Tires represent as much as 30 percent of the operating and maintenance costs of machinery in the rental industry, so getting the most from your tires is perhaps the quickest way to improve your bottom line.
That is doubly true for skid steers, which are designed to steer by varying the speed or direction of their wheels or locking one side while the other side turns. It is a system that is literally built on grinding rubber.
The first step is to inspect skid steer tires regularly. Of course, look for nails and other debris poking into the tire, or mud or cement in the tread that could cause it to crack. But while you're there, be sure to also look for clues about how your customers are using your skid steers. Are they coming back covered in concrete dust, or are they typically plugged with mud? Is the tread wearing down from hard-surface abrasion, or is it being picked at and sliced by broken rock and debris? Understanding what your tires go through every day—or even most days—can help you zero in on your next set of tires. We’ll talk about this more in-depth later in the article.
Check them for uneven wear as well. Operators often charge into a pile to fill their bucket aggressively, spinning the rear tires while popping the fronts up into the air on impact, especially if the bucket is low. The result is fast wear on the rear axle. It can be worthwhile to rotate front tires to the rear about halfway through the tires' life to get the most out of the set. (Whenever you rotate tires on a skid steer, be sure that they match on the right and left sides of an axle. If the tire on one side is bigger than the other, you can create costly drivetrain problems.)
Check Inflation Pressure
If you're running pneumatic tires, make sure your tires are inflated to the appropriate pressure. Your local tire dealer can help you determine the proper pressure, or you can check online at your tire manufacturer's website for an inflation table. Figure on the heaviest rated load for your machine, with a full bucket, and estimate the top speed of operation.
A few minutes spent measuring tire pressures in the morning, when tires are cold, can extend the life of your tires dramatically. An underinflated tire will flex too much at the sidewall, building up heat from the friction of its movement. That can damage the tire from excessive rubbing on the rim, or cause the bulging, overheated sidewall to puncture from debris.
An overheated tire is also prone to failure as the heat causes rubber compounds to separate from each other or the materials to which they are bonded. On the other hand, too high an inflation pressure can cause excess wear in the center of the tread (especially on bias-ply tires, which tend to crown in the center) or carcass damage from impacts.
Keep Tires Clean
Caked-on mud or a thick coat of dust can hide the debris, bulges, cracks, or cuts you're looking for during your inspection. Petroleum products like oil or solvents can damage rubber compounds. And nobody is going to do a thorough job inspecting tires that are covered in manure. Keeping tires clean is an easy way to protect your investment.
If you clean off a tire and see cuts, missing chunks, or wear down to the carcass plies, replace the tire immediately. Trying to squeeze another day out of a tire that is doomed to fail could create a safety hazard for your customer and a liability issue for you. It is also much easier to call in a tire dealer to swap out a pair of tires in the yard than it is to have to pick up a skid steer with a blown tire and haul it back for an emergency repair.
Think Ahead—Think Tread
After you've inspected enough tires and talked to enough customers, you will have a strong sense of the challenges your skid steer tires are facing in the field. Armed with that information, you can zero in on the tire that will deliver the best performance and the best return on your investment.
The easiest differentiation is tread pattern. If you find yourself spraying off mud every time a customer returns a skid steer, invest in R-4 bar tread tires, whose horizontal lugs dig for great traction in mud and soft surfaces (Galaxy Beefy Baby III by Yokohama Off-Highway Tires is an example of that classic design).
If you are more likely to see your skid steers coming back with concrete dust or abrasive wear from asphalt, you will get much better tire life from an L-4 block tread pattern with a higher rubber-to-void ratio—big, chunky, flat blocks with just enough space between them to provide traction, as seen on the Galaxy Hulk. Those blocks work okay in dirt, but the bigger benefit is that they will last much, much longer against the steady scrubbing against hard surfaces that could grind bar treads down in a matter of hours.
Cost Per Hour
What is important is that the tire that costs you less per hour of ownership may not be the tire with the cheapest purchase cost.
Another design feature to look for in treads of skid steer tires is a non-directional pattern, which provides equal traction whether the machine is going forwards or backwards (you can see this on the new Galaxy Mighty Trac ND). Skid steers often spend almost as much time in reverse as they do in forward gear, particularly if they are equipped with a bucket or forks.
If your machines are going back and forth on pavement, a non-directional block tread tire could provide you with service life so long, you would enjoy residual value from the tread when it comes time to sell the skid steer.
Work with Your Dealer
Even if you order your tires through a national account program, your local tire dealer is an outstanding resource who can save you money in a wide range of ways. With a quick inspection of your machinery, your dealer can tell what your tires are up against and which tires would serve you best in the future, whether they are air-filled pneumatics, foam-filled pneumatics, or solid tires.
He or she can steer you to tread designs and constructions that will deliver the best return on your investment and lowest total cost of ownership—not necessarily the cheapest purchase cost, but the most hours of performance per dollar. And working with your schedule to arrange scheduled replacement and repair, your tire dealer can keep your equipment out in the field, making you money.
With one out of every three operations-and-maintenance dollars rolling in and out of your gate every day, it pays to pay attention to your tires.