Should you carry spare truck tyres?

By: Steve Skinner


Operators can increase their payloads, save fuel and remove OH&S worries by not carrying spare wheels, writes Steve Skinner

It might have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago, but many fleets these days aren’t carrying spare wheels underneath their rigid trucks or trailers.

You’ll be hard-pressed to spot one underneath a Coles or Woolworths trailer, for instance.IMG_0737

Modern tyres are so good that, as long as they’re inflated properly, they don’t fail nearly as often as they used to, and that includes retreads.

"If you have your tyre management systems right, how often do you get a flat tyre these days?" David Coonan from the Australian Trucking Association asks.

"The only cause of a flat tyre will be some sort of object on the road that kills the tyre.

"How often do you actually get that in the normal tar-road operating environment?

"If you’re running fuel tankers trying to maximise your payload, and running in an area where you can get a tyre service truck within an hour, why would you carry a spare wheel and ask the driver to change it?"

In bulk situations like that, not carrying a spare means extra payload, and in the case of short-haul tippers for example, the extra productivity quickly adds up.

Alternatively, not carrying a spare means fuel savings.

An after-hours callout to a tyre service might cost a minimum of $300 to $350, but it can be smart business practice to take the risk.

Sean Vittozzi, from Gordon Leven Tyres at Emu Plains in Sydney, says there are a lot of trucks — for example the concrete trucks he looks after — that don’t carry spares, to save weight.

"They’re normally local but they could be going anywhere," Vittozzi says.

"There are other trucks we look after that don’t have spares because the drivers aren’t permitted to take a wheel off," he says.

OH&S Concerns

This introduces another factor behind some fleets not carrying spares: occupational health and safety concerns.

Michael Pope, who runs the large Michelin Service Centre at Ingleburn in Sydney, says:  "A lot of drivers are not allowed to change wheels now because of OH&S.IMG_0746

"There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the driver changing a wheel if they’re not trained and equipped," Pope says.

"If they’re trained, no worries, go ahead.

"But if they don’t know how to jack the vehicle up correctly, if they don’t know how to loosen off a spider wheel and crack the dogs, if they can’t loosen the nuts on a disc wheel, if they don’t put out their triangles, if they slip and have the wheel fall on them, if they don’t do the nuts up tight enough — there’s a multitude of things that can go wrong if the driver’s not trained to do it."

David Coonan from the ATA says there will be situations where the driver needs to change the wheel (obviously in the outback, for example) but agrees they need to be "appropriately trained and appropriately equipped".

Training a truck tyre changer

That training is a big "if". Changing a wheel is not taught routinely at driver training schools; many companies don’t have proper training (of any sort);  and these days it’s often just luck if a greenhorn has an older hand there to show him or her how to do it properly.

Don’t count on official guidance either. ATN contacted WorkCover NSW, Safe Work Australia, and the new National Heavy Vehicle Regulator — none of them have a specific code of practice for changing wheels.

The following might come as news to many operators, managers and drivers though: under a general duty of care, a "risk assessment" is supposed to be carried out for things like changing wheels.

A spokesperson for WorkCover NSW says this may require a "safe work methods statement".

Never seen one of those? You’re not the only one.

Mobile truck tyre replacement services

The ATA has a helpful "Commercial Vehicle Wheel Security" advisory document on its website. However, it assumes prior knowledge of changing wheels.

One of the authors is mechanic, truck driver and operations manager, Wally Cox.IMG_3684

"There are a lot of companies where the driver will never change wheels because they don’t carry spares," Cox says.

"They rely on tyre services to come and change tyres. They eliminate the driver out of the system, and that’s been around for 20 years," he says, citing fear of litigation as one of the factors.

"If you’re running the Hume and a tyre blows, nine times out of 10 you can limp the truck into a parking bay or town, and call the tyre service.

"All the tyre companies are now advocating 24-hour breakdown services. They charge for it but they’re happy to go and do that."

Cox adds that using a service means drivers don’t have to eat into their logbook hours.

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