The truth about retread tyres ― Michael Hutt

MAY 30 ― In February, Alwyn Lau, columnist with the Malay Mail, wrote an article titled: “Malaysia’s ignored hazard: Trucks with bad tyres”.

Certainly, road safety in Malaysia needs a lot of improvement. (The Ministry for Transport set a 2014-2020 road safety plan that is currently not on target, so it’s clear more work needs to be done).

Anyone championing road safety is an ally in the fight to create safer roads and to reduce fatalities. Some businesses do not put safety first, and even more worryingly, safety Standard Operating Procedures are not well enforced.

This is cause for concern and we must pressure the right organisations, both public and private, to do their part in improvement of these areas. It is also important to recognise that cost is always an essential control in business; the balance needs to be right, but safety always comes first, and it doesn’t have to be more expensive.

However, the rest of Lau's article is somewhat confusing and offers nothing in terms of a practical approach to solving any issues. I want to address a few of his misleading and inaccurate points, to set the record straight:

Firstly, Lau writes:

“It’s an open secret that one of the most frequent causes of deaths on the highway are trucks, buses and lorries”.

This is incorrect by some margin. The last fully-broken-down report (www.mot.gov.my: Road Safety Plan of Malaysia 2014-2020), citing vehicle descriptions in accidents (2013) shows that 45.9 per cent of all road accidents are motorcycles, with lorries and busses responsible for just under 12 per cent.

As an update, in 2018 (The Malaysian Reserve: “Road accidents are 4th major cause of death in 2018 say Loke”), Anthony Loke, then Minister for Transport said: “more than half of the (road) deaths, or about 66 per cent, involve motorcyclists.”

A 2012 report by IATSS (Science Direct: “Motorcycle fatalities in Malaysia”) stated: “The analysis reveals that the highest numbers of motorcycle fatalities occur in rural locations (61 per cent), on primary roads (62 per cent) and on straight road sections (66 per cent) ... Although fatal motorcycle crashes mostly involve ‘passenger cars’ (28 per cent), motorcyclists are responsible for 50 per cent of the collisions either by crashing singly (25 per cent) or with other motorcyclists (25 per cent).

So, there is no reason based in fact to assume that lorries and busses are the most frequent cause of death on Malaysia's roads.

It is mostly due to motorcycles in rural locations. Even if we assume Lau means “just” on highways, with trucks and busses contributing just 12 per cent of the overall figure, there is no possibility the comment can be true.

Lorry and bus operators need to do their part in improving safety on our roads, as heavy road users it is their responsibility to protect their drivers and other on the road, but to claim they are responsible for “the most frequent” cause of deaths is false and distracts from us tackling the issues that could save the most lives.

Secondly, Lau concludes that there are two main “root” causes of these accidents:

“The root cause of the above kinds of accidents can be traced to two points: Greedy business owners cutting costs by refusing to maintain their trucks properly e.g. by retreading tyres instead of replacing tyres. Drivers being made to drive crazy long hours with insufficient rest, yet continuously incentivised to drive even more (as this reduces the need to increase the number of drivers)”

Now, as I stated, there are some businesses that do cut corners, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s not very helpful to point this out without being able to pin-point actions to help rectify this.

After all, the law is very clear in these areas. There is a general lack of enforcement of the laws that contributes to people thinking they can “get away with it”, when cutting corners. This has to stop.

The government is ultimately responsible for the safety of all of us and this brings us to the point where we say that human nature will mean people will try to get past the rules, so we, as an industry, along with governing bodies and associations, must have a clearer plan to make sure rules are always abided by.

MS ISO 39001: 2013 Road Traffic Safety Management System (RTSMS) is a great standard and is being pushed and adopted by many in the land transport sector, but the plans for enforcement are scant.

It is clearly recognised that there is a lack of systematic work and commitment among organizations that affect the safety of the road transport system. This needs to be rectified.

At Kit Loong, we have a set of services called SC3OCT that are fully certified and will help companies comply with both this ISO and other relevant ISOs and lead to full compliance with Puspakom inspection standards.

We would be happy to work with authorities to show how we enforce these rules and standards with our clients.

Finally, Lau asserts:

“Retreaded tyres should be made illegal. Period.”

This statement shows a clear lack of understanding of what a retread is, why it exists, where it is and should be used, how it affects the environment and their benefits to both companies and the economy.

In addition, it demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge about the stringent safety steps that go into making a retread tyre.

My first point is an obvious and often used one but it shows that retreads per se are safe. Eighty per cent of aircraft tyres are retreads.

In the USA, in 2020, an Executive Order was signed that required Federal agencies to replace OEM tires with retreaded tires rather than new tyres whenever possible.

Most tyres used on airplanes are commonly owned by the big manufactures, such as Goodyear and Bridgestone, with guarantees of a number of take-offs and landings per tyre.

