How To Choose Between Solid Rubber, Pneumatic & Polyurethane Forklift Tires

The Right Tire for the Job

When you visit a forklift manufacturer's website and look at the product offerings, you will find some trucks classified by the type of tires they use. Forklift tire types are integral in the design of the machines and the how they can be used. There are three basic types of forklift tires:

forklift tires

Pneumatic Tires

Pneumatic forklift tires are very similar to the heavy-duty tire found on highway trucks. Filled with air, they have deep treads and are made of long-lasting rubber. Some of the heavy duty applications have the pneumatic tires filled with liquid polyurethane foam instead of air. A pneumatic forklift tire extends the useful life of the forklift because of this added protection. This is the primary tire for use in heavy duty, rough outdoor applications.

Solid Rubber Tires

The solid rubber forklift tire is very similar to the pneumatic, but without the cushion the air provides. They are normally solid rubber built around a metal band. Ironically, on forklifts, these are sometimes called cushion tires because they provide a cushion of solid tire between the load and the surface. A solid forklift tire will last a long time; the trade off is the lack of protection for your equipment. There are some standard solid tires, but they are normally manufactured as a press on tire.

Polyurethane Tires

The polyurethane forklift tire is a lightweight option that provides good traction with low rolling resistance. These are tires most often found on electric, indoor use forklifts. They can carry more weight and this is a consideration in balancing the weight of batteries. Polyurethane forklift tires are considered to be a press on tire.

 Solid RubberPneumaticPolyurethane
How AppliedStandardStandardPress on
Heavy OutdoorNoYesNo
Light OutdoorYesYesNo
IndoorYesYesYes
Turning radiusGoodTakes largest areaBest

The specific application (and location) will determine which forklift tire is best for the job. However, many forklifts are designed for specific tire types and their use is not interchangeable. The table above indicates some of the trade offs. Outdoor forklifts involved in heavy duty use require the traction and height of pneumatic tires. On the other hand, smaller electric forklifts that are used in narrow aisle applications will use the polyurethane tires for small turning radius needs and smooth rolling traction. Another consideration for large facilities that have a forklift tire press is what type and size tires it is able to handle. Buying a new forklift tire press will cost a few thousand, but usually local forklift dealers will have mobile tire presses (van mounted) so you do not need to make the investment on your own.

While there is a wide crossover between lifts, tires and uses, the extremes are clear. For rugged outdoor applications, only pneumatic tires are a good option. For indoor, narrow aisle warehouses, the polyurethane on an electric truck will generally be the best choice.

Evaluating Tires On A Used Forklift

If you are considering buying a used forklift, evaluating the condition of the tires is critical. You need to evaluate the following factors:

  • Visible wear and tear - Is the rubber worn flat? Is there any frayed metal poking out to indicate significant wear?
  • Brand - If the owner replaced old tires with a cheap brand, they can wear down over twice the speed of top brands.

Additional Factors

The constraints of a warehouse and distribution center make handling and turning radius important characteristics. The sit down rider trucks are low to the ground and are designed to maximize visibility and maneuverability. Other factors that affect forklift tire selection and use include:

  • Capacity - the pneumatic tire generally allows a greater capacity.
  • Surface - cushion and polyurethane forklift tires require smooth surfaces.
  • Comfort - since they don't have shock absorbing forklifts with pneumatic tires provide a more comfortable ride. In most indoor applications, however, this is not an issue
  • Forklift life - pneumatic tires are the best for extending the life of any forklift, particularly in heavy duty applications.

With the above insights, there are also a few facts to consider:

  • Forklift truck tires should be manufacturer approved
  • Used forklift tires are fine if in otherwise good condition
  • Non-marking tires are required in some applications, but they have a lower life expectancy. They are available in all three tire types
  • Use determines actual time at tire will last. However, solid tires generally outlast pneumatic by two to three times.
  • Foam fill is specially designed for use where tires can be punctured. The process requires special materials and machinery

New and Used Forklift Tires

New and used forklift tire prices cover a range of options depending on the quality of the manufacturer and wear on them. For example, a heavy duty 15 inch pneumatic tire can run $750 new vs. $300 used. Other sample forklift tire prices are:

  • Pneumatic - $99 to $1,000 new; $25 to $400 used
  • Cushion - $42 to $150 new; $20 to $75 used
  • Polyurethane - $45 to $140 new; $20 to $75 used

While there continues to be major advances in forklift design and technology, these three tires and their variations continue to be the way forklifts roll now and in the foreseeable future.


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