Forklift tires aren’t all black, round and created equal. They can be expensive, blow out at the worst time, and cause downtime. However, when properly maintained, your forklift tires can reduce fuel consumption, increase safety in the workplace and improve productivity.
Our comprehensive forklift tire guide – compiled by our tire specialists – will help you keep your forklift productive. It all starts with the tires.
We’ll cover everything from understanding basic tire types to getting the maximum life out of your tires. If you’re looking for cost-reduction recommendations, we have that, too.
Let’s get started! Click below to skip ahead:
1. FORKLIFT TIRES TYPES
Chances are, you’ve dealt with forklift tires before. But if you’re new to forklifts, or just want to learn more about different types of forklift tires, you’re in the right place.
There are several different types of forklift tires. Each has their own benefits, each is suited to different work environments and, usually, your forklift is designed with a specific tire in mind.
Here’s a quick video overview:
For more in-depth information on the basic characteristics of forklift tires, keep reading!
Cushion tires (also known as press-on tires) are made of solid rubber molded to a steel band. The rubber can either be traction or smooth. These tires are very durable and are best suited for indoor or light outdoor use on smooth surfaces.
Pneumatic tires are similar to a car tire. They are made of traction rubber and filled with compressed air. Some companies fill their pneumatic tires with foam to avoid the upfront cost of solid pneumatic tires.
Although less costly, we don’t recommend filling pneumatic tires with foam because it increases pressure on the casing, making it less sustainable long term. Pneumatic tires are used indoors and outdoors when the work area is free of sharp objects.
SOLID PNEUMATIC FORKLIFT TIRES
Solid pneumatic forklift tires are made out of solid rubber. These tires are very durable and can’t be punctured or deflated, which makes them ideal for industries with sharp debris like recycling centers or lumberyards.
Polyurethane tires, a type of press-on tire, are lightweight and more resistant to splitting, tearing or chunking out under a load than rubber tires. They combine good traction with low-rolling resistance. Polyurethane tires generally experience about twice the lifespan of rubber tires and should be used indoors only for light applications like warehousing.
These tires will wear more easily in a heavy usage indoor environment so consider cushion tires if your application requires high usage.
NON-MARKING FORKLIFT TIRES
Non-marking tires are made with hydrated silicas and special additives for eliminating black marks on floors. They are available for pneumatic, solid pneumatic and cushion tires. These tires have a short life span and are prone to cause static electricity, which means they require an anti-static strip on the forklift.
2. FORKLIFT TIRE COMPARISON CHARTS
Each forklift tire type has their own benefits and drawbacks. Maybe you’re wondering which is better: cushion vs. pneumatic tires. Well, that’ll hinge on how you’re using your forklift.
The ideal tire for you depends on where you’ll be using the forklift, how long you need the tires to last, and what you’re willing to pay.
See the tire comparison charts below to get a snapshot of the advantages and disadvantages of each tire type.
PNEUMATIC VS. SOLID PNEUMATIC TIRES
|Debris in Work Area
CUSHION VS. POLYURETHANE TIRES
|Debris in Work Area
3. WHAT ARE FORKLIFT TIRES MADE OF?
Your forklift tires could be made of polyurethane resins or rubber. They might contain carbon black or hydrated silicas. Some forklift tires even have steel wires embedded in them. It all depends on your tire type. We broke it down so you can see exactly what your forklift tires are made of.
WHAT ARE PRESS-ON TIRES MADE OF?
Cushion press-on tires are made of solid rubber molded to a steel band. Unless they’re non-marking they will contain carbon black. That’s what causes the black marks on floors. Meanwhile polyurethane press-on tires are made of – you guessed it – polyurethane resins. Along with synthetics and synthetic blends.
WHAT ARE SOLID PNEUMATIC TIRES MADE OF?
Solid pneumatic tires have a bit more to them and are designed for durability.
It starts with steel bead wires on the shoulder of the tire. Then there’s a hard rubber compound base. Following that is the nylon carcass – it’s a section of steel belts. In the event the tires are speared, the nylon carcass offers damage protection.
