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Understanding the relationship between electric trucks, their tires, and wheels

Sept. 29, 2022
The decision about EVs must include the foreknowledge that their rubber life is shorter. All-electrics are heavier and their direct drives negatively impact tread life. Changing and rotating their tires also is expensive and time-consuming.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average price of diesel fuel was around $1.12 per gallon in 1994. By October 2004, the average had topped $2 per gallon for the first time, and exactly one year later, it topped $3 a gallon. In April 2008, the average price of diesel fuel in the U.S. was $4.08 per gallon, a watershed moment for the trucking industry. Between 2008 and February 2022, diesel topped $4 a gallon just 17 times.

With the good old days of $4 diesel behind us (by several months!), the ground for electric trucks has never been more fertile because efforts toward reducing the dependency on fossil fuels show no signs of slowing down. Purchase grants, tax credits, and other subsidies are readily available for fleets that are willing to pull the plug on diesel and go all-electric.

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I recently had the opportunity to get a firsthand look at an electric Class 8 tractor, and being the tire nerd that I am, I went straight to the tires. This truck had dual 315/80R22.5 drive tires on 9-inch aluminum wheels on both axles. I was surprised to learn that the forward tandem, normally the tag axle, was the drive axle, and the rear axle was not connected to the powertrain at all. Another surprise was the use of lug bolts to secure the wheels to the hub. Apparently, the combination of weight and torque was just too much for standard hub-piloted studs and nuts, so an entirely new wheel attachment system was required. As if that wasn’t enough, the process of lifting and securing the truck can result in a six-figure repair if the drive axle is damaged.

To be fair, this is one example, so it is not a reflection on the entire electric truck market. It does, however, raise a few questions that need to be addressed by fleets contemplating the possibility of plugging into the concept of replacing diesel fuel with electricity.

Let’s start with the tires. Direct drive has already been shown to have a negative effect on the tread life of a passenger electric vehicle. Aggressive acceleration and braking shorten tire life even more. Similar results should be expected for drive tires when all the torque is focused on one axle, making tire rotation for tandem tractors a key component to control tire costs.

On a standard diesel truck with tandem drive axles, rotation is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. For the electric truck that I saw, that process will require even more time with additional effort to align the tire and wheel assemblies so the wheel bolts can be installed. Wheel dollies and alignment pins will be necessities for all types of tire service on that particular truck.

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More importantly, the process for lifting and securing the truck is going to require additional equipment and technician training. The manufacturer included a designated lifting point, but most existing jacks will not reach. While it is easy to identify, there are no support points on the drive axle, so the work may have to be completed without the use of a jack stand. The safety hazards alone when lifting and supporting the electric truck I saw are enough to keep tire guys like me awake at night. Throw in the six-figure repair if the drive axle is damaged with no place to position a jack stand, and it’s a full-blown nightmare.

There’s no stopping the electrification of the trucking industry. I can see where it might work in areas where emissions are a major factor and may even result in lower operating costs in the right applications. What I can’t see is how it’s going to affect the lifespan and service requirements for tires and wheels. Based on what I’ve read and seen anecdotally, I’m fairly confident that tire and wheel costs on electric trucks will be higher than their diesel counterparts, so maintenance will be at a premium.

We are still a long way from replacing the diesel fleet with electric. Issues like ensuring an available and stable power supply, reducing charging times, and increasing range are way ahead of tires and wheels. It’s impossible to predict how electric trucks will affect the transportation industry. Tires and wheels are just another area where fleets and service providers will have to adapt because major changes are on the horizon, and the stakes are going to be raised.

Kevin Rohlwing is the SVP of training for the Tire Industry Association. He has more than 39 years of experience in the tire industry and has created programs to help train more than 180,000 technicians.

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About the Author

Kevin Rohlwing | Senior Vice President of Training

Kevin Rohlwing is the Senior Vice President of Training for the Tire Industry Association (TIA). He started in the tire business more than 32 years ago as a technician in his family’s dealership in Elgin, Illinois, where he also worked as a salesman and service manager.

In 1996, he joined the International Tire and Rubber Association (ITRA), the predecessor of TIA, as the Director of Commercial Tire Service. Kevin created and produced the Association’s training and certification programs that have educated more than 90,000 technicians since 1997.

In 2011, he was awarded the Silver Spark Plug for excellence in fleet maintenance from the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Assns.