INTERNATIONAL TRUCK STOP – Feeling deflated and flat?

In International Truck Stop15 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineApril 9, 2018

All too often the forgotten parts of a lorry, but ones that can so easily let you down just when you need them. New Zealand Trucking magazine looks at how the latest tyre and battery technology could make sure you keep moving.

Name the most neglected parts on a lorry. If you answered tyres you‘d be right. How often do you check the pressure in yours? Every week? Every month? For many drivers a ‘check‘ amounts to a swift kick on the sidewall. If it feels hard, all‘s well…if it gives a bit, well you can always shove some more air in somewhere down the road. If you remember.

Of course we all know running with under-inflated tyres is a great way to waste money. The lower the pressure the greater the rolling resistance, so you‘ll need to burn more diesel to overcome the drag. Under-inflated tyres also have to flex more and work harder, creating higher tyre distortion, generating more heat and greater wear, so you lose out on a tyre‘s working life too. According to Continental Tyres UK (Conti), ‘A tyre which is 20% under-inflated results in a loss of mileage of around 18% – so around a fifth of its total mileage‘. Worryingly, Conti reckons 20% is neither dramatic nor unusual, and they regularly find tyres that are 40 to 50% under- inflated, so their loss of mileage will be far greater.

Continental Tyre‘s ContiPressureCheck in-cab monitor alerts drivers to tyre pressure drops.

The CPC Sensor (below) sits within a rubber ‘cup‘ which is attached to the inner side of the tyre tread.


The ContiPressureCheck sensor sits within the tyre and transmits pressure data to the cab via wireless connection.

When an under-inflated tyre gives up the ghost leaving you stuck on the roadside, along with a truck that‘s not earning any money, you‘ll also be paying a driver to sit on his ‘duff ‘ waiting for someone to turn up with a new tyre.

The UK is unique in Europe in the sense that regardless of how many trucks you run, every pommie HGV is required by law to have a regular safety inspection that‘s typically every six weeks. However, for those trucks engaged on high mileage/ high intensity operations or doing a lot of tough off-road work, the safety inspection interval could be as short as four weeks. But whatever the interval, a tyre inflation check will be one of the items on the safety inspection sheet.

Along with those regular safety inspections (which are the responsibility of the operator), all UK truck drivers are required to fill out a daily defect report and tyres will definitely be on their checklist, along with all the usual suspects like lights, brakes, steering, wipers and so on. So that‘s another opportunity to spot uneven wear, nasty sidewall bulges, cuts in the tread or sidewall, or a tyre that‘s getting close to the legal limit on its tread, although on a cold, dark and wet winter morning I don‘t suppose too many drivers have a tyre pressure gauge within handy reach. So that‘s likely to be another kick up the sidewall.

With all those safety inspections and daily walk-arounds you‘d imagine blowouts would be rare in Britain. However, according to the latest available figures from Highways England (the executive agency which looks after England‘s road network), 9% of the tyre-related incidents recorded during 2013/14 on UK major roads were truck and trailer blowouts. Moreover, as Conti points out, it‘s exceptionally rare for a tyre to hit something sharp on the road and suffer an immediate failure. Usually it‘s a very gradual loss of pressure and this is why Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) work.

While TPMS have been around for many years, originally through the aftermarket sector but more recently from the truck and trailer makers, there are some interesting new developments on the horizon. With truck telematics capable of supplying constant vehicle and driver performance data in real-time between a lorry and its home base, Steve Howat, Continental Tyres UK‘s general manager technical services, predicts tyre temperature and inflation information will be a standard addition in the near future. “We‘re already seeing simple text and email alerts becoming a useful additional function when a tyre reaches an under-inflation or temperature threshold. This helps give fleet managers a tool to instigate further interrogation of the vehicle and understand how quickly the tyre is losing pressure and what specific action is required.”

As most heavy trucks are already sold with a telematics package, Howat adds: “For many fleets it is logical to integrate [tyre performance] into existing telematics, and monitor pressure at base, to avoid additional driver distraction in the cab. Integration into telematics either via OEM-developed systems or retrospective units is something Continental Tyres is working on with a variety of technology partners.”

With telematics you could also cross-reference a truck‘s fuel economy with its tyre pressures and find out if you were paying for any under-inflation. That‘s something Continental is already working on.

