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Tires are generally a dull subject for limousine operators until one goes flat or blows out during a fleet run. Then, you start paying attention. Here’s a guide to running the right tires so they don’t become too interesting of a topic.
A Significant Investment
The average price of a quality tire for a limousine or sedan runs between $120 and $165 each. Every vehicle in your fleet may go through several sets of tires in the life of the vehicle. Tires should be replaced with quality versions that have a proper rating capacity for the load to be carried as well as the right kind of tire for highway traveling. Operators who experience snow in the winter may need to have two complete sets of tires to provide service during the winter months. Tire replacement on minicoaches and buses are a big expense. You need to know how to select and maintain the proper tires for your vehicles.
Budgeting & Saving
For the small- to medium-size operator, a complete tire replacement could easily become a financial burden if you don’t plan and budget for it. An easy way to budget for tires is to calculate the complete cost of tire replacement on a particular vehicle and divide that amount by the life expectancy of the tire. For example, if a tire is expected to last 60,000 miles and the tire costs $150, then it costs .0025 per mile to operate. If you put 1,500 miles on your vehicle in a month, the operating cost is $3.75 for the month. It would take you 40 months to wear the tires out if you average 1,500 miles per month. Considering you have four tires on most vehicles, your total operational cost for tires is $15. That is the amount you should set aside each month into a tire replacement fund for each vehicle.
When buying new tires, you will always have most of the money. Bob Ulrich, an editor with Modern Tire Dealer magazine, recommends you compare a 40,000 mile tire for $X.XX vs. an 80,000 mile tire for $X.XX and do the math because it might be cheaper to buy the tire with the shorter life span if it costs less to run per mile. (See chart on how to determine per mile cost).
When To Replace
Although you may expect 80,000 miles, many factors contribute to tire wear, such as road temperature, driving patterns, tire inflation, load factors and road condition. Nothing lasts forever. Monthly tread inspections can reveal the need for replacement. In most states, tires are legally worn out when their tread depth reaches 1/16 inch (or 2/32 inch as found on standardized tread-depth gauges).
While the old penny stuck upside down is probably your grandfather’s method, Consumer Reports Magazine says for a better indicator of tread wear, place a quarter upside down in a tire groove. The distance from the coin’s rim to George Washington’s hairline is about 1/8 inch. If you see all of his head in any one groove where a tread-wear indicator appears, consider shopping for new tires.
To start shopping, obtain the numbers of the tire from your sidewall.
What The Numbers Mean
For the lay person, all the numbers on the side of a tire can be confusing. We’ll break it down for you in this chart:
Understanding Tire Codes
Example P215/65R 15 95H M+S
P........... Passenger Car
215.........Width in millimeters from inside to outside edge
65...........Aspect ratio of height to width
15...........The diameter in inches of the wheel intended to fit
95...........Load Index is 1,521 lbs. or 6,084 lbs on four tires*
H..............Speed rating is 130 MPH**
M+S.........Mud and Snow
The recommended size of the tire can be found in the glove box, doorjamb or fuel filler door on most vehicles. However, vehicles converted may require a larger tire to accommodate additional weight. Ask your coachbuilder to confirm the placard on the car is accurate.
Size is expressed in the number, P235/70R16 95 H. The “P” denotes the tire is intended for a passenger car. With most limo buses and large vans, you would buy a tire designated LT for Light Truck. The number 235 is the width in millimeters, while 70 is the ratio of sidewall height to cross-section width (70%). R means radial-ply construction and 16 is the wheel diameter in inches.
Load & Speed Rating
After the size on the sidewall are numbers and letter. They denote the load index and speed ratings respectively. H would be rated for sustained travel at 130 mph. Common letters are “S”, “T” and “Q” that range from 99 mph to 118mph. While it is unlikely that chauffeurs would drive that fast, tires with higher speed ratings provide better handling at legal speed limits.
Choose tires that have a speed rating at least as high as the one specified on your vehicle’s placard. The load index number is based on the weight the tire can safely carry. The 95 indicates the tire can safely carry 1,477 pounds. Choose a tire with a load index at least as high as the one listed on your car placard.
Where the Tire Came From
Every tire has a Department of Transportation (DOT) number following the letters on the sidewall. It specifies the manufacturer, factory, mold, batch, and date of production. This date is important. It is located near the bead of the tire where the rim and the tire meet. The first two digits of the four digit number represent the week in the year the tire was made. For instance, a tire made in the fourth week of 2013 would contain the numbers 0413. In some cases, people have purchased tires that had been on a shelf for as long as six years. The Japanese Automotive Tire Manufacturers Association recommends discarding tires after 10 years from their “born-on” date. Consumer Reports magazine says you should never buy tires that are more than three years old even if they are new.
