Should You Go With New Tires or Retreads?

Your budget for new rubber and ability to deal with occasional blowouts may be determining factors in your decision on how to keep rolling down the road.

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It’s an age-old question in the world of trucking: Should I buy new tires or consider retreads?

First, I should explain what a retread tire is for those who might not know. There’s a part of the tire that rarely gets talked about. It’s called the casing. That’s the sidewalls, the bead (where tire meets the rim), and the tread. The tread is what wears off as we drive. Federal regulations state that we have to change a tire when the drive tire tread depth reaches 2/32 of an inch or the steer tires reach 4/32 of an inch. To save on tire costs, retread companies offer to take your used cases and put a new tread on them.

We get the die-hard answers: “Never put a retread on my truck” and “Always buy retreads.”

The ones who say to never put a retread on a truck claim that retreads are nothing but problems, citing many examples of truck drivers stuck on the side of the road waiting for a tire guy to come put a new retread on the truck. In most cases of blowouts, the truck has damage done when the retread comes apart at highway speeds.  

The ones who advocate for always buying retreads state that they have had the same problems with new tires as they do with retreads, so they just buy retreads. 

PRESSURE CHECKS

But the key is to frequently check and maintain tire pressures. How often should you check? Tire industry folks will tell you to check your tire pressures weekly. But remember that federal regulations require us to thump the tires daily with a hammer. Now, whether using retreads or new tires, tire pressure must be maintained to get the best tire wear and longest life.  

I can share my own experience. When I started, all I could afford was retreads. Retreading tires can run about $250. New tires can run about $500. Which tires will get the most miles? That’s up for debate. In my experience, retread tires have left me stranded with blowouts. 

I only ever had about five tires make it down to 2/32 of an inch tire wear before blowing out. I have lost count over the years of how many blowouts I’ve had, but my guess is about 15 tires. We don’t gauge wear by miles but expect about 1.5 years out of a set of tires. With each blowout, I have not been able to reach my tire life expectancy, often losing a tire about 3 to 4 months early. But to this date, I have had zero blowouts with new tires.

I ran retread tires for many years. And I have spent hours on the side of the road waiting for a tire changer to show up and put on a new one. I have also had drivers experience blowouts. And in case you haven’t heard a blowout on the freeway at 60 mph, it really sounds like military artillery going off. The loudest boom I have heard.

Plus when the retread blew, it ripped out air lines, mudflaps, and completely totaled the taillights and panel that houses those lights. So, whatever money I was saving by choosing retreads over new tires, well, it just got spent on bodywork and shop repairs.  

I WENT NEW

One day, I decided to stop buying retreads. As each tire wore out, I would buy a brand new tire. One by one, they wore down and I would replace them. But the last retread on the truck just had to go out in a flame of glory. My driver was behind the wheel when it blew out. He spent more than an hour on the side of the freeway waiting for the new tire. 

The tire dealer we use has a buyback program. If we purchase a new tire and we keep the casing looking nice by not damaging it by hitting curbs, he’ll buy the casing back. He then uses this casing to sell retreaded tires. I think we get $100 back when he changes them out. He’ll have a company retread them, and he’ll sell it to a truck owner who wants retreads.

When the retread did all of that damage, we decided to never put a retread on a truck again. We had our last blowout in November 2015, and this was the last retread tire. Is this luck? Is this coincidence?  

Our tire dealer wants us to rotate the tires every few months to get even wear on all the tires and then they can all be replaced at the same time. I don’t know about you, but I sure never want to replace all 10 tires at the same time. I can come up with $400 for a single tire easier than $4,000 for 10. Plus, my steer tires are very expensive at about $800 each because of the weight and DOT weight restrictions. So with that in mind, we don’t rotate tires. We just run them and whatever tires get down to the tread depth requirement for change, we change.  

In our state, drive tire tread depth is allowed to get down to 2/32 of an inch before change is mandatory. If I see anywhere from 3-4/32 of an inch, we schedule it. We don’t take chances waiting any longer.  

BALANCING BEADS

We also have balancing beads placed inside the tires. These are special beads that balance from the inside. When I first heard of this, I was skeptical. But my Mack had an unbalanced tire on a steer axle with rims that made balancing impossible. I would get to 45 mph and vibrations would come up to the steering wheel and get worse with speed, but they would go away at about 60. 

My tire specialist suggested balancing beads. When they were added, the truck drove like I was cutting butter. Smooth through all speeds. At that point, I was a believer and put them in every tire. Remember that you may not feel vibrations in a tire, especially in the rear tires. If your rear tires are having a minor vibration, you may not be able to feel it up in the driver’s seat. But your suspension will take the abuse, and suspension components and bushings will wear out. A $25 bag of balancing beads becomes cheap insurance.  

I’ve also seen technology where you can link dual tires together at the valve stem to ensure that your tires on the dual are at the same pressures. I understand the why behind this, but I don’t ever want to have one tire get a nail, go flat, and take the other one with it. I want to be able to limp it back to the shop for a new tire.  

So what’s the verdict: purchase retreads or new tires? It’s up to you how you want to run them. I can only speak from my experience. If your company is new and money is tight for a long time, start with retreads. The upfront cost is less expensive. If you never experience blowouts or problems, keep on running them. If you start having issues, then it may be time to order new tires.



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