There’s a soft rubber core to aid in operator comfort and reduces operator fatigue. Finally the tread – the wearable part of the tire. It’s made of an abrasion resistant rubber compound.
WHAT ARE NON-MARKING TIRES MADE OF?
Non-marking variations are made of a blend of natural rubber with hydrated silicas and special additives. Carbon black is removed to eliminate marks on floors.
4. HOW TO READ FORKLIFT TIRES SIZES
First let’s start with the basics. Whether you’re the forklift operator or the plant manager. Having a basic understanding of forklift tires is essential to staying productive and efficient. The basic components of your forklift tires are:
- Sidewall – shows important tire information like the tire brand, size, tire type, and wear line
- Tread – Raised rubber that comes in contact with the ground
- Rim – Metal portion of the wheel that holds the tire in place
READING FORKLIFT TIRES SIZES
You can find your forklift tire size on the sidewall of the tire. If you don’t see the size there, you can always check the operator’s manual or call your local forklift dealer with the model. They should be able to tell you the tire size for your model forklift.
Depending on the type of forklift tire you’re dealing with, the tire size will be noted differently.
Press-on tire sizes are shown as the Outer Diameter x Width x Rim Diameter. An example would be: 16 x 6 x 10.5.
Pneumatic or solid pneumatic tires sizes are noted as the Width x Rim Diameter. An example would look like: 6.50 x 10.
Generally, your forklift will have a recommended size, but you can purchase a different size, within reason, depending on your preference and application. Check your forklift’s manual and with your local dealer for appropriate tire sizes.
HOW TO MEASURE FORKLIFT TIRES
If you need to measure your forklift tire size grab your average tape measure.
- Measure the outer diameter, picture the tire as a compass with north at the top of the tire. Make sure you’re placing the tape measure at the center of the tire and run the tape measure east to west.
- Measure the rim diameter, stay in the center of the tire but only extend the tape measure to each edge of the rim.
- Measure the width of the tire, simply position the tape measure on the part of the tire that would make contact with the ground and run the tape measure from edge to edge.
Remember, for press-on tires you need to measure the outer diameter, the width of the tire, and the rim diameter. For pneumatics or solid pneumatics measure the width and the rim size.
5. HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT FORKLIFT TIRES
Take into consideration your application, forklift and work environment when choosing a tire type.
We’re often asked: “Can you put pneumatic tires on a cushion tire forklift?” Your forklift’s wheels and frame are generally designed for a specific tire type (usually pneumatic or cushion), so it is best to verify with your local dealer and your forklift’s manual if you want to go with a different tire type than what is recommended.
You’ll often be able to switch from smooth cushion to traction cushion, or pneumatic to solid pneumatic tires, but it is rare you can go from a cushion tire to a pneumatic tire and vice versa.
When it comes time to replace the tires, ensure both sides of the forklift are the same tire type. The front and back tires can differ, but both front tires and both back tires must be the same type.
For example, you can’t have a smooth cushion tire on the front right and a traction cushion tire on the front left. Instead you’d have two smooth cushion tires in the front and two traction cushion tires in the back.
TIRE RECOMMENDATIONS FOR YOUR APPLICATION
Different applications require different forklifts, and therefore different tire types. We’ve outlined some common applications below with our recommendations. Make sure to check with your forklift dealer to confirm that our recommendations suit your situation.
Indoor applications that have no debris on the floor surface are best suited for cushion tires. In this environment, cushion tires last longer, provide increased maneuverability and improve traction.
OUTDOOR & ROUGH TERRAIN APPLICATIONS
Outdoor and rough-terrain applications generally use pneumatic or solid pneumatic tires since they offer better traction and increased stability on uneven, loose terrain.
Applications, such as warehousing, that frequently use order pickers will often use polyurethane tires. In fact, order pickers almost exclusively use polyurethane tires since they can improve upon the expected battery life of the machine and provide additional stability and traction.
Cold environments or environments with consistently wet floors typically use polyurethane tires with micro grips (small, raised dots) or razer sipes (narrow, diagonal grooves) since they provide increased traction and braking ability.
