.

All-position tires are a compromise. They do all things well, but nothing exceptional. Position-designed tires work better in their positions, but not in others. Fleets use all-position tires to save money by simplifying tire service operations, but in my opinion, it’s a false saving. As a TV commercial states, “Just good enough is not good enough,” especially when it comes to that critical connection between your truck. LL

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Paul Abelson, senior technical consultant, is a longtime contributor to Land Line. He’s a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and a member of the Technology and Maintenance Council. In 1995, TMC awarded him its Silver Spark Plug award. In 2006, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Truck Writers of North America. Although he’s “retired,” he still makes a popular contribution to Land Line readers with “Maintenance Q and A.”