rolling along and racking up benefits
Retreaded tires are the unsung heros of reduction,
reuse, recycling and recovery. Rarely getting news coverage or
public attention, the many benefits of retreads have long been
quietly appreciated by the trucking, bussing, heavy equipment
and airline industries. These days, with new tire prices on the
rise and the popularity of pickup trucks, SUVs, recreational
vehicles and off-roading, retreads are also saving these drivers
big bucks over new tires – up to 70 percent in some instances.
When you add in the green factor, particularly
appealing to many consumers, retreads stand out as an environmentally
smart way of reuse and reduction. The history of retreading dates
back to the early 1900s, shortly after the advent of the balloon
tire. It did not take a genius to see that when a tread wore
off that it was a good idea to replace the tread rather than
throwing away the bulk of the tire.
Retreading or recapping came into widespread
use during World War II due to shortages of natural rubber and
other commodities. Automobile tire retreading continued after
the war, but as the number of tire brands, sizes and shapes multiplied,
and as radials were introduced, it became uneconomical for many
retreaders to keep up with the various molds required.
With today’s modern tire casing inspections
and recapping processes, quality retreads are considered as safe
as new tires. The Tire Retread Information Bureau (TRIB) claims
there is no significant difference in quality between new and
retreaded tires. Many large truck tires can be retreaded several
times, delaying shredding or landfill disposal. Large truck tires
are routinely retreaded as part of fleet tire-management programs.
TRIB estimates that nearly half of all replacement truck tires
are retreads with costs usually being 30 to 50 percent less than
a new tire.
The environmental benefit analysis is a simple matter of economy
of weight. Take, for example, a typical tractor-trailer tire.
The retread rubber put to a drive axle tire may weigh 30 pounds,
while the casing it is applied to may weigh 120 pounds. That’s
120 pound of recovered and reused material.
Virtually all airlines use retreads and these tires undergo enormous
stress during takeoffs and landings. According to TRIB, 80 percent
of takeoffs and landings are on retreads. Retreaded tires are
also widely used on school buses, racecars, military vehicles
and by high-mileage ground-delivery companies like Federal Express
Although natural rubber only comprises approximately 14 percent
of a car tire and 27 percent of a heavy truck tire, it is a vital
ingredient in the mix with synthetic rubber and carbon black
–derived from petroleum – and other materials such as steel,
fabrics, fillers and additives.
“Natural rubber is up over two dollars a pound now. Fifteen years
ago, it was sixty cents a pound. There’s going to be a major
shortage of natural rubber and this is going to apply to rereading
and new tires, as more natural rubber is going to be required
to help tires meet low rolling-resistance requirements that are
coming to pass, starting in California. That’s going to add to
the demand for natural rubber, because providing a higher content
of natural rubber is the primary way most tire manufacturers
improve their fuel-efficiency,” said Marvin Bozarth, senior technical
director of the Tire Industry Association.
Natural rubber has recently become one of the hottest commodities
traded on international rubber exchanges with rising prices seen
in most. According to the Association of Natural Rubber Producing
Countries (ANRPC), the tightness in natural rubber supply will
remain an issue because of an upsurge in demand from China and
India for their booming auto and tire manufacturing industries.
ANRPC believes that rubber prices will remain high for some time
until supply recovers, possibly by early 2012.
With the rising costs of natural rubber and petroleum combined
with higher costs for energy to make tires, retreads are making
more economic sense to more people. TRIB says it takes approximately
22 gallons of oil to manufacture one new truck tire. Most of
the oil goes into the casing, which is reused in the retreading
process. It only takes approximately seven gallons of oil to
produce a retread – making them more cost efficient and environmentally
According to the website of Treadwright, Inc, of Hot Springs,
South Dakota, the increased demand for retreads has kept them
busy. A red-letter notice on their site stated: “Due to the high
volume of orders we are receiving right now you may find that
most sizes on our website are not in stock at this time. We greatly
apologize for this and assure you that we are producing them
as quickly as possible! We are back ordered on most sizes by
an estimated 2 to 3 weeks.”
The business owner, Joel Hawkins, said, “Business has just been
growing every year. We are doing very well. We just moved from
Edgemont to Hot Springs, South Dakota to a larger 25,000 square-foot
Treadwright has grown significantly over the past 3 years and
now employs approximately 20 people. Today, the company produces
800 to 1,000 retreads per week. Three years ago, it was doing
300 or 400 per week. In 2011, the company forecasts that it will
produce 1,200 to 1,300 retreads per week.
“We’ve experienced growth, but mostly over the past two years.
All we do is sell directly to the public. Most of our business
comes from word-of-mouth and our website. We also have an online
presence in different forums, such as various Jeep clubs. We
do a lot of four-wheel drive vehicles and light trucks.”
Hawkins continued, “We stopped doing passenger car tires 13 years
ago because new cars so often had different tire sizes. We could
not keep up with the mold purchases to continue to make all of
them.” Treadwright ships tires to all states, except for Alaska
and Hawaii, and throughout Canada. “Sometimes we do container
loads overseas. I can ship to Germany cheaper than I can to Alaska.
We’ve seen a lot of inquiries from overseas but that business
hasn’t picked up as yet.”
Hawkins attributes the confluence of the recession and rising
prices of new tires for the increase in his business. “New tire
prices have jumped significantly over the last couple of years.
I know that Goodyear raised prices by about 30 percent in 2010
on many of their light truck tires, and prices are predicted
to go up again in 2011.”
According to Hawkins, most passenger and light-truck tire casings
can only be retreaded once. Treadwright acquires its casing from
a number of tire recyclers. “For example, we work with Lakin
Tires, a major dealer that collects tires from tire stores. We
give them a list of the sizes and brands we will accept and they
save them until they have a truckload. 15” tires are starting
to disappear for us. We only do three, 15” sizes now. Mostly
we do 16”, 17” and 18”. In 2011, we will start doing 20”.
“Lakin is good with their inspection process, but we send one
of our people there to double-check them before they ship to
us. We use two electronic NDT (nondestructive testing) inspection
machines. Each tire has to go over those machines before it goes
to a spreader. There a worker visually inspects it again. The
casing is cleaned and repaired if necessary. From there a tire
goes to a buffer where the old tread design is removed, new rubber
is applied by extruders and then it goes to one of our 13 retreading
In most cases, Treadwright claims to save the consumer 50 to
70 percent over the cost of new tires with a similar tread design.
When asked for an example, Hawkins said, “One of our 16” Jeep
tires sells for $84.95 compared to a new tire with a similar
tread design for $197, the last time I checked. We use a full-grade
truck rubber on our retreads so the wear should be as good as
higher-end new tires. We get a lot of referrals and repeat customers
because people don’t want to spend money on a new tire when they
can get the same mileage for half the price.” Treadwright offers
a 2-year, 24,000-mile warrantee on workmanship on materials and
has an 3 percent.
Obviously, heavy equipment and large truck tires account for
the vast majority of retreading. Only a dozen or so retreaders
in the United States, like Treadwright, specialize in smaller
tire designs and sizes. And while retreading has the potential
to go great lengths towards mitigating the amount of tire waste
generated in the nation, the practice will never be the wild
success that it could be if auto and tire manufacturers got together
and adopted more uniform standards for tire sizes and profiles.
Only then would retreading tires for passenger cars be more economically
feasible. Considering the potentially huge savings of materials
and energy, it’s a vision worth pursuing.