Tire Inflators: A Necessary Offering – Not a Flavour of the Month
By Frank Merrill
I am often asked: What’s new in tire inflators? My answer is pretty much the same: Not much!
The most important factor in providing compressed air for inflating tires is to make sure the equipment works and works properly 24/7/365 so that in the customer’s “time of need” it is there and works. Ninety-nine per cent of the driving public simply go to the closest fueling location when they need to inflate a tire. They don’t say “oh I have a low tire, I’m going to my regular fueling stations” because 99 per cent of the time when you need to inflate a tire, you are not in the vicinity of one of your regular spots for fuel and convenience.
So, you simply drive on to the location of the closest petroleum outlet and look for the tire inflator. Next up is: Does it work and will it inflate my tire(s) so I can be on my way? If it does not work, you are disgruntled and you immediately climb back into your vehicle and look for the next closest petroleum outlet. Again, you are not looking for a specific brand you simply want to put compressed air in your tire and get back to your daily routine. This is the same routine that occurs thousands and thousands of times every day in Canada and around the world. As a petroleum retailer, the best thing you can do is make sure your tire inflator is clean, attractive and well maintained. The mundane, but essential, task of inflating a tire is like a commodity. It is not fun, it does nothing but take up time that you could be doing something else that is fun or productive.
AIR-serv is the world leader in providing tire inflators to the retail petroleum industry and in maintaining those tire inflators to the highest standards with a very high frequency of regular and routine maintenance. Purchasing a tire inflator and leaving it to maintain itself is not a good idea. All self-serve public use equipment is subject to abuse. Sometimes it is accidental abuse and other times it is on purpose. Think of all the tasks, jobs, checks, and duties involved in running a large high volume fueling/convenience location and add a tire inflator to that mix. Where do you think it will fall on the priority list? You got it…at or close to the bottom. There is a carwash to maintain, walk-in coolers, quick food operations, restrooms to clean, floors to clean, lights to be replaced, cognizance of theft, not to mention stocking shelves, ordering product for the store and the list goes on. So, when asked what is the most important thing about a tire inflator, the answer is: “That it works.”
Adding to the difficulty list of a retail operator in Canada is our severe winter weather. Sub-freezing temperatures are not nice to compressed air, as compressing air molecules create moisture and moisture freezes. So, having a workable drying system in the unit is essential in Canada. If you do not remove the moisture, the tire inflator will freeze repeatedly day after day all winter long.
Let’s talk about retractors. No company on the planet makes a retractor that will stand up to heavy public use. If you find one, please bring it to my attention. We tested retractors years ago. On average an air hose would be retracted in and out 25-75 times a day all by different users, none of which particularly care about the equipment. To maintain a public use retractor, one would require daily maintenance. This is why fuel pump manufactures eliminated retractors years ago. In service bays, you see them and they all work. That’s because they are being used by the same two or three service technicians (mechanics) who know how to use them and who care about them because it is their shop, their livelihood. Put that same retractor out in a parking lot and have 30 different users pull the hose out 75 times every day, in the winter with ice and snow on it. It cannot stand up to the abuse.
Airless tires have been around for 50 years, originally manufactured for military vehicles. They are very expensive to manufacture and they are heavy. Adding weight and cost to a vehicle is the opposite direction the vehicle manufacturing industry is headed. When asked about airless tires virtually all senior manufacturing executives have a similar response: “They are costly, being much more expensive than pneumatic tires, and heavier because the area that would normally be filled with compressed air is filled with a substance that is much heavier than air.” So, when considering airless tires as an option it gets shuffled down to the bottom of the deck because it has two negative impacts being…increased cost and increased weight.
So, folks, sorry if you were thinking this article would be exciting and full of new technology. The fact of the matter is, inflating tires in not very much fun, but it is essential to maintaining a safe vehicle and to extending tire life, just like filling up power steering and brake fluid, windshield washer fluid in the winter, you have to do it to maintain your vehicle.
Now let’s move to the near future. New vehicles will come with apps in the on-board dash system that help people with their daily lives. Here is one such example: Your new vehicle has an app which tells you that you have low tire pressure. The app immediately gives you a selection of convenience outlets in the area which offer a tire inflator and navigational directions to your selected location. Upon arrival at the location, you can activate the tire inflator by pushing a button on your dash screen. As soon as you pulled onto the location you begin receiving in-store specials and other offerings, together with specials like, fill up and get a free coffee or slushy, or fill up now and get 50 per cent off a carwash. We are currently working with a company who will be introducing technology like this with two major vehicle manufacturers in the near future.
This is fascinating stuff if you are in the convenience, carwash, petroleum, vehicle service and automotive sectors. The apps that vehicle manufactures will be including in your new vehicle will be many and full of features to make your life easier. Of course, revenue/taxes/fees, etc. make the world go around so these apps will be connected, cross merchandisedw w, and co-exist with more than you can imagine. Herein lies the exponential factor in many forms of modern technology. One must remember, the driver still has to find the tire inflator, get out of the vehicle and inflate the tire. No app can eliminate the physicality of that function.
In closing, I’m sorry I do not have much in the way of exciting bells and whistles for you. As those involved in retail operations, the best thing we can do, is make sure the tire inflator works. Physically maintaining this equipment will never go away as long as there are pneumatic tires.