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Stopping Distances vs. Fuel Economy: A Dilemma For Fleet Operators
In October 2021, Consumer Reports found that some makes of hybrid vehicles have stopping distances of 6-12 feet over their non-hybrid equivalents when traveling at 60 miles an hour. This, testers concluded, could be “the difference between a near collision and a potential tragic crash”.
Consumer Reports claims that this increase in stopping distance could at least partially be put down to hybrid vehicles’ large-scale adoption of low rolling resistance tires. These are tires that are specially designed to improve a vehicle’s fuel economy by reducing friction between the tread of the tire and the road.
This finding should be taken note of by fleet operators given the current trend among fleet management of “fuel economy being king”. Fleet operators may have to accept that, at a certain point, the interests of driver and public safety need to be considered when selecting tires for their fleet.
We will now take a look at what fleet operators should look for when selecting tires that offer the best of both worlds in terms of improving fuel economy without sacrificing stopping distances or tire durability.
Going Beyond Reduced Contact and Tread Depth
A key factor in determining how well low-rolling resistance tires actually grip the road, and therefore how far they contribute to shortening stopping distances, is how their reduced rolling resistance is actually achieved in the first place.
When low-rolling resistance tires were first developed in the 1990s, reduced rolling resistance was primarily achieved by either narrowing the tread of the tire (the part of the tire that came into direct contact with the road) or by reducing the tread-depth (the depth of the grooves in the tire’s tread).
Both these modifications directly offset the amount of grip and traction that a tire offers a vehicle, meaning that at a certain point of “fuel-efficiency” a tire simply will not be safe to use. Mike Skoropad, Head Technician at United Tires says: “For heavy-duty vehicles, as those typically driven in commercial fleets, you do not want to sacrifice tire width for a potentially improved fuel economy. That width is needed to ensure proper grip at high, constant speeds. Ensure that low-rolling resistance tires are not narrower than the required width in your vehicle owner’s manual.”
Mike added: “Also ask your supplier about the tread depth of your low rolling resistance tires. You want tires that start at around 8/32 inches of tread depth. Anything under 4/32 of an inch begins to compromise safety, so you want several years worth of wear before you get to that point.”
What You Should Want in Low-Rolling Resistance Tires
Low rolling resistance tires that do not sacrifice stopping distances (or at least keep this sacrifice to a minimum) achieve their reduced rolling resistance by the materials used in the tire, rather than through the shape and structure of the tire itself.
You, therefore, want low rolling resistance tires to have as similar shape and structure (including tread structure) as the tires that come as standard on your vehicle. The difference between the tires should be, in the most part at least, in the compounds that they are made of.
Short of learning the ins and outs of tire engineering, fleet operators should look specifically at these factors when choosing low rolling resistance tires:
- Look at how the tires are labeled. Tires are evaluated out of 100 on three metrics: fuel efficiency, ability to grip the road, and durability. You want to opt for a tire that has a nice balance of all three characteristics.
- Where possible, opt for a tire with a larger sidewall. The materials that lower rolling resistance can make sidewalls less elastic, and a higher sidewall can accommodate for this loss.
- Accept that the compounds used in safer low-rolling resistance tires are expensive and that this price will have to be passed on to the customer. Cheaper options tend to sacrifice grip and traction for fuel economy. Budget this out when choosing what tires to equip your fleet with.
If budgets do not stretch far enough to kit out your fleet with state-of-the-art tires, then pick your sacrifice based on your fleet’s needs. If your fleet regularly travels on poorer quality roads, then you do not want to sacrifice durability. Conversely, for long-haul vehicles striking a balance between fuel efficiency and grip should be given the highest priority.
How Do Electric Vehicles Fit Into The Picture?
The main ways that electric and hybrid vehicles affect tires compared to their fuel-powered counterparts is that their additional weight means that tires will wear faster and be subject to more pressure.
This means that operators with electric vehicles in their fleets should look for tires that score particularly well in terms of durability. Often low rolling resistance tires score badly on this measurement, as the materials that reduce resistance also weaken the tire’s sidewall. As more fleets adopt electric vehicles, the better this technology should become.
Fleet owners should still accept that improving their fleet’s fuel economy through lowering rolling resistance of the tires that their vehicles drive on will inevitably involve either some loss of tire durability or reduction in tire traction.
It’s up to fleet owners to accept and manage these risks based on budget and the needs of their fleet. Part of managing this risk will be to have reliable and comprehensive commercial trucking insurance. XINSURANCE has been specializing in commercial trucking insurance for over 40 years and can provide insurance solutions to fit your needs. Fill out the form here to request a quote.