Getting the Most Out of Your Forklift Tires

Getting the Most Out of Your Forklift Tires

The quality and condition of your forklift tires could have a huge impact on your business and bottom-line. This is a by-product of the fact that the rated capacity and other physical characteristics of a tire only apply to a brand new tire. Tire wear, damage and generalized aging can and will result in a decrease in performance and safety. As such, keeping your tires in good condition will increase you forklift’s overall efficiency, improve productivity and even reduce operator fatigue. The question becomes: what should you do to maintain your forklift tires? Let’s take a look:

If you're looking for information on the different types of forklift tires, visit our forklift tire guide.

Operator Training and Driving Habits

Inadequate operate training and poor driving habits are among the largest causes of premature tire wear. By instituting these basic guidelines, you can not only increase the lifespan of your forklift tires but also improve the safety of your operators and facility.

To begin, here’s a list of behaviours and bad habits that your operators should avoid at all costs:

  • Spinning the tires – the unnecessary heat and friction generating under these conditions causes a significant amount of premature tire wear.
  • Overloading the vehicle – by overloading a forklift, you place more strain and force on a tire than it was originally manufactured to handle, placing the tire at an increased risk of a blowout, cracking or otherwise.
  • Running over debris – running over debris, particularly when it can be avoided, can easily take holes out of or remove material from a tire. It should be noted that this is more of an issue with cushion tires, which are designed and manufactured for use on smooth, debris-free surfaces, and, as a result, incur far more damage when travelling over debris. However, pneumatic tires can also be damaged in this manner.

At the same time, we also recommend that your operators try to avoid these harmful behaviours:

  • Quick starts, stops and acceleration – similar to spinning the tires, quick starts, stops and accelerations place unnecessary strain on the tires, causing premature wear and tear.
  • Travelling at excessive speeds – see the first point in this section, as travelling at higher speeds necessitates harder stops.
  • Taking corners in a sharp or aggressive fashion – when you take a corner at a higher rate of speed or a sharp angle, your sideways momentum places a lot more force on the outside edges of the tires, causing uneven wear and damage on the affected areas.

For assistance with your operator training needs, ask Lucas about our on-site operator training classes for corporate groups or our monthly course for individual trainees at our central location in Thorold South.

Maintain Appropriate Air Pressure

It’s essential that you regularly check the air pressure on your pneumatic air tires. But why? Well, anything significantly outside of the ideal air pressure poses potential issues. An under-inflated tire, for example, will suffer from reduced traction, making it difficult to maneuver the forklift in a safe and effective manner. Over-inflated tires, on the other hand, increase the amount of wear on the center of the tire, weakening that area relative to the rest of the tire while posing a risk of a blowout. To determine the ideal air pressure for your tires, check the sidewall of the tire for the manufacturer’s recommended air pressure.

Ideally, air pressure should be checked by your operators as part of their pre-operation inspection at the beginning of each shift. However, if this isn’t possible or practical, you should make an attempt to at least check your tire pressure on a daily basis. Pressure checks should be a daily requirement because the interior pressure of the tire fluctuates based on the exterior temperature. Specifically, higher outside temperatures increase tire pressure while lower temperatures cause a reduction in air pressure. What’s more, no tire has an absolute seal, which means that air pressure is always escaping from the tire. Furthermore, daily checks allow you to catch a puncture or significant leak before it becomes a bigger issue.

A work around for this tire pressure issue is to use solid pneumatic tires or utilize a process known as foam filling. Where solid pneumatic tires aren’t available or are impractical, foam filling is a great way to prevent flats from puncture holes and eliminates the need to constantly check your tire pressure. Foam filling usually takes 2 to 3 days to fill and cure. Foam-fill and solid tires can usually be used with your existing wheels. Always follow manufactures specs and the professional recommendation from your local dealer.