If your environment experiences standing oil or consistent oil spills, consider using polyurethane tires, which will resist the oil and experience less breakdown.
Sensitive applications, such as food, paper or printing are often required to use non-marking tires since standard tires contain carbon black. This creates a fine dust particle during use that can cause cross-contamination issues.
FORKLIFT TIRE STANDARDS FOR YOUR INDUSTRY
Your industry may also be a deciding factor. Check the industries below to see which tire type is common in that application.
BRICK, BLOCK & PIPE
NM Cushion, Poly
NM Cushion, Poly
FORGING & CASTING
INTERMODAL & PORT
OIL & GAS
NM Cushion, Poly
STEEL & METAL
These industry standards may change depending on the specific work environment and the application. Check with your forklift tire dealer to confirm the best option for your situation.
6. How Long Should Forklift Tires Last?
How long forklift tires last depends on 5 factors:
- Tire Type
- Floor Conditions
- Operating Conditions
- Operator Behavior
Let’s go through each one.
The hours you put on your forklift tires make a huge difference.
If you’re using your forklift for 10 hours a week it’s likely the tires will last longer than if you were using it 40 hours a week.
Some tire types are naturally more prone to wear and tear than others.
Pneumatic tires typically wear out more quickly than solid pneumatics. Plus, they can be punctured causing a flat tire which will then need to be patched.
To get the most out of your pneumatic tires, make sure you monitor the air pressure carefully. Low air pressure equals more contact with the floor surface and that means more wear.
In contrast, solid pneumatic tires have a longer life than pneumatics. They’re extremely durable and resilient to wear.
When it comes to press-on tires, polyurethane tires typically see up to two times the life of cushion tires.
The abrasiveness of the ground surface can limit your tires’ life. The best case scenario for a long forklift tire life is sealed concrete or black top.
Surfaces with lots of debris are going to shorten your tire life too.
Running over debris isn’t a good idea. Not only does it damage your tires, but it’s not safe for forklift operation and it can be uncomfortable for the operator too.
Applications like recycling centers and lumber yards might have a hard time avoiding debris. Solid pneumatic tires are a durable option for these environments but it’s still best to avoid running over debris whenever possible.
Your general work environment and operating conditions can shorten the life of your forklift tires.
Something as simple as humidity can be a major issue. A very humid environment can make the floor sweat which causes the tires to spin more. And spinning tires means worn out tires.
It’s not just the environmental conditions. Your load affects the tires too.
While you don’t want to overload the lift truck, running the forklift without a load also shortens your tire life. Without a load on the forks, the counterweight presses down on the steer tires which causes them to wear more quickly.
Your forklift operator’s driving habits and abilities affect the life of your tires too.
Spinning the tires, quick starts and stops, excessive speed and sharp cornering all reduce the life of your forklift tires. If you’re zipping around the warehouse, taking tight turns and stopping abruptly, it’ll take a toll on your forklift tires.
7. GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR FORKLIFT TIRES
A tire in good condition will increase your forklift’s efficiency, improve productivity and reduce operator fatigue. Plus, getting the most out of your tire means a better bottom line and a safer workplace.
So how can you keep your tires in good condition? It starts with operator education, but it also depends on your tire type and your environment.
Poor operator habits are one of the most influential causes of reduced tire life. These basic reminders for operators can increase safety in the workplace and improve the life of the tire.
Operators should not:
- Spin the tires
- Overload the vehicle
- Run over debris
Operators should avoid:
- Quick starts
- Quick stops
- Excessive speed
- Sharp, aggressive cornering
You should check the air pressure on your pneumatic tires before each use. If that isn’t possible, try to check daily. You can find the recommended PSI on the sidewall of the tire.
Tire air pressure needs to be checked often because air pressure fluctuates with increasing and decreasing temperatures. Higher temperatures increase air pressure, and lower temperatures decrease air pressure. This is not just a seasonal concern but a year-round responsibility as temperature can change drastically in a very short period of time.
Why does air pressure matter? Under-inflated tires lead to poor traction, which can cause accidents. Over-inflated tires can cause a blowout, which causes downtime and profit loss. Checking tire air pressure is an easy way to avoid more serious problems that reduce productivity.