Traction and Temperature Codes
Also located on the sidewall are letters denoting the grip rating on wet pavement and the resistance to temperatures. These letters range from AA to C with AA being the absolute best and C being the absolute worst.
Opinions vary on how much air pressure should be in a tire. Some believe over-inflating or running at the maximum stated pressure on the tire makes the tires last long and provide a more firm ride. Not true, says Duane Collins, an independent third generation tire dealer in Bakersfield, Calif. “The marking indicates that is the absolute maximum amount of air before the threat of bursting exists. It doesn’t mean you should fill it to that level,” he says. Tires are intended to have some bounce in them and flexibility while traveling on the highway. The firmer the tires, the rougher the ride, Collins says. Consumer Reports says car manufacturers typically recommend an inflation pressure well below the tire’s maximum air pressure. Follow the advice on the vehicle’s tire placard.
Life Expectancy & Road Hazards
Tires usually are sold with a stated warranty based on miles, such as a 70,000 mile warranty. This means under normal use, the tires are expected to last 70,000 miles. If they don’t, the manufacturer will provide a pro-rated refund based on how many miles you actually got out of the tire. Tires are stamped with a government required grade with a reference to a standard that a “good” tire carries a rating of 100 by government standards. A manufacturer that assigns a grade of 500 to a tire is saying it is five times better than the government required standard of 100. Road hazards damaging your tire are not covered under such a warranty, says Ulrich, who suggests buying road hazard insurance coverage through the tire store for fleet vehicles due to the sheer number of miles traveled.
Where to Buy Tires: Local!
Ulrich also recommends you buy tires from a local “independent dealer.” “Being local is important because they are close by,” he says.
Rick Brown, owner of La Costa Limousine near San Diego, says he has tried discount online sites such as Tirerack.com but believes the $30 savings isn’t worth losing the service of a local dealer. Brown’s local dealer picks up and delivers his vehicles. He located his dealer by asking area car dealerships who they use. His dealer specializes in wholesale service to dealers and fleet operators. Another issue with buying online is tax hassles. Out-of-state online sellers usually don’t collect sales taxes, and if your state has a sales tax, you either need to voluntarily pay it or your state may come after you to pay up based on information provided to them by the online seller. This was a problem for Brown several years ago. “Costco is pretty aggressive in pricing but the service might be a little amateur and that could present problems,” he adds.
Brand loyalty plays out much like the contest between Pepsi and Coke; everyone has their favorite. Brown swears by Michelin because, “They are the only tire that gives me 80,000 to 100,000 miles on a sedan.” However, if you want to shop by price, Ulrich says your independent dealer will have a much wider range of manufacturers than a Goodyear store, which may be contractually bound to sell only Goodyear Tires. Ulrich says Big O Tires is a great example of an independent dealer that can provide a wide variety of brands. If they don’t have a brand in the store, they can usually get it from one of five sources available to Big O franchisees. Some of Ulrich’s favorites include Goodyear, Yokahama and Michelin, who all make “really good, sturdy tires,” he says. “The choices for limousines are much more limited.”
In choosing the right tire, make sure your dealer knows the specific vehicle and type of terrain it travels on. The dealer wants your experience to be good or he knows you will not return for more tires. In the tire world, Ulrich says there are always three choices: good, better and best, Ulrich says. Brown adds that he gets 60,000 to 80,000 miles using Michelin tires on his stretch limousines.
How To Calculate The Operating Cost of Tires
• Determine total cost of tire including mounting, balancing and disposal
• Determine expected life of tire in miles (i.e. 50,000, 70,000)
• Determine average monthly miles placed on a vehicle
Total tire cost: $150
Tire life expectancy is 60,000 miles
• Divide tire cost ($150) by 60,000 miles = .0025 per mile cost
• Multiply per mile cost by average vehicle miles per month
Average vehicle miles = 1,500
• Multiply .0025 by 1500 miles= $3.75 per tire/
• Multiply per tire cost x 4= $15 per month operating cost
Load Rating Conversion Chart
86 = 1,200 pounds
87 = 1,200 pounds
88 = 1,200 pounds
89 = 1,300 pounds
90 = 1,300 pounds
91 = 1,360 pounds
92 = 1,400 pounds
93 = 1,400 pounds
94 = 1,500 pounds
95 = 1,500 pounds
Most independent dealers belong to networks similar to those in the limousine industry that will perform flat repairs and warranty adjustments in most major cities, Ulrich says. American Car Centers (ACC) and The Tire Factory are among the most common. You should ask about such networks if you operate a substantial distance from your base. If they can’t provide nationwide support, find another dealer, Ulrich says. Also ask about local roadside response and their maximum service radius for helping you with a tire change.
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