Forklift Tires - The Ultimate Guide [A Secret to a Productive Forklift]

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.

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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 Forklift Tire

Cushion/Press-On Tires

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.

Read: The Advantages of Cushion Tire Forklifts

Pneumatic Forklift Tire

Pneumatic Tires

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 Tire

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.

Read: What Are Pneumatic Tires and Why are They Used For Outdoor Applications

Solid Pneumatic Forklift Tire

Polyurethane Tires

Polyurethane tires 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 Cushion Tire

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

Tire TypeIndoorLight OutdoorRough-Terrain OutdoorDebris in Work AreaLifespanDurabilityCost
PneumaticNoNoMediumMedium$
Solid PneumaticNoNoLongHigh$$

Cushion vs. Polyuerthane Tires

Tire TypeIndoorLight OutdoorRough-Terrain OutdoorDebris in Work AreaLifespanDurabilityCost
CushionNoNoMediumHigh$
PolyurethaneNoNoNoLongHigh$$

These comparison charts are based on general data. Lifespan, durability and cost will depend on the application, operator and usage.

3. Forklift Tire Components

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

The 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

Forklift Tire Dimensions

Your tire’s size is often indicated on the sidewall of the tire. These measurements refer to the outer diameter, width and the rim diameter.

Check your forklift’s manual and with your local dealer for appropriate tire sizes. Generally, your forklift will have a recommended size, but you can purchase a different size, within reason, depending on your preference and application.

4. 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.

Factory

Indoor Applications

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.

Shipping Container

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.

General Warehousing

WAREHOUSE APPLICATIONS

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 Storage

COLD ENVIRONMENTS

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.

OIL SPILLS

If your environment experiences standing oil or consistent oil spills, consider using polyurethane tires, which will resist the oil and experience less breakdown.

Food Storage

SENSITIVE APPLICATIONS

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.

Black Agriculture Icon
AGRICULTURE

Solid Pneumatic

Black Airport Icon
AIRPORT

Solid Pneumatic

Black Beverage Icon
BEVERAGE

POLYURETHANE

Black Brick-Block-Pipe Icon
BRICK, BLOCK & PIPE

Solid Pneumatic

Black Cold Storage Icon
COLD STORAGE

POLYURETHANE

Black Concrete Icon
CONCRETE

Solid Pneumatic

Black Distribution Icon
DISTRIBUTION

POLY, CUSHION

Black Factory Icon
FACTORY

CUSHION

Black Food-Processing Icon
FOOD PROCESSING

NM CUSHION, POLY

Black Food Storage Icon
FOOD STORAGE

NM CUSHION, POLY

Black Forging-Casting Icon
FORGING & CASTING

Solid Pneumatic

Black General Manufacturing Icon
MANUFACTURING

CUSHION

Black Warehousing Icon
WAREHOUSING

CUSHION

Black Intermodal-Port Icon
INTERMODAL & PORT

Solid Pneumatic

Black Lumber Icon
LUMBER

Solid Pneumatic

Black Mining Icon
MINING

Solid Pneumatic

Black Oil-Gas Icon
OIL & GAS

Solid Pneumatic

Black Paper Icon
PAPER

NM CUSHION, POLY

Black Rail-Yard Icon
RAIL YARD

Solid Pneumatic

Black Retail Icon
RETAIL

CUSHION

Black Shipping-Container Icon
SHIPPING CONTAINERS

Solid Pneumatic

Black Steel_Metal Icon
STEEL & METAL

Solid Pneumatic

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.

5. 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.

Operator Education

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

Air Pressure

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 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.

Quick Tip: Make sure you consistently check the tire pressure of your pneumatic tires. Under-inflated tires can contribute to poor traction, and over-inflated tires could lead to blow out.

 

Check your tread.

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.

Forklift Tire Chains for Slippery Conditions

Use forklift tire chains. 

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.

Quick Tip: Tire chains aren’t suitable for all circumstances since they can damage your tires and the ground if used on a dry, flat surface like asphalt.

Forklift Tire Studs

Apply forklift tire studs.

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.

Spread a sand-salt mix.

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.

6. 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:

Safety Line on Forklift Tire

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 on Forklift 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.

Forklift Tire Tread

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 on Forklift Tire

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 Spot on Forklift Tire

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 on Solid Pneumatic Forklift Tire

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.

How to Measure Your Forklift Tires

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.

Bond Failure on Cushion Tire

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 Your Forklift Tires

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.

7. 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.

 

Upsize your tires.

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 pneumatic with solid pneumatic tires.

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.

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