WINTER RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FORKLIFT TIRES
Winter brings challenges when it comes to outdoor forklift operation. The snow and ice that come with the colder temperatures cause slippery conditions and reduced traction. Often, forklift tire chains are the primary defense for reduced traction, but they aren’t your only option.
Reduced traction is a major concern as snow and ice accumulate. You can get stuck easier than you might expect. When compared with a personal vehicle, a forklift is much heavier – even without a load – which makes sufficient friction even more essential when operating your forklift in slippery conditions.
The best way to get better traction is to increase the surface area connecting with the ground.
We recommend you use pneumatic tires instead of solid pneumatic. Pneumatic tires have more flex than solid pneumatics which increases the surface area contacting the ground and improves traction.
It may seem obvious, but make sure your tires’ tread isn’t worn away. Your tires won’t be able to grip the ground without it. If the tread is completely worn away, it’s time to replace the tires.
While forklift tire chains aren’t your only option, they are a great defense against slippery conditions and poor traction. Tire chains are available for both pneumatic and solid pneumatic tires.
Use them only when the snow and ice make it dangerous to operate or when conditions cause inefficiency or reduced productivity.
Studs can be screwed into the tread of your solid pneumatic tires to help alleviate icy conditions. We recommend using studs with a solid carbide tip which are stronger and more durable.
Don’t worry, after removing the studs the tire won’t be damaged and you can re-use the studs at a later date.
Salt won’t affect your tires, but it can cause the metal components in your forklift to rust. Instead of pure salt we recommend you use a sand-salt mixture.
8. WHEN TO REPLACE YOUR FORKLIFT TIRES
Not replacing forklift tires at the appropriate time can lead to reduced fuel efficiency but that isn’t the worst of it. Tires in poor condition cause operator fatigue, which leads to mistakes and can be dangerous for others in the area. Extensive damage can also be done to your equipment if the tires aren’t replaced in time.
It’s clear that replacing your forklift tires at the right time is important but how do you know when they need replacing? Forklift tires – like automotive tires – don’t have a specific time frame for replacement. Instead you replace your forklift tires when they are worn or damaged.
Here’s a quick video overview on checking your tires for wear and damage. For more in-depth information on when to replace your tires, keep reading!
CHECKING YOUR TIRES FOR WEAR & DAMAGE
Regularly inspect your forklift tires to check for wear and damage. Your operators should include this in their pre-operation inspections. They’ll be able to catch issues before they become a serious problem which is good for their safety and your bottom line.
To determine if your forklift tire should be replaced, there are a few areas to check:
Wear Line or Safety Line – Many tire manufacturers provide a wear line on the tire. If the rubber has been worn down to the line, it’s time to replace the tire.
Lettering – Another way to check for tire wear is on the sidewall of the tire. Once the tire reaches the top of the numbering or lettering on the sidewall, the tire needs replacement.
Tread – Similar to a car tire, visually check the tread height on the tire to determine if the tire needs replacing. If the tire is balding, replace it.
Chunking– Chunking occurs when the tires are repeatedly running over debris and cause large pieces to fall off the tire. This can cause a bumpy ride for the operator, increasing fatigue and therefore mistakes. Damage to the load or product may also occur as a result of chunking
Flat Spots – Sometimes flat spots can appear on the tire caused by spin or aggressive braking. This creates an uneven and uncomfortable experience for the operator. You can prevent flat spots by training operators on appropriate speeds and braking procedures.
Radial Cracking – Radial cracking can occur when heat builds up within the tire often due to overloading the machine. If you’re consistently seeing radial cracking on your pneumatic or cushion tires, consider using a larger or wider tire to spread the weight of the load over more area. Heat buildup is also caused by traveling long distances with no weight on the forks. In these situations the counterweight rests on the steer tires instead of being evenly distributed.
TIRE REPLACEMENT BASED ON YOUR TIRE TYPE
Wear and damage can look different depending on the type of tires you have and there are plenty of ways to check if your tires need replacement based on your tire type. Let’s start with cushion tires.
