Fleet News

Tyre management: Better late than dead

POP. Bang. Hiss. Whatever cartoon sound effect you give them, flat tyres are no laughing matter. A stricken car isn’t going anywhere, which means lost time. And in business, time is money.

No problem – change the tyre, right? Well, perhaps not. Changing tyres is dangerous, particularly on busy roads. With corporate responsibility weighing ever more heavily on the shoulders of businesses, the safety of employees is paramount, and kneeling at the side of the road is not the safest position to be in.

There is a considerable risk of being hit by passing traffic, and also the concern that an unqualified amateur might not be as proficient at changing a wheel as he or she would like to think.

How many drivers know just how tight the nuts must be? How many know how to safely jack up a car?

Tyre manufacturer Continental recently launched a campaign urging company car drivers to learn how to change a tyre. The push was particularly aimed at women, to avoid them having to wait alone for a breakdown van to come and help them should a tyre give up on them.

But does this approach clash with those of fleet experts?

Tony Leigh is fleet manager for consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and also the chairman of fleet operators’ association ACFO. He says: ‘We advise drivers not to change their own tyres but to call out the proper people to do it for them.’

However, Leigh admits that such instruction is reliant on the compliance of drivers. ‘It’s only advice – we can’t sit by them day and night, it’s not possible. It’s advice, not regulation,’ he says.

But when Fleet NewsNet spoke to a selection of company car drivers, many of them snorted at having to wait for expert fitters. One said he was aware of policies that dissuaded drivers from changing tyres themselves, but would rather take a risk and change a flat than lose time waiting for someone to arrive to repair it.

Another said: ‘I’ve been driving for 20 years and I know how to change a tyre. Why should I stand at the side of the road waiting two hours for a bloke to do a job that I’m perfectly comfortable doing in just a few minutes?’

But Leigh is unrepentant in his view. He says: ‘Time doesn’t have to be of the essence. If you have got a problem, get it sorted properly. The answer is to have all cars fitted with run-flat tyres, although it may not be economical.’

Gareth Davis, group health and safety adviser for tyre management ATS Euromaster, agrees with Leigh.

He says: ‘The driver will be unlikely to secure a safe working environment whereas the breakdown assistant will normally cone off the area, or ask for the assistance of the police or a Highways Agency traffic officer where need, using flashing lights and beacons.

‘The driver will probably be inexperienced in dealing with traffic, tooling, jacking and tyre handling.

‘He or she may be unfamiliar with the task at hand and may not refit a wheel safely.’ Tim Bailey is advertising manager for Continental. While acknowledging the fleet manager’s duty of care, he realises that many drivers, unthreatened by sanctions, will flout guidelines to leave it to the professionals. Consequently, he believes some middle ground should be sought.

He says: ‘I would encourage fleets to advise drivers on how to safely change a wheel. Everybody should know how to do it – it’s one of the most basic functions on a car. If you are under time pressure then you’ll save a lot of time because you can change it in 15 to 20 minutes.’

Modern tyre technology means the chances of being stranded at the side of the road are more minimal then ever.

‘Punctures are very infrequent and these days if you do get a nail in the tyre it seals very quickly,’ Bailey explains.

‘If you check your tyres regularly you can pick up a problem before it affects you. A puncture is unlikely to leave you stranded straight away like it used to.’

But if the worst happens, even if drivers are prepared to deal with it, Bailey urges caution whether drivers tackle the task or wait for the pros.

He says: ‘You are seven times more likely to be hit if you stay in the vehicle than if you get out of the car and go up the bank.

‘Two-thirds of accidents on the hard shoulder involve the parked vehicle being hit, with just 10% involving pedestrians.’

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