Ross Petrini, fleet maintenance operations manager in Toronto, holds up one of the most insidious things to a driver—nails. His department contracts out tire repairs. Photo: City of Toronto

Should you do tire maintenance in-house or contract for it? With your own people, you may have more control, but a contracted shop often can do it for less money.

In San Antonio, the city operates its Central Tire Shop with a crew of four, led by David Martinez. The shop takes care of tires for more than 4000 vehicles ranging from trash collectors to police cars to golf carts. The city repairs tires whenever possible and recaps them when necessary. The tire shop takes in flats and faulty tires, fixes them, and sends them out to four service centers plus the police garage. Martinez estimates the shop furnishes between 100 and 180 new and repaired tires daily.

“We stress to drivers to keep a close eye on tires,” said Martinez. “We stress preventive maintenance. We tell them to get punctured tires fixed; don't just put air in them. Oil changes are done by our mechanics, and they check on tires at that time.”

Safety is important at the tire shop. “You never know when one of these tires is going to blow up on you,” said Martinez. “Our crews are trained so that if they hear a tire making a funny sound, like a zipper being unzipped, or a popping sound, that means the tire's cords are popping apart inside.

“We instruct our workers never to stand in front of a tire in danger,” said Martinez. “Never stand by the sidewall—always stand by the treaded side.” All workers are required to wear personal protective equipment—safety shoes, goggles, and safety gloves. Heavy lifting is another hazard. “We tell them to ask for help with lifting heavy tires and objects,” said Martinez.

North of the border in Toronto, doing tire maintenance in-house would be far more expensive than contracting for it, said Ross Petrini, fleet maintenance operations manager for the city. That's because J&F Tire, their contractor, uses nonunion workers and charges about $41 (Canadian) per hour, compared to the $72 per hour that Petrini would have to pay for his own labor.

Toronto's maintenance contract is tendered, and bid in two categories: one, the cost of daily tire and wheel inspection per vehicle in eight yard locations; and two, the cost of road service 24/7, including legal holidays. J&F Tire has had the contract for three years.

“Every night J&F inspects more than 300 waste haulers and recycling trucks looking for flats, sidewall damage, tread wear—anything that might need repair,” said Petrini. “They do the tire repair, tire installation, and rotation. J&F probably saves us 30% to 40% in tire maintenance.”

The contractor maintains six maintenance trucks on-call for road service whenever a city vehicle might need it. “If I had to do that, I'd have to buy trucks and put men and trucks on the road—workers at union wages, with overtime and premium wages for weekends and holidays,” said Petrini. “It would be very expensive.”

Daniel C. Brown is a freelance writer in Des Plaines, Ill.