There are a couple ways to check if your cushion tires need to be replaced.
One of the primary ways is the two-inch rule. If the tire has lost two inches or more from its original height, it needs replacement. The tire’s original height or outer diameter can be found on the sidewall of the tire.
When measuring the tire’s wear, picture the tire as if it’s a compass, with the top of the tire as north. Take measurements across the center of the tire from west to east. Measurements may be skewed if you take them from north to south because the tire flattens under the weight of the forklift.
Keep in mind that the two-inch rule only works on cushion tires.
CUSHION TIRE WEAR CHART
Check the outer diameter (OD) and rim inside diameter (ID) of your cushion tire (found on the sidewall). If your tire’s outer diameter is around the “Old Tire OD” for your tire size, it’s time to replace it.
|New Tire OD
|New Tire ID
|Old Tire OD
|4 – 1/2
|8 – 1/4
|6 – 1/4
|6 – 1/2
|10 – 1/2
|6 – 1/2
|13 – 1/2
|11 – 1/4
|15 – 1/2
|10 – 1/2
|4 – 1/8
|16 – 1/4
|11 – 1/4
|12 – 1/8
|12 – 1/8
|17 – 3/4
|23 – 3/4
|17 – 3/4
|27 – 3/4
|26 – 1/2
Check for damage where the band and the tire meet. Bond failures occur when the rubber has separated from the metal band. If you can stick a screwdriver or a knife into the separated area, it is time to replace the tire.
Visually inspect the tread. For traction cushion tires, visually check the tread as there is no definitive tool to help determine tread wear. When 25-30% of the available tread is worn, the tire should be replaced.
Let’s move on to solid pneumatic tires. If there are no obvious signs of damage, go by the amount of wear. When solid pneumatics have lost 75-80% of the available tread, they should be replaced. Though this rule works for most cases, you’ll want to take your operators and your application into consideration.
Finally, let’s go over wear for polyurethane tires. One of the more common signs of wear on poly tires is radial cracking. This occurs when heat builds up within the tire material and escapes through the exterior of the tire. Polyurethane tires with radial cracking are ready for replacement.
BENEFITS OF REPLACING YOUR FORKLIFT TIRES
Newly replaced tires benefit the forklift operator and company. Some of these benefits include:
- Reduced fuel consumption
- Maximized efficiency
- Increased traction
Additionally, new tires will reduce shock, creating a better ride for the operator and leads to reduced operator fatigue. It can also lower maintenance costs. Similar to a bicycle in a higher gear, newly replaced tires can cover the same distance in fewer rotations. This means that drivetrain components will experience less wear.
9. COST REDUCTION RECOMMENDATIONS
Replacing your tires can be costly. Though it’s a necessary expense, there are a few ways you can reduce your costs.
CHOOSE SMOOTH OVER TRACTION
When possible, use smooth cushion tires rather than traction tires. This switch can increase the consumable rubber by 7-12%. Plus, you’ll experience increased traction as long as water or other liquid debris is not present.
GET HIGH RUBBER RESILIENCE TIRES
Tires with high rubber resilience benefit from low-rolling resistance. Switching to these tires can typically reduce fuel consumption in LP gas forklifts by up to 15% and extend the working hours between charges for electrics.
Upsizing your tires can provide several benefits including:
• Longer tire life
• Increased traction
• Increased stability
• Increased shock absorption
You’ll also experience cooler running tires. Plus, your load carrying capacity will increase as the weight is spread out along the tire. On average, increasing tire size by one inch translates to 800 pounds in additional load carrying capacity.
REPLACE PNEUMATICS WITH SOLID PNEUMATICS
We often recommend switching from pneumatic to solid pneumatic tires. This does not necessarily apply to winter conditions. However, in many situations replacing your pneumatic tires with solid pneumatic tires can:
• Improve tire life by two to three times
• Increase stability
• Reduce downtime (no flats)
Before making these changes, verify with your tire dealer that your equipment, facility and application will see these benefits.
From basic tire components and choosing your forklift tires to getting the most out of your tires and reducing your costs, by now you should be a forklift tire expert.