Any decision made about which forklift tires to buy needs to be based on how well they support your material handling applications. However, with such variety available, how are you supposed to know which is the best fit?
Forklift operations can involve carrying a heavy load over mixed ground so a quality tire is essential to prevent costly accidents. Depending on whether you are indoors or outdoors, your type of forklift, and how delicate the products you're transporting are, the ideal tire for your industry is out there.
Here's my rundown of the types of forklift tires available and how to choose the right tires for the job you need them to do.
Types Of Forklift Tires
Cushion Forklift Tires
Also called press-on tires, cushion tires are made using a solid-rubber construction and usually have treads on the front tires for grip but are smooth on the rear wheels, which are only used to steer rather than for drive.
Tending towards a lower profile than other tire types, they are excellent for indoor material handling applications in a warehouse or factory setting with smooth concrete floors.
Under these conditions, the superior maneuverability and low rolling resistance offered by cushion tires (because of the smaller diameter) help make the best use of the space.
Conversely, cushion tires are not recommended for outdoor use as, compared to air or foam-filled tires, solid tires do not provide the same stability and comfort over rough surfaces.
The largest advantage of a solid cushion tire is in the cost, where they come in much cheaper than the majority of other options whilst still being resistant enough to have a long service life if used correctly.
Polyurethane Forklift Tires
Also known as non-marking tires, press-on polyurethane tires are the main alternative to standard solid rubber cushion tires for forklifts. Polyurethane is harder and more resilient than rubber, giving these products a long service life under the right conditions.
The non-marking aspect relates to the fact they won't leave the streaks on the warehouse floor which are characteristic of pneumatic or solid rubber tires.
In general, polyurethane tires are only popular on electric forklifts used for indoor warehouse applications, where they allow a greater load to be moved without risking tire damage.
However, being made of a harder material, they do not cushion shocks well and are not suitable for driving over rough ground.
There are also potential issues if the operator regularly drives fast. Polyurethane does not dissipate heat as well as rubber so under high speed or "aggressive" driving situations the internal temperature caused by contact forces can get high enough to damage the tire. If speed is important, steer clear of polyurethane tires.
Solid Pneumatic Forklift Tires
Solid pneumatic forklift tires, also known as Super-Elastic tires, are a variety of solid tires designed to fit onto the same rims as pneumatic tires.
Rather than using a cavity that can be filled with high-pressure air or foam to provide the balance of strength and cushioning, these use a compound construction with layers of softer and harder materials beneath the outer rubber (usually with a tread).
Solid pneumatic tires provide a middle ground between the hardness and service life of press-on solid tires and the cushioning of pneumatic tires. Therefore they are suitable for a mixture of indoor and outdoor forklift truck operations.
The main advantage over air-filled pneumatic tires is these solid versions can't be punctured. So, if your industry requires forklifts to be driven in areas where there may be loose nails or other puncture hazards, the safety and security offered by a solid pneumatic tire brand is well worth the extra expense.
Air-filled Pneumatic Forklift Tires
A pneumatic forklift tire is similar to the pneumatic tires you would use on an ordinary automobile, although they can be significantly more heavy-duty, especially for large industrial forklifts.
The material handling applications of these large machines require them to lift heavy loads and the tires need to support forklift trucks with that extra force in play.
Pneumatic tires are available with or without tread, but the former is more common as this tire type is often used for outdoor material handling jobs that require the operator to drive over rough terrain.
Air-filled tires provide the smoothest and most comfortable ride, the downside being in terms of longevity and susceptibility to puncture damage. This can translate to a significant extra cost in industrial environments where there may be sharp debris on the ground.
Foam-filled Forklift Tires
Foam-filled pneumatic tires are designed to achieve the optimal balance between comfort and longevity.
They start with a standard air-filled pneumatic forklift tire, preferably fresh from the factory, then pump in a blended polyurethane-resin liquid which combines and solidifies within 36-48 hours.
Sometimes this liquid is mixed with ground rubber from used tires to reduce cost but this does result in a slightly harder ride.
Although the idea shares some similarities with solid pneumatic tires in terms of longevity and puncture resistance, there are some additional advantages.
Firstly, the customer can choose their preferred tire in terms of profile, tread, etc since any air-filled tire can be converted to foam. Second, whilst just as puncture resistant as solid pneumatic tires, foam-filled have better shock absorption (around 65% of that offered by a quality industrial air tire).
Factors To Consider When Buying
Getting the correct sized tires for your forklift is essential for performance and to avoid extra mechanical stress. While the correct rim size is obviously essential in order for the tires to fit the wheel properly, it's easy to make the mistake of overlooking the optimal diameter.
Forklifts are mechanically designed to operate with a specific overall wheel diameter (including the tires) and it's almost always best to stick with products of the recommended dimensions. These can be found on the forklift's data plate, along with various other important information about operating the truck.
Different applications require different tire performance. If you're only using a forklift indoors on a smooth concrete floor, a low-profile, hard-wearing cushion tire in either rubber or non-marking polyurethane is generally recommended. The standard option to support outdoor usage over rough ground is a quality air-filled pneumatic tire, which gives the best shock absorption but can be prone to punctures if there are nails or other sharp objects lying around. The safer options under those challenging conditions are either solid pneumatic or foam-filled tires.
