Forklift Tires: Choosing the Right Type & When to Replace

Do you think you need new tires on your forklift? Take a look at these tips on choosing the right Type of forklift tire and when you should replace them.

In most applications, forklift tires that are simply “black and round” won’t do the job. You need a specific tire made of a special compound with the right profile or size to provide satisfactory tire life. What should you consider when it’s time to buy forklift tires? The following factors should be taken into account: 

Forklift Tire Selection Factors

  • Manufacturer specifications
  • Load and load frequency
  • Number of shifts and trips
  • Length of the run and travel speed
  • Capacity and class of forklifts used
  • Surface conditions and turning area (i.e. will you be travelling on rugged terrain or smooth surfaces)
  • Type and weight of materials moved
  • Housekeeping issues, such as non-marking or black compounds

A competent evaluation of the above factors through an in-plant survey will determine the optimum combination of compound, profile and size for each specific application. The survey can be performed by a forklift tire company representative or the tire expert at your local forklift dealer.

Types of Forklift Tires

Nearly all forklift tire types fall into one of two categories: cushion or pneumatic. Your application is the primary consideration when choosing between cushion or pneumatic tire counter balanced forklifts. Keep reading for a brief profile of cushion and pneumatic tire types.

Cushion Forklift Tires

Cushion forklift tires are solid tires that are made of smooth solid rubber and designed for use on cushion tire forklifts in material handling applications that have concrete or asphalt surfaces. Most commonly, they are specified for indoor work in manufacturing facilities, warehouses and distribution centers. Cushion-tire forklifts are smaller than comparable capacity pneumatic models so they usually cost less. That makes their resale value lower, too.

Pneumatic Forklift Tires

Pneumatic tire forklifts can go indoors and outdoors on improved surfaces, often used in locations like lumber yards and construction sites. This would include blacktop and hard-packed stones or dirt, but not rough terrains like a plowed field or a severely potholed lot. The trucks have a larger frame and their initial price is higher than a comparable cushion-tire model. When it comes to resale, however, pneumatics have a higher value. One reason is their surface versatility, given enough maneuvering space. There are two different types of pneumatic tires to choose from when buying forklift tires. First, there are solid pneumatics. These tires are made out of solid rubber and are harder to puncture. These can be a good choice if your facility has rough surfaces and sharp objects. Air pneumatics are standard, air-filled forklift tires.

Cushion tire and pneumatic tire forklifts have different frames, so you cannot simply change from cushion to pneumatic tires if your application changes. You can, however, change to a different tire style -- from smooth press-ons to traction, grooved or wide-track tires, or from a press-on tire to resilient solid forklift tires. If you'd like to know more about forklift tire options, give your local dealer a call

Tire Tread or Profile Style

Some general rules of thumb apply to forklift tire tread or profile style. You can get:

  • Smooth tires for dry indoor applications and all steer axles
  • Traction tires for general-purpose use in a wide variety of applications
  • Grooved tires for larger-capacity trucks where loads and operating conditions are extreme
  • Wide-track traction tires designed for all-season indoor-outdoor use.

Following tire selection and professional installation, the major factors that determine tire performance are consistency of manufacture and quality and consistency of material. In other words, it pays to buy quality tires.


Forklift tire manufacturers use several acronyms to refer to the dimensions of forklift tires:

  • OD: Overall Diameter
  • SW: Section Width
  • SH: Section Height
  • ID: Internal Diameter
  • AR: Aspect Ratio

These measurements may be expressed in either imperial or metric units, and they are typically labeled on the side of the tire. The nomenclature for tire sizes can be different for pneumatic and cushion forklift tires.

Using a tape measurer, you can measure the Overall Diameter, Internal Diameter, and Section Width of a forklift tire.

  • Overall Diameter: The diameter of the entire length of the tire. Run a tape measurer in a 3 – 9 o’clock direction across the entire length of the tire.
  • Internal Diameter: The internal hollow part of the tire. Run a tape measurer in a 3 – 9 o’clock direction from one internal side of the tire to the other.
  • Section Width: Also known as the cross section width, this is the linear width from sidewall to sidewall.

It is best to refer to your manual for specifics on the forklift tire size and type that can be used on your model and purchase tires that meet those exact specifications.

When to Replace Forklift Tires?

Using improper tires that need to be replaced can lead to several adverse conditions for your forklifts and your bottom line:

  • The loss of load capacity will cause accelerated wear and overheating.
  • Operators will notice lower speeds and reduced ride comfort.
  • The forklift will have lower ground clearance and a reduced lifting height.
  • Maintenance costs can increase.

So when should you replace your forklift tires? While you should follow the forklift tire operator’s manual provided by your forklift tire manufacturer on wear limits and the proper time to change your forklift tires, there are some common signs that indicate that it’s time to get new forklift tires.

Wear Indicator Bar

Many forklift tires come with a wear indicator bar molded into the tire’s sidewall. As the rubber tread wears out, the wear indicator bar will become visible, indicating that it's time for a forklift tire replacement.

Manufacturer Name

Most tires have the manufacturer’s name molded into the sidewall. As a general rule, when the tire wears to the top of the nameplate, it should be replaced.

Deformities of the Tire

Any unusual appearances of your tire may indicate that they need to be replaced. This can include:

  • Tearing or Chunking – If pieces of your forklift tire are falling off, or if any parts are tearing.
  • Splits or Cracks – If radial cracks or splits start to appear on the sidewall.
  • Non-round spots – If any flat spots appear on your tire

For additional information and guidance on choosing the ideal type of tires for your forklift, or to find someone who can do a forklift tire replacement near you, contact your local Cat lift truck, Mitsubishi, UniCarriers or Jungheinrich forklift truck dealer today.


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