FACTS magazine talks to Steertrak’s Managing Director Jeremy Krantz about wheel alignment and its potential to reduce harmful tyre related emissions.

If the wheels on a commercial vehicle are misaligned by only a small amount this can have a significant impact on the handling characteristics of a vehicle, reduce tyre life and impact fuel economy. Quite simply it is just money down the drain.

Steertrak is a specialist provider of commercial vehicle wheel alignment services and also advises on steering related issues. Dedicated wheel alignment technicians work all over the UK and are retained by many national fleets to help keep tyre and fuel bills under control.

FACTS is investigating the pollutants from brake and tyre wear, so decided to speak to Steertrak about the problem and what it is doing to prevent it.

FACTS (F): How much does Steertrak know about the plastic and dust particulate that comes from tyres?

Jeremy Krantz (JK): One of the fundamental laws of physics is that matter cannot be created nor destroyed – it only changes form. However, for years we just naively ignored this rule and simply threw away our waste and assumed it disappeared…. out of sight out of mind. In recent years we have become more aware of the impact of plastic pollution as mountains of plastic have been found in our oceans, not decomposing in a way that we might have naively presumed. We now know it is hanging around in the environment and in some cases breaking down into micro-beads of plastic that is ending up back in our water supplies and the food chain. The long-term consequences for aquatic life and human health are only just starting to be realised.

Closer to home we know road traffic has been highlighted as a significant contributor to air pollution, particularly in urban areas and major cities. Exhaust related particles are emitted as a result of incomplete fuel combustion and lubricant volatilisation during the combustion process. However, as exhaust emissions control has become stricter (Euro 4,5,6 etc), non-exhaust sources of emissions will come under greater scrutiny. The question now starting to be asked of the transport industry is what happens to all the rubber that wears off tyres? With between 10 and 30% of the volume of a tyre being lost in use, that is a lot of rubber going into the environment.

Each time a tyre rotates, it loses a layer of rubber about a billionth of a metre thick. When you look at the numbers, this works out to about four quintillion atoms lost with each rotation. A busy road with 25,000 vehicles travelling on it each day will generate around 14kg of tyre dust per mile. We know in the UK 68,000-tonnes of tyre dust comes off vehicles every year as the rubber compounds break down quite quickly with some of the largest particles washing off the road into the water courses, potentially effecting marine life and working its way back into our food chain. Smaller particles become airborne and can get into our lungs potentially leading to a whole host of respiratory and cardiovascular complications. Big cities like London have consistently exceeded pollution targets for the smaller airborne categories or particulates, and a recent European Commission study found that half of all this particulate matter comes from tyres and brakes. As we move to more electric vehicles it is inevitable that the focus will turn to these non-exhaust forms of emissions and will this have consequences for how the transport industry operates.

F: Does Steertrak know of any solutions the tyre industry is looking at which will reduce the effects of pollution from tyre dust?

JK: Anything that increases the life of a tyre in service will have a consequential reduction in tyre related emissions. For instance, in recent years some operators have adopted a ‘to hell with tyre wear’ mentality and have been happy to use the cheapest tyres on the market from low cost Asian manufacturers, knowing they don’t last long and can just be thrown away. This practice will probably come under increasing scrutiny. Similarly, we often see basic tyre maintenance procedures such as tyre inflation and wheel alignment ignored just so that vehicles can be kept on the road longer. This will also have to change. Longer term, the tyre manufacturers will probably be looking closely at the compounds used in tyre manufacturing and how these break down in the environment. In the meantime, if operators focused on buying quality tyres and implementing routine wheel alignment and tyre inflation then tyre related emissions could probably be halved.

F: How can Steertrak help with this problem now?

JK: A routine wheel alignment program with Steertrak has consistently shown the ability to deliver tangible improvements in tyre life. Customers typically report improvements of between 10 and 30%. In fact, one recent trial with two home delivery fleets for major supermarkets showed an improvement in tyre life of 40%. This would also deliver a corresponding reduction in tyre related emissions going into the environment.

As society becomes aware of the consequences of long-term environmental pollution, I think more and more people are becoming concerned at the impact our throw-away culture is creating. Many of us were reluctant to sort out household waste a few years ago, but now many accept it an essential part of our daily lives. In fact, through education and awareness it is now consumer pressure back up the supply chain that is having the biggest impact on the supply chain and manufacturers. Similarly, as people start to become more aware of the impact of tyre related emissions there will be demands placed on our industry to solve the problem. If we do not start to solve it ourselves there will inevitably been legislation to make it happen.

F: Steertrak technicians go through a rigorous training regime. What does this cover and why is it essential?

JK: In the general motor trade it is common to be able to recruit the skills needed in the open market and a new recruit can be set to work almost straight away. However, because Steertrak operates in such a specialist field we have never had that luxury. Most new recruits come to us thinking they understand wheel alignment, but they soon realise they know very little. Most of our recruits come to us with an automotive background and then we have to provide six to eight weeks in house training to transition them into or specialist field. This includes the practical aspects of wheel alignment, wheel alignment theory, understanding maintenance issues that contribute to tyre wear and handling issues and them most importantly how to apply this knowledge in real world situations.

F: What is the main difference in buying alignment kit and doing it yourself or having a Steertrak operative do this for your fleet?

JK: The first consideration is the economics of investing in the equipment versus a pay-as-you-go service provided by Steertrak. A lot of workshops just don’t have the volume of work to justify the cost and with modern alignment systems costing £10-30K there has to be a strong business case to purchase. There are just too many examples of equipment lying around in workshops covered in dust.

The second thing to consider is that having the right wheel alignment kits is only part of the solution. To achieve effective wheel alignment, you have to have the right equipment, the right person operating it and the right knowledge about the vehicle. Vehicles nearly always have a reason for being out of alignment, but the equipment never gives you the reason and never tells you how to fix the problem and this is where regular workshop technicians struggles. A specialist Steertrak technician will know how to get to the bottom of the underlying mechanical problem and also marry this up with specific knowledge about the vehicle type and how that vehicle is being used in practice.

With over 35 years of experience, nationwide coverage 24 hours a day seven days a week and 20 specialist engineers, Steertrak can help you take control of your fuel and tyre costs and help you reduce emissions.

For more information: 01684 276900, www.steertrak.co.uk or sales@steertrak.co.uk