By John Krantz
Skid steer owners take note — treating your tires as assets rather than commodities can pay off in the long run. By selecting the right style and properly maintaining them, your tires will undoubtedly pay you in the form of increased life, improved equipment performance and enhanced productivity. According to Johni Francis, global product manager at Titan Tire Corp., there are five primary considerations that a skid steer owner should make in regard to tire purchasing and maintenance decisions.
No. 1 — Look at Cost of Ownership, Not Just Price
“When it comes to tires, all too often the major purchasing factor for an equipment owner is price,” says Francis. “Up-front cost is important, but it should be looked at in terms of cost-per-hour throughout the life of the tire.” A difference in price between one tire and another is often associated with the quality and depth of the tread compound, as well as the ply rating and gauge of the sidewall. By purchasing a tire with a more shallow tread and thinner sidewall, the tire is often prone to wearing out faster.
“Ultimately, a cheaper tire that lasts 50 percent as long as a slightly more expensive tire should make you re-evaluate which one is indeed the more affordable tire,” says Francis. Over the life of the machine, tires are likely going to be the most costly component that needs to be replaced. Thus, the owner needs to ensure the investment is a wise one. Engaging your tire dealer in evaluating your tire performance and operating conditions is essential to making an informed decision.
No. 2 — Evaluate Your Tire Performance History
By evaluating the condition of tires that have been retired from use, the tire dealer can often pinpoint signs of common wear that could have been avoided with more thoughtful consideration for tire selection and maintenance. “Some of the most common problems with tires include uneven wear, damage to sidewalls, separations in the tire and damage to the beads or lining,” says Francis. “These are all signs that the equipment owner could likely improve their maintenance regimen or their tire purchasing decisions.” Francis notes that incorrect inflation pressure is often the culprit behind uneven wear, impact damage and separations in the tire, while fast wear and poor equipment performance may indicate that the equipment owner has chosen the wrong tire for the job.
No. 3 — Choose a Tire to Match Your Conditions
Choosing the right tire for the job not only extends the life of the tire, but also greatly impacts the performance of the equipment. “The primary criteria to evaluate when selecting a skid steer tire would be tread pattern, tread depth and ply rating,” says Francis. “It’s essential that these decisions are made based on how the operator intends to use the machine.”
• Tread Pattern — Start by evaluating the pattern of the treads, which will usually fall into one of three general categories — diamond lugs, swept lugs or button lugs. “A pattern featuring diamond lugs and small voids will perform best on hard surfaces such as rock and concrete,” says Francis. “The more rubber there is on the road, the better wear you’ll get. If you’re working almost exclusively on hard surfaces, this is the best pattern for you. But if you’re working in deep mud and areas where traction is a concern, you’d be much better off with swept lug design.” A swept lug design features bar lugs that overlap toward the center of the tire and expand with larger voids toward the shoulder of the tire. The larger voids provide excellent traction on soft surfaces and also allow the tire to better clean itself when transitioning onto a hard surface. Lastly, the button lug pattern is often very similar to the diamond lug pattern; however, it features extremely shallow treads with very little void space between them. This design is best used in applications where turf disturbance is a concern, such as on a golf course.
• Tread Depth — “Both swept lug and diamond lug patterns come in a variety of depths — the standard being .75 in.,” says Francis. “But for severe rocky or demolition applications, it’s worth considering a deeper 1.375-in. lug in order to extend tire life and reduce the cost per hour of the tire.”
• Ply Rating — Once you’ve selected the appropriate tread design, make sure the tires have the adequate ply rating for the machine on which they’ll be installed. “Ply ratings are essentially just a way to measure the tire’s load capacity, but that’s often misunderstood,” explains Francis. “Ply rating should be selected based on the weight of the skid steer. Running a tire with an inadequate ply rating will often lead to premature failure.”
No. 4 — Consider the Pros and Cons of Conventional Tire Alternatives
A variety of alternative technologies are available, and it’s important to understand that with the pros of each, there are often cons. These alternatives include non-pneumatic and solid tires, foam-filled tires, over-the-tire tracks and Low Sidewall (LSW) tires.
“Solid-core and other non-pneumatic tires provide excellent protection from extremely harsh conditions such as rebar, but the lack of flex in the sidewall can lead to loss of traction, an uncomfortable ride and even damage to the machine,” says Francis. “The same pros and cons apply to foam-filled tires, which can also add additional machine weight and disturb the ground.”
Over-the-tire tracks are a good option for extremely swampy conditions, which require a larger footprint to gain better flotation for the machine. However, there are some drawbacks. “Over-the-tire steel tracks can’t be beat for flotation and traction, but they are an increased cost, and they limit the performance of the machine in other areas,” says Francis. “Turning radius is decreased, speed is decreased and the machine is limited to working exclusively on soft surfaces.”
A recent innovation exclusive to Titan and Goodyear Farm Tires is Low Sidewall (LSW) technology — a design that has shown well-documented performance improvements in the automotive market for several decades. “LSW tires feature a larger rim and shorter sidewall when compared to standard tires, but they keep the same overall diameter, inflation pressures and weight load capacities,” says Francis. “With the LSW, you get the best of both worlds.”
No. 5 — Inflate Before You Operate
The single most important thing a skid steer owner can do to prolong the life of his or her tires is to properly inflate them. “I would suggest checking inflation pressures at least several times per week,” says Francis. “Rather than simply inflating to the level denoted on the sidewall, which is the maximum allowable pressure, inflate to the psi recommended for the weight of your skid steer.”
Francis goes on to mention that over-inflation of tires can lead to uneven wear toward the center of the tread, as well as increased likelihood of impact damage, whereas under-inflation can cause excessive heat build-up, separations in the tire and uneven wear toward the shoulder of the tire.
John Krantz is a features writer for Two Rivers Marketing, based in Des Moines, Iowa.