When to Replace Your Forklift Tires

Despite your best efforts to maintain your forklift tires, all tires eventually need to be replaced and it’s important to do so at the appropriate time. By refusing to replace your worn out tires can lead to a number of performance and safety issues. Since worn out tires provide less traction, your forklift’s engine needs to work harder to perform daily operations, effectively reducing fuel efficiency and increasing the amount of wear and tear on your forklift’s engine and transmission. What’s more, worn out tires pose a greater safety risk as they are more likely to experience a blowout or failure and cause an accident. It’s also important to note that forklift tires are the only source of shock absorption on a forklift since the counterweight eliminates the possibility of shocks or springs. And, once a tire is 40% worn or more, the forklift and its operator absorb over 84% of the shock generated by travelling over a rough or uneven surface. But how can you determine that your forklift needs a new set of tires? What follows is a list of warning signs to look for by tire type:

Warning Signs for Cushion Tires

Overall tire wear is one of the best ways to check if your cushion tires need to be replaced. With press-on tires, replacements should be considered as soon as the outside diameter of the tire has worn 1 ½” or when more than 30-40% of the rubber is removed from the tire’s surface. Other indications of tire wear or damage to pay close attention to include:

  • Chunking – as the name suggests, chunking occurs chunks or large pieces of the tire’s rubber are removed from its surface. Chunking generally occurs as a result of a collision, repeated contact with debris and/or travelling over rough or rutted surfaces.
  • Flattened Patches – flat patches on a tire’s surface increase vibration and reduce fuel efficiency. These are caused by misalignment or when skid marks are made as a forklift is brought to a sudden stop. Fortunately, these imperfections are easy to find as a simple visual inspection will reveal flattened areas or areas with shallow tire treads.
  • Undercutting – caused as a result of repeated overloading and/or aggressive turning, undercutting occurs as the tire rubber begins to recede from the metal band at the center of the tire.
  • For more information on forklift tire damage, see our blog on the different types of forklift tire damage.

If your cushion tires need to be immediately replaced, Lucas offers on-site tire service that’ll reduce your downtime and simplify the replacement process by doing the work with our mobile service vans without taking your forklift off-site.

Warning Signs for Pneumatic Tires

Similar to cushion tires, overall tire wear can be used to determine when or if a pneumatic tire needs to be replaced. Once again, wear is measured with relation to the original diameter of the tire, with replacement occurring once a pneumatic tire has worn between 2” and 3”. However, variations between manufacturers mean that this level of wear is more of a basic guideline than a rule of thumb. Instead, pay attention to the amount of tread left in the tire (replacing it before it wears out) and other signs of wear such as:

  • Cuts – keep an eye out for visible and/or frayed bands or cords underneath the rubber of the tire. Once this occurs, it’s important to change the forklift tires as soon as possible as this may result in a sudden loss of air, which, in turn, can lead to an imbalanced forklift or accident.
  • Irregular Wear – occurs when there is a difference in the amount of wear between the inside/outside edge and the center of the tire. Irregular wear may be caused by over or under-inflated tires, misalignment and/or aggressive driving habits.

Reducing Your Forklift Tire Replacement Costs

Replacing your forklift tires is a significant, yet necessary, investment. To help lessen the blow to your bottom-line, here are a few ways you can reduce your costs:

  • Purchase Quality Tires – it shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that lower quality tires will break down faster than higher quality tires. From the materials to the manufacturing process, higher quality tires are built and designed to withstand greater amounts of stress without deterioration.
  • Choose Smooth Over Traction – whenever possible, opt for smooth cushion tires instead of traction tires as smooth tires have more consumable rubber, provide better traction (as long as moisture isn’t present) and reduce the chance of chunking.
  • High Rubber Resilience – cushion tires with high rubber resilience are more durable and benefit from a low rolling resistance, which helps increase fuel efficiency or increase time between charges for an electric.
  • Increase Tire Sizes – increase the size of your cushion tires can provide a number of benefits including longer tire life, increased traction, greater stability and improved shock absorption.
  • Choosing Solid Over Air Pneumatics – where advisable, we recommend opting for solid pneumatics rather than air pneumatics. Switching provides a number of benefits including improving tire life by up to 300%, increasing stability and eliminating the possibility of downtime as a result of flat tires or blow outs.

As you can see, there’s a lot of factors that go into maximizing your tire investments. From operator training and best practices, regular inspections, proper maintenance and making smart choices when it comes to replace your tires, there’s a lot that needs to be taken into consideration. If you’re currently in the market for a new set of forklift tires or think your forklift tires are starting to wear, contact Lucas Liftruck Services today!

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