As automakers roll out bigger and bigger pickup trucks, many ranchers are getting frustrated with the growing price tag of the tires that support them. Enter retread tires, which manufacturers say can save money and bring quality to U.S. agricultural operations.
"Retreads are used every day on airplanes, military vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks and by millions of truckers and motorists all across the country," says Steve Phillips, director of sales for South Carolina-based Oliver Rubber Company, LLC, which celebrated its 100th year manufacturing retreads in 2012. "Retreads are safe, they’re cost-efficient and they’re an environmentally friendly option for farmers."
The low cost—between 50% and 60% below the retail value of a new tire of the same size—is made possible through the use of recycled material, says Joel Hawkins, vice president, South Dakota-based TreadWright. The company uses 70% recycled materials in its tires and looks to get that above 85% in the future.
"You’re saving tires from going into landfills, you’re saving on using more oil and rubber," says Hawkins, whose grandfather and father started the business in Colorado.
While the family had produced retread tires since before 1984, it found new opportunities when the market shifted toward cheaper imported rubber amid growing demand for SUVs and pickups in the early 1990s. While imports made competition difficult, they were also of a lower quality, Hawkins says. So Hawkins’ father began to shift his focus toward the light truck tire market, an emphasis that remains.
When selecting a retread tire for a light pickup trucks, it’s important to consider several factors, Phillips says. First, farmers should buy from a dealer who retreads tires using a controlled process in which casings are carefully inspected to ensure uniformity and reliability.
In the case of TreadWright, the manufacturer acquires used tires and inspects them to ensure it can safely be used. The rubber is sent to an independent lab to be tested for parameters such as tensile strength, elongation, hardness and for ozone resistance. A machine called a buffer then takes off the old tread to a specified texture just above the belts. The tire then goes into a machine called an Orbitread, which applies new rubber in a continuous 1 ¼" ribbon wrap until the proper rubber depth is achieved.
Afterward, the tire is spin-balanced, pressed and cured. The new tread design is molded using steam heat at between 300 and 320 degrees for a little over an hour.
Oliver treads are manufactured in Asheboro, N.C., and then distributed to a network of 100 dealers, each responsible for acquiring and retreading casings that pass inspection, Phillips says.
Farmers should also consider where retread tires will be used, Phillips says.
"If the tread is going to be used for highway purposes, over-the-road application highway, then the farmer or the individual would want to select a tread that was best for that application—typically a ribbed tread, something that might offer some degree of fuel efficiency with regard to the tread," Phillips says. "If the application was off-road or on-farm use primarily, the famer might look for a traction-oriented tread."
Differentiating TreadWright retread tires was a full-grade semi truck rubber with more aggressive treads that appealed to farmers, ranchers and off-roaders, Hawkins says. In the late 1990s, the business partnered with an Icelandic company to build a carbide product into their tires. For an extra $20 per tire, the rubber could run with less noise and wear.
The company will continue to accommodate ranchers who use 16" rims on their pickups, Hawkins says, even as it introduces its first 20" model this year. TreadWright also offers tires for medium-duty trucks such as F450s and F550s, but its emphasis remains on light trucks. Demand for deeper tread is also high.
TreadWright recently introduced bead-to-bead tires including a new veneer lab-tested to strengthen the sidewalls of the tire and improve longevity. The process is expected to add at least two and three years to the life of the sidewall before degeneration occurs. The weight rating stays the same for the tires after retreading, so maintaining proper pressurization is key.
Retread tire usage is growing, Phillips says. As with farm commodities, prices for new tire raw materials such as rubber and steel have increased tremendously in the last several years, making retreads a better buy today than even a few years ago.
"There’s still a lot of value to that casing that went in from the original manufacturer, all the belts, all the steel," Phillips says. "The base is still there, we’re just putting a new tread on it."