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Forklift Tires

A Guide to Forklift Tires

Forklift tires

Sometimes overlooked but important to the productivity and safe operation of a forklift is its tires. Your 6,500 lbs. lift capacity will mean little if the tires on the machine don't provide a sturdy, level base for the mast. Tire types and condition will determine (at least in part) the turning radius of a forklift, lift capacity, type of surface that can be safely traversed, operator health, and overall wear and tear on the lift.

Specifically, running on tires that need to be replaced will reduce the number of daily cycles, increase the chances of an accident, amplify the risk of stress related injury to the driver, and increase fuel consumption (and electrical charge).

The prudent business decision is to replace tires before they cause an event that will cost significantly more than the price of replacement.

When Should You Replace a Forklift Tire?

Forklifts, including the tires, should be inspected at the start of every shift. A quick guide for determining if a tire should be replaced is:

  • Pneumatic Tires: When all tread is nearly gone; "all" being the operative word. The center may be smooth but if there is tread on the edges it is still safe.
  • Cushion and Solid Tires: Tires should be replaced when the Overall Radius" of the tire is reduced by 2" compared to the Overall Radius of a new tire. On some solid pneumatic tires there is a wear ring. When the ring is exposed it's time to replace.
  • Any tire that has missing chunks, cuts, or has exposed plies or cords needs to be replaced.
  • A surefire way to tell if the tires need replacing is to ask the driver. Tires in poor condition will pass on every bump from an uneven surface or piece of debris directly to the operator's body. Steering will also become an issue.

One final word on replacing tires; don't replace just one. If one tire is bad you should replace all four. Having one new tire and three worn tires creates an imbalance which encourages tipping and skidding.

What Type of Replacement Forklift Tire Should You Buy?

If you purchased your forklift new the answer to this question is easy. If you are satisfied with the forklift's performance, look at the OEM tires and order those. If however, you bought your forklift used, you really don't know the pedigree of the tires on the truck. Are they OEM or replacement tires?

Another consideration for owners of used equipment is how the truck was employed by the previous owner. For example if it was used exclusively indoors at a warehouse it may have polyurethane press on tires. If you are using it both indoors and outdoors the press on tire is probably not your best bet.

Here is a quick rundown on types of tires and brief descriptions of their pros and cons:

  • Pneumatic Forklift Tires: Designed for heavy duty outdoor work these air filled tires are best used on rough, uneven surfaces like construction sites. Because they are air filled they perform a level of "suspension" function not available in solid tires. They closely resemble regular truck tires making them relatively easy to change but they are also susceptible to blow outs which can be exceptionally dangerous.
  • Pneumatic Shaped Tires: These tires look like air filled pneumatics but are solid rubber. They are constructed with two stages, have special treads for heavy duty, and typically outlast other pneumatic tires. They are designed for very high capacities and rough terrain that you might find in forestry or mining operations.
  • Solid Polyurethane Press On Tires: Ideal for electric trucks, these tires are typically used for work indoors and can lift more than their "cushion" cousins. The tire is made of polyurethane and pressed onto a steel rim. They have very little resistance on a smooth surface making them a highly efficient tire for electric lifts.
  • Solid Cushion Press On Tires: These tires come both as a "press on" and a solid tire. They can come with treads as opposed to the smooth surface of polyurethane making it ideal for both indoor and outdoor use.

If the tires on your truck are white or gray they are specialty no-mark tires. The previous owner most likely used the truck in an environment that housed food where skid marks are not allowed.

Important Factors in Making a Buying Forklift Tire Purchase

We have listed the types of tires; now it's time to take into consideration how you want to use them and what type of tire is appropriate for your forklift. At the end of the day, you want a tire that brings out the productivity potential of the truck.

We've already discussed the best uses for each tire type with pneumatic working well on uneven surfaces, polyurethane being a good fit for electric trucks working indoors, and cushion tires being something of a compromise working well indoors and outdoors on paved lots. Here are a few other considerations when making your choice.

  • Capacity: You want a tire that supports the rated capacity of your forklift.
  • Hours of Use: The amount of time a truck is actually used will determine how long the tire will last. A truck that is only occasionally used can get by with a lesser quality tire and have the same service life as a truck with superior tires that is used an entire shift.
  • Manufacturer Approved: Unlike your pickup truck or muscle car, you need to use the same size tires that came from the manufacturer. OSHA 1926.602(c)(1)(ii) states "no modifications to a truck that affect the capacity or safe operation of the equipment shall be made without the manufacturer’s written approval."
  • Used Forklift Tires: Used tires are fine provided they are in good condition. Used tires can be found at any number of dealer and online auction sites and represent a viable economical alternative for lightly used trucks.
  • Specialty Tires. As mentioned above no-mark tires are available where skid marks are not allowed. No-marks unfortunately wear out much faster than solid or pneumatic tires. Foam filled self-sealing tires are also available for environments where punctures are common (demolition work) but require special equipment for maintenance.
  • Handling and Turning Characteristics: A high density warehouse has a significantly different physical layout than a lumberyard. A tight turning radius will most likely be more important to the warehouse than the lumberyard and solid steering and handling over uneven surfaces will be more important to the lumberyard than the warehouse. Tire design, width and tread all play a part in defining a forklift's performance characteristics.

Where to Buy and How Much to Pay for Forklift Tires

Shopping for forklift tires is very much like shopping for automobile tires. The number of vendors, brands and price ranges are almost infinite. Like automotive tires, the highest prices will typically come from forklift manufacturer dealers because they are selling OEM tires, while the lowest will come from discount operations.

Unlike automotive tires, used forklift tires are a viable alternative. This used market provides an economic solution for companies who use their forklifts only occasionally and don't need a full warranty.

To give you a feel of the spread in prices we have included the following table for the major tire types. The price comparisons are for identical sized tires.

Pneumatic$99 to $1,000$25 to $400
Cushion$42 to $150$20 to $75
Polyurethane$45 to $140$20 to $75

Why the huge spread in cost? For the same reasons that there are similar price ranges in automotive tires which include:

  • Value of warranty
  • Return policy
  • Quality of rubber compound
  • Quality of construction
  • Conformance to OEM specifications
  • Availability
  • Country of origin
  • Services included (shipping, installation etc.)

Obviously what you invest in forklift tires will depend on what you expect in performance value. If you are a high volume distribution center or routinely require high load capacity it makes sense to buy the best tire available. If your operation is not as intensive you can make concessions in quality.

Once you’ve purchased the tires you will have to install them (unless you purchased locally and installation was part of the deal). That can be a chore. Air filled pneumatics are changed in a similar manner as a heavy duty truck. Press on tires however, will require a tire press with a capacity of 50 tons or more. These machines can run $5,000 to $9,000 new and of course someone has to be trained in how to do the job.

An alternative is to have a company change the tires onsite. The cost for this service will vary by tire type and location but can add another $300 to $400 or more to the price of a set of tires. Be sure to inquire about this before purchasing your forklift tires.

Summing it Up

The condition of your forklift tires is important to the overall performance and safety of your lift truck. Understanding how to evaluate their condition and know when replacement is called for, is something that every driver and supervisor should be capable of.

When it comes time to purchase new tires, you want to be certain you know exactly what you want out of them. Armed with this knowledge will make you better prepared to make the right decision when considering the many new and used options available to you.