The ability to work in a wide range of applications and wield a variety of attachments makes the skidsteer loader the king of versatility. Any landscape contractor will tell you they love their skid-steer loader, but they really could do without the damage it does to sensitive ground conditions like turf. Let’s face it: skidding and grass do not go together. Making matters worse, some manufacturers outfit skid-steer loaders with tires that are a bit too aggressive for landscape applications. There are better tire options available. With a little knowledge, contractors can increase the performance of their loader and get a longer life from a set of tires, as well as reduce turf damage caused by their machines.
Before diving into the different types of tires available for skid-steer loaders, it’s important to understand a few common terms tossed around in the tire business.
- Tread patterns — This term is used to describe the groove design of the tire or lugs. There are four tire patterns used for construction applications: diamond lugs for hard surfaces, swept lugs for dirt, button lugs for turf and smooth tires for specialty applications on hard surfaces.
- Tread depth — This refers to how deep the grooves are between lugs. For most applications, the tire standard depth of 0.75 inches is fine. However, in rocky ground conditions, a deeper depth may last longer.
- Ply rating — This measurement helps identify how much load the tier is designed to carry at its industry specified pressure.
What’s on your machine?
Most skid-steer loaders come from the manufacturer with what’s called an R4 tire, which has an aggressive swept lug tire pattern designed for a dirt environment. With large voids between lugs and a directional pattern, R4 tires provide great traction for pushing or doing finish grade work. While that tread pattern works great in the dirt, it will chew up turf and wear more quickly on hard surfaces than other patterns — two environments that landscape contractors find themselves working in often.
Evaluating tire needs
Every landscaper’s needs are different, which is why tires should not be thought of as “universal.” For better performance, landscapers should select tires based on the type of work they are doing, and they should match their loader’s tires to their typical working environment.
For example, if a contractor is using their skid-steer loader to aid with hardscape projects in the summer and removing snow in the winter, that machine will see a mixture of a lot of hard surfaces while unloading trucks of material and pushing snow. However, that machine will also be transporting heavy loads across turf on a regular basis. Working in those environments, that skid-steer loader should be outfitted with tires that have less voids between the tread blocks so more of the tire is touching the surface. That type of design will help the contractor reduce the ruts when transporting material over turf and wear better on hard surfaces.
Once the tread pattern style is determined, the skid-steer owner still has a lot of options they can choose from in terms of quality. And, this is where it gets tricky. Unlike the over-the-road tire industry, there are no regulations for construction tires, so two different brands of tires may look the same, have similar specs, but vary greatly in the way they handle and how long they last.
This is where a tire expert can help you by cutting up every model of tire offered to understand how they are constructed. There are a lot of inferior imported tire models flooding the market right now. These tires will look the same as OEM tires, but they will have significantly shorter lifespans and performance issues, like swaying and bouncing while under heavy load.
Tires for landscapers
Since the typical landscaper will use a skidsteer loader in a variety of environments, determining the specific type of tire can be more challenging than in other industries. Many manufacturers offer a “turf tire” that looks and sounds like it should be the perfect fit for landscapers. This style of tire will have a tight, nondirectional tread pattern with shallow voids between the tread blocks and a slightly rounded edge. Turf tires are designed to maximize the amount of tire touching the surface and cause less damage while turning — all ideal attributes for working on turf.
However, the drawbacks of these tires for most landscapers is the tread design doesn’t provide traction in dirt and mud, and they do not wear as well as others on hard surfaces. In addition, turf tires tend to be higher priced than other tires due to their specialty nature.
For most contractors, they are going to want tires that have similar qualities to the turf tire, but can also perform well in other ground conditions. Many manufacturers offer a great, somewhat universal tire that meets these needs. There is not a category name for this type of tire, but these tires are nondirectional with large tread blocks, deep voids and more biting edge than what is found on turf tires. These tires still have great flotation, but they shed dirt and mud better and deliver more traction. They cost less than most turf tires and are a good choice for working on hard surfaces. In fact, most tire experts will recommend this type of tire for snow removal applications, too.
So what’s wrong with bar patterned tires like the R4? Nothing — as long as they are working in the right type of environment. Block, directional tread patterns are great for working in dirt and mud. The design provides the machine with superior traction and maximizes the pushing power of the machine. This style of tire is offered in several different tread depths. The deeper the voids, the better it will do in muddy conditions.
Also, R4 tires are usually the most economical to buy. Keep in mind, though, the prices of a set of tires and total cost of ownership are not the same thing. While this style of tire is cheaper than others to buy, it will not hold up as long working in certain environments like hard surfaces. That’s why contractors need to look at more than just the price of tires.
For many landscape applications, tracks are a better choice than tires. It’s why compact track loaders and smaller utility loaders are so popular among contractors.
However, compact track loaders are not in everyone’s budget, and for those doing snow removal in winter, maintaining this type of machine can be expensive. This is where a good set of over-the-tire (OTT) tracks comes in handy. Rubber OTT tracks can be quickly added to about any skid-steer loader to increase the machine’s floatation while working in soft or sensitive environments. The tracks will allow the skid-steer loader to perform very similar to compact track loaders in those environments with the ability to transition back to tires for hard surface and rocky terrain work. It’s the best of both worlds, and OTT tracks are cheaper to own than a dedicated tracked machine.
Making the right choice
There are hundreds of skid-steer loader tire options to choose from, and the right set will increase a contractor’s job site efficiency, reduce surface damage caused by the machine and last longer. The right tires will make a lasting impression without leaving impressions.