Forklift Tire Safety
When keeping track of the various powerful, hard-working components of an industrial forklift, it’s easy to overlook some of the most subtle, yet crucial pieces: The tires. They may not seem impressive, but think about this: It is estimated that the average drive tire on a forklift carries more than 9,600 lbs., and unlike other vehicles, forklifts have no suspension systems to disperse that weight. The tires absorb every ounce of your forklift and its load, making it crucial to ensure they’re safe to use at all times.
Forklift tires are in danger of sustaining damage or simply wearing out through regular use. It may be easy to look at a functioning tire and say, “It seems like it works to me,” but you may be taking a serious risk by ignoring the signs that tires should be retired from service. It is important to switch out your tires after they sustain a certain amount of wear or any notable damage, as these conditions can cause:
- Unexpected tire failure, resulting in damage, injury and/or downtime
- Increased strain on lift truck components and drivers due to vibration and shocks
- Increased puncture risk or exposure of a soft rubber inner-core not meant for driving
- Reduced lift truck fuel efficiency
- Inability to adjust mast chains to all levels
Recognizing Tire Types
Knowing how to recognize when a tire is ready for replacement first requires knowing what sort of tires your forklift has. There are several varieties of forklift tires with varying classification names, but they can be lumped into these three general categories:
- Cushion, or press-on tires that are comprised of solid rubber or polyurethane and are generally meant for indoor or light use. These tires are typically smaller and sit closer to the ground.
- Pneumatic tires that are generally larger, with more pronounced tread. These tires are typically air-filled (unlike cushion tires) and are designed for outdoor and more rugged usage.
- Resilient or solid pneumatic tires that are designed to look and operate like pneumatic tires, but which are comprised of solid rubber, like cushion tires. These are often for indoor/outdoor use.
When Is It Time For a Change?
Determining tire wear limits varies with tire type. Here are some general rules to follow:
- If you have smooth-patterned tires, plan to replace the tires when they reach 2/3 of the original height of the tire. Spec sheets will often include a “replacement overall diameter” to be consulted.
- If you have traction patterned tires, look for a safety wear line that marks minimum tire depth, and do not allow tires to wear beyond this.
- You can also use the “two-inch rule”, recognizing that after two inches of tire height is gone, 15–18% more stress is being added to the vehicle, and it is time to replace tires.
- Look for evidence of chunking, cracking, tears, splits and flat spots on press-on tires. Tears, especially, can cause imbalance, which is very dangerous for load-bearing vehicles.
- Non-damaged pneumatic tires can be work until the tread pattern wears away; after that, operation with these tires becomes hazardous.
- The two-inch rule cited above can help, but because pneumatic tires are generally wider and larger, it is better to rely on tread depth for pneumatic tires.
- Look for balding, smooth centers or lug/tread showing through. If the tread looks worn down, it probably is.
- Cuts are the main danger with pneumatic tires; visible or frayed cords are also bad news.
- Because pneumatic tires are typically air-filled, be sure to keep tires properly inflated: Too much or too little inflation can be dangerous.
- Non-damaged resilient tires can be worn down to the marked wear lines on the tire sidewall, sometimes called the “safety line” or “60-J line”. Wearing beyond this point is hazardous.
- Because these tires are a sort of crossover of the two categories above, the same sorts of hazards and rules should be observed here.
There are plenty of moving parts on a forklift to monitor, and it is understandable that something as mundane as tires could be overlooked. Given their importance, however, it’s highly advisable that you make tire condition part of your safety checks. While the tips and rules above should help keep you and your coworkers safe, you can always check in with the experts at your dealership with any questions!
For more information on tire safety or any other forklift-related questions, contact us at (614) 896-2360.