No airline would run the risk of using something that was innately unsafe, no manufacturer would take the responsibility if they couldn’t be sure they were also providing a product of top quality.

Let's get more into the weeds.

Malaysia has very stringent guidelines on the material used in and the actual production of retread tyres. Tyre liners have to conform to regulations set out by the Department of Standards Malaysia, (Standards Malaysia), specifically, MS 224:2005, as certified by SIRIM QAS International, which is part of The International Certification Network, which gives these products access to 37 national markets by meeting these standards.

This means the materials are safe, regulated and of high enough standard for international export. Unlike ISO standards, every product must meet high criteria to meet MS224.

The retread production process conforms to ISO 9001:2015, a process created for “quality management systems” in the provision of retreading tyres.

This is a very detailed process and is adhered to globally to produce top quality retreads. Go and visit any reputable retread factory and you will see very modern machinery and processes, alongside equipment specifically designed to make the products safe.

From X-ray-like scanners to look for anomalies in the casings, through to high-pressure testing, the whole operation is designed to produce high-quality, safe retread tyres.

The US and European trucking industries are both heavy users of retread tyres. In Europe’s five top wealthiest nations (France, Germany, UK, Spain, Italy), the retread market makes up 30 per cent of the total truck tyre market (ey.com/fr: “The socio-economic impact of truck tyre retreading in Europe”).

This equates to 3.2 million units. The US uses 14.3 million retreads for commercial vehicles. These countries have nowhere near the level of road fatalities that we do in Malaysia but are still keen users of retread tyres for commercial vehicles. So, what’s the difference and why are perceptions here so negative?

In a word: quality. But to add some meat to the bones, it is about three main factors: casings, process and material. Not all casings are created equally.

The disparity in the quality of new tyres is vast. It’s commonly accepted that half of the burst tyres you see on the road are not in fact retreads, but cheap new tyres.

The “big” players invest a lot of time and money into researching the safest compounds, new ways to disperse water, better ways to run tyres hotter, how to make their casings better for retreading.

All of this means that some new tyres are both very safe, will travel long distances with good maintenance and be better made for retreading (all the top companies make their tyres specifically to be retreaded, just as a lot of them will retread them and sell them again under their own brands).

Process is vitally important in the creation of retreads. The very first part of the process is to grade the casings to make sure they are safe to be retreaded.

This even involves X-raying the casings to make sure there are no hidden deformities in the casing. The rest of the process is similar to creating new tyres.

Many retread factories have spent millions of ringgit on the latest technology to guarantee the best product. Often, a retread tyre will have the capacity for longer mileage than the original casing tread allowed.

This is because often retreaders understand local issues better than global companies and can use the materials best suited to that environment, both in terms of natural and road environments.

Which brings us on to the final element, materials, which make up the “new” tread applied to the casing. By using the best compounds, most suited to application and environment it is very fair to suggest that a well-produced, quality-controlled retread tyre that conforms to all local and international certification, can be as safe to use as a new tyre.

Lau mentions at the end of the article, (we must) “Limit the number of hours drivers are allowed to work.” This has nothing to do with the difference of safety between retreads and new tyres, but it is very important, and we commend him if he is to focus his time in improving workers' conditions of heavy vehicle drivers.

To add to this, a few other important areas need to involve both driver safety training and initiatives to create safer roads across the country.

Now, to address the main issues when it comes to retread tyres in Malaysia, so that we can actually offer some practical advice. First, only ever buy retread tyres from reputable sources, these are manufactures who have both certification, the likes of MS224, but also those producers who have retread programmes with the big tyre brands. If a tyre brand has endorsed a manufacture, it’s likely they are of a quality you can trust.

Secondly, even the best tyre will face issues if it isn’t maintained correctly, such as simple things like getting the correct inflation for the load will prolong tyre life to what is expected.

These are the areas companies purchasing tyres should be focused on, and Lau is correct to say this is their responsibility and there should be no cost cutting when it comes to safety.

And the simple fact is, running a safe operation is actually more profitable than an unsafe one. A 2012 study by EY found that: “Companies in the top 20 per cent of risk maturity generated three times the EBITDA as those in the bottom 20 per cent.”

Lau ends his article with the statement “Puspakom, I have spoken.” This is another clear indication of him not understanding the fundamentals about the transport industry.

At the time of the inspection at Puspakom every six months, a commercial vehicle may be in a perfect state. However, five months later, tyres could be worn beyond the allowed limits. In that case, it would be JPJ though that is responsible to identify and enforce upon the culprit, not Puspakom.

* Michael Hutt is the Group Marketing Manager of Kit Loong Commercial Tyre Group.

** A version of this article was originally published in Asian Trucker.

*** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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