The cost of a particular type of tire varies significantly and needs to be balanced against performance and longevity. As a customer, there's no point trying to save money by buying a cheaper tire type if it isn't well suited to your industry. Premium quality products may have a daunting price tag, but choosing a tire designed for the relevant applications will usually offer savings in the long run.
Depending on the brand and dealer, significant savings can be made by looking out for seasonal sales, free shipping (if the size or type you need is not available locally shipping can be expensive) or the offer of a free forklift tire fitting service where available. With some manufacturers, you can also subscribe to loyalty programs that offer additional savings. Call your dealer to make sure you're really getting the best price on tires, especially if you are likely to be a regular customer.
When To Replace Your Forklift Tires?
There are some simple checks to carry out relating to the condition of your forklift tires, depending on the type of tire. If you identify a fault during any of these it's time for some fresh rubber. Not replacing worn or damaged tires will affect the forklift's performance as well as being potentially dangerous.
For cushion or solid tires, there is often a "60-J" safe wear line on the sidewall. Once the tire has worn down to this line it must be changed. Other manufacturers include wear restrictions on the tire specification sheet, commonly instructing operators not to use tires less than 2/3 of the original thickness.
However, any reduction in overall effective wheel diameter caused by tire wear can affect vehicle performance. If more than 2 inches of tire wear has occurred, the extra stress on the forklift becomes significant and it may be worth changing tires earlier than listed, to avoid unnecessary mechanical wear and tear.
Checking the Tire Pressure
Pneumatic tires need to be maintained in the correct air pressure range, which can be found written on the sidewall of the tire. These pressures can be much higher than for normal car tires, with pneumatic tire pressures for larger forklifts going up to 140psi or more.
Make sure tires are inflated to the correct pressure and then monitor them. If the tire becomes soft or flat after inflation there is either a valve problem or a puncture.
Checking Tires for "Roundness"
If the tire's circumference shows any flat spots or bulges and no longer forms a smooth circle (allowing for the tread), it is damaged and should be replaced. A bulging section on an air-filled pneumatic forklift tire is especially dangerous as it indicates a risk of the tire blowing out.
Visual Tread Inspection
The tread depth on a tread-patterned tire is an indication of the level of wear. As the wheels roll across the ground, rubber is gradually worn away and the remaining life of a tire can be assessed by checking the remaining depth of the tread.
The general rule for safety (with pneumatic tires) is you need to maintain in excess of 1mm depth over 75% of the tire surface. However, if you need the tread for traction, some manufacturers suggest switching tires when the tread depth drops below 5mm.
How Long Should Forklift Tires Last?
Most forklift tires should last for at least 2000 hours under normal conditions, but there are several factors affecting longevity.
Solid/cushion tires can last significantly longer than pneumatic tires, while treaded tires should be replaced more regularly than smooth ones.
The surfaces over which the operator drives the forklift and even the driving style of different operators will also have an effect.
How To Change Forklift Tires?
Forklift tires should always be changed by professionals, using the correct equipment. It is not a good idea to try and change your own tires as this can result in serious safety hazards. If you want to know the correct processes for changing a particular type of tire, so you can check the work being done, here are the basics.
All tire changes are performed with the wheels removed from the forklift. The service technician will jack up the truck and insert blocks under key points for extra security, before removing the wheels in preparation for a tire change.
Press-on (Cushion) Tires
These solid rubber tires are changed using a tire press. The entire wheel assembly is placed into the press, which is then used to displace the old tire by an inch or two. The press is released and the new tire aligned over the rim.
From here, the old tire is pressed off and the new one pressed on simultaneously, using up to 5000psi pressure. The wheels are then reinstalled on the forklift.
Solid Pneumatic Tires
The wheels for these come in two main varieties, multi-piece or split wheel. For the former, the relevant sections are removed from the rim to facilitate dismounting the tire, whereas the tire must be removed from a split wheel using a tire iron.
The tire press is then used to install the fresh rubber.
Air-filled Pneumatic Tires
These must always be deflated at the valve before the wheels are removed from the forklift. Trying to change tires while inflated is extremely dangerous.
Once the wheels are off, the technical removes the side and locking rings before removing the old tire. Then the new tire can be installed, the rings replaced, and proper inflation checked before deflating again and mounting the wheels back onto the truck.
How To Read Forklift Tires Sizes?
There are three key measurements to a forklift tire. The Outside Diameter (OD) relates to the overall diameter of the tire, the Width (W) is the distance between the outer and inner sidewalls, and the Inside Diameter (ID) is the rim size the tire is designed to fit.
These measurements will be written on the tire in one of two formats. Either all three will be listed as one numeric string, in the order OD x W x ID (so 21 x 8 x 16 would mean an OD of 21", W of 8", and ID (rim size) 16"), or the tire may only state the width and internal diameter (e.g. 7.50 x 15 would denote a tire 7.5" wide designed for a 15" rim).
Finding the right tire from a quality brand can improve your productivity as well as cost-efficiency. When buying new tire products, check the forklift manufacturers' recommendations and consider the working conditions of the truck they're for.
Once you've decided what sort of product you need, don't be afraid of calling more than one dealer to see who can offer you the best deal. Remember, this isn't just about the initial purchase price. Warranties, free fitting, customer loyalty discounts on bulk sales or ongoing contracts, etc can all make a big difference.