Tyre pressure: why it matters and how to fix it

Tyre pressure. It’s not a subject that quickens the pulse, but it is an important one nonetheless. A vehicle with either under- or over-inflated tyres is less safe on the road and more costly. They can damage an organisation’s bottom line in particularly tragic ways.

Of course, most fleet managers will be aware of these dangers. But are their drivers? Is the organisation as a whole? If not, then problems can exist outside of the fleet manager’s knowledge.

To demonstrate this, we recently sampled the tyre safety of commercial vehicles – mostly panel vans – belonging to two organisations’ fleets. We refer to these organisations here as A and B.

Our findings were quite shocking:

100 per cent of B’s vehicles and 76.8 per cent of A’s had at least one under-inflated tyre.

On average, tyres were under-inflated by 10 pounds per square inch (PSI). The worst tyre recorded was 51 PSI below what it should’ve been.

99.5 per cent of B’s and 80 per cent of A’s vehicles showed differences in inflation across axles.Whilst the majority of issues were with under-inflated tyres, over-inflation was also common.

The fleet managers at organisations A and B were highly surprised by these results. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been – after all, they are symptomatic of wider industry problems. Weekly checks of tyres by drivers are being forgotten, whilst fleet-wide checks are happening far less regularly than they should. Drivers, businesses and other road users are being put at risk.

What are the risks?

Reduced vehicle handling and stability: According to the latest statistics from the Department for Transport, there were 39 fatal accidents due to vehicle defects in 2014. Of these, 22 – a full 56 per cent – were caused by illegal, defective or under-inflated tyres.

Reduced fuel efficiency and premature tyre wear: Michelin research found that UK motorists are wasting £246 million a year on fuel because of under-inflated tyres. Our own spot-check showed that A and B were losing 1 per cent fuel economy for every 3 PSI of under-inflation.

Higher emissions: Thanks to higher fuel consumption, vehicles with under-inflated tyres will generally pump out more carbon dioxide. The same Michelin research put the total at over 538,000 tonnes of excess CO2. By neglecting tyre pressure an organisation can negate its own efforts to be green elsewhere.

How can you reduce the risks to your fleet?

Driver education should always be your first option: Investigate your fleet, share the findings, and explain what these mean in reality. This approach is already making a difference for the clients we work with.

Perform fleet-wide checks at regular intervals: We put these at three-month intervals in the maintenance plans for some of our clients.

Investigate the constant advances in technology: There are now devices that can monitor the pressure of a vehicle’s tyres and report the numbers back to the driver in the cab. This sort of technology can be linked up with telematics, so that tyre pressures for the entire fleet can be monitored remotely. This might seem like an expensive option, but when considered against the money wasted on extra fuel and repairs, it could end up saving money for your organisation. We calculated a potential annual saving of over £218,000 for organisation A’s fleet. That’s around £145 per vehicle.

Nitrogen: Tyres filled with nitrogen lose pressure more slowly. While this doesn’t reduce the risk completely, it does slow it down.

More than anything, however, organisations ought to strive towards a culture of tyre safety. Drivers need to be educated about tyre pressure and the risks it can pose to their vehicle and the fleet as a whole. Fleet managers shouldn’t just assume that everything is okay; they need to find out that all their drivers are following a robust regime of tyre checking. Nothing can be left to chance.

Money and, more importantly, lives are at stake. It’s far better to care about tyre pressure than to regret not doing so.