The new Volvo optional battery system allows drivers to run plenty of in-cab electrical kit without the worry of flat batteries in the morning.

So-called ‘smart‘ or connected motorways could also be tied in to TPMS. Howat reports that Highways England is currently exploring how TPMS might work within these new connected routes. “For example, traffic management systems could be linked in order that a trigger is sent when a tyre is going down and a gantry warning could advise a driver.” It‘s a fascinating possibility for dealing with under-inflation promptly, assuming of course the driver is prepared to do something about it, rather than shrug it off with the usual ‘I
haven‘t got time to stop now…I‘ll do it when I get back home‘.

“The next step will be more sophisticated sensors measuring tread depth and lateral forces – true ‘intelligent‘ tyres, allowing operators to fully understand how the tyre is being driven and where potential failures may occur,” says Howat.

Right now TPMS is mandated on all new cars sold in Europe. However, before they can become standard on HGVs the manufacturers and legislators will need to come up with a common protocol that works for both trucks and trailers.

While we‘re on the subject of neglected bits on a truck, hands up all of you who said ‘batteries‘? I‘m sure some New Zealand Trucking readers must have experienced feeling flat when turning the ignition key in their lorry and nothing‘s happened. No throaty cough, no steady vroom-vroom, just empty silence. Fortunately Volvo has come up with a solution that could put an end to those red-faced moments – at least in Europe. With its latest battery system, optional on FM and FH chassis, now you not only have all the power you need for in-cab kit like fridges, laptops, phones, microwaves, coffee makers, TVs etc., but you also no longer need to worry about a no-go due to flat batteries.

It‘s actually very simple. What the Swedes have done is create two separate battery sets – one for starting the engine, the other for handling all the other in-cab electricals. Thus, as the starter battery‘s only function is to crank the engine, it‘s not affected by power consumption in the rest of the truck.

“Drivers can enjoy improved comfort and living conditions, knowing that they have enough power for their needs, with minimal risk of draining all the power from the starter batteries,” says Samuel Nerdal, product manager electrical and electronics at Volvo Trucks.

Compared with a conventional two-battery standard installation, Volvo‘s new system uses four batteries divided into two sets of two, operating on separate circuits. The starter battery system uses conventional 800 A CCA lead-acid batteries while all the electrically powered comfort systems and accessories are handled separately by 210Ah ‘gel‘ batteries – which can either be installed at the rear of the chassis, or combined in a single battery box with the starter batteries in the usual position on the left-hand side of the chassis.

With only one function to perform, the two starter batteries are roughly the same size as car batteries. However, adding the two additional gel batteries has resulted in a small overall increase in kerb weight of up to 90kg. The gel batteries use a mixture of sulphuric acid and silica to create what Volvo calls a ‘gelified‘ electrolyte that has a very good cycling (charging) performance, ensuring a longer lifetime compared with standard batteries. They‘re charged in the usual way via the alternator, while the start/ crank batteries have a dedicated DC/DC charger that ensures they‘re always fully charged to the maximum.

New ‘split‘ battery system uses two sets of batteries for starting and in-cab electrical equipment.

Thanks to the latest gel technology, Volvo‘s new battery solution can meet the increasingly high energy requirements in a truck, not least in terms of extra in-cab equipment. Compared with conventional lead-acid batteries, gel batteries can maintain high concentrations of energy for long periods of time too. The new gel batteries also offer a far longer service lifetime than conventional lead-acid batteries, as well as more charging cycles. In fact, during tough cycles, the gel batteries will last at least 10 to 15 times longer.

Nerdal says: “Our battery system not only meets today‘s high demands for a secure electricity supply, it also contributes to increased vehicle uptime and lower operating costs.”

The total cost for the optional new twin-circuit battery system is £764 ($1,479NZD) but ought to be seen against the potential financial hit for a truck that‘s not going anywhere and with a cargo on the back that absolutely had to be there on time. Meanwhile, given the way that Europe‘s truck manufacturers – and long-haul drivers – are increasingly loading up their lorries with all sorts of extra in-cab electrical stuff, Volvo‘s new twin-circuit battery system could well mean a reduction in the 10% of all VOR (Vehicle Off Road) breakdown calls currently handled by its Volvo Action Service, which on average are due to battery related problems. That sounds to me like a good way to get things started.