There’s no question that proper tractor tire selection and care can greatly impact performance. Without the right tire at the right level of inflation, the operator will surely notice performance issues such as increased soil compaction, slippage and even loss in fuel efficiency. As such, a diligent tractor owner makes a concerted effort to choose the right tractor tire and take good care of it. What many operators don’t realize, however, is the importance of selecting the right implement tires and the impact they can make on the operator’s bottom line.
Ask a group of farmers when was the last time they checked the inflation of their implement tires, and the majority of the responses will likely be, “When I had them installed.” Similarly, ask the group how they choose an implement tire replacement, and the answer will be a resounding, “Whatever is the cheapest.”
These days, farmers are traveling longer distances between fields, and any one of those farmers who has had a blown implement tire with 10 miles to go will certainly agree that proper implement tire selection and care is essential.
Because implement tires are used only for a couple of weeks out of the year, their care and selection may seem trivial to many farmers, but in farming, timing is everything, and if a farmer is experiencing downtime during those couple of weeks out of the year, the yield can be catastrophically affected. That’s why it is important for farmers to take a close look at what type of tire they put on their implements.
“One size does not fit all when it comes to implement tires,” says Bill Campbell, president of Titan Tire Corporation. “In order to increase one area of tire performance, you might have to sacrifice another. So, selecting the right tire comes down to how you plan on using it.”
The vast majority of implement tires are rated for 25 to 30 miles per hour. Yet, it’s becoming more common for larger implements such as balers to be towed behind a pickup truck or even a semi-tractor trailer. In this case, it’s crucial to select a highway-rated implement tire.
“If you take a 25-mile-per-hour tire out on the highway, you might not notice any immediate problems,” explains Campbell, “but by doing so, the tire can be damaged internally, increasing its chances of a premature failure down the line.”
Traveling at high speeds causes high temperatures to develop under the tread bars, which will weaken the rubber material and cord fabric. While there may be no visible evidence of damage at the time, the strength of the tire can become severely compromised, potentially leading to a blowout.
Though a highway implement tire may allow farmers to arrive at their destination more quickly, they have to realize what they’re giving up in terms of performance in other areas. Because the compounding and construction of highway tires are significantly different than non-highway tires, they may not have the durability in the field that many farmers look for in a tire.
“Highway implement tire treads are very flexible and soft,” says Campbell. “Soft and flexible isn’t necessarily good for running through corn stubble in late October. It’s really a give and take. If you plan on traveling over 30 miles per hour, you should go with a highway tire, but be aware that you may be giving something up in terms of stubble resistance.”
Choosing an implement tire at the appropriate load capacity isn’t just as simple as comparing it to the weight of the implement. Many people fail to take into account the effect of road use on load capacity.
“As speed increases, the load capacity of a tire decreases.” says Scott Sloan, product engineering manager for Titan Tire Corporation. “So, you want to consider that; looking at what you’ll be carrying and at what speeds. Anything over the rated speed, and the tire’s ability to carry its stated load decreases. Although a stationary implement may be well within the tire’s capacity, the dynamic loading of the tires during transportation at higher speeds puts the tires into a vulnerable situation.”
If being used for higher speeds or particularly rough gravel roads, Sloan recommends using a tire with a higher ply rating. Doing so will not only ensure the tires aren’t loaded beyond their limit, but can also help decrease susceptibility to puncture damage in the field.
Size and shape
In addition to being concerned about the field damaging their tires, farmers are concerned about their tires damaging the field. Sloan stresses that even minor subtleties in the shape of tires can have a significant impact on the field. Specifically, he warns against choosing tires with a square-shoulder design.
“If you are cultivating after the crop is up, the edges of a square-shoulder implement tire can cut the roots off,” Sloan explains. “A rounded shoulder ensures minimal crop and field damage.”
Implement tires have traditionally been ribbed, but as tractors are becoming more powerful, many farmers are becoming more concerned about the traction of their implement tires, especially when working in wet soils. As such, lugged implement tires are becoming more common.
“A ribbed tire tends to plow through deep mud, rather than rolling, which can be hard on both the field and the fuel efficiency of the tractor,” says Sloan. ”So, if you work in extremely muddy conditions and see very little road travel, a lugged tire may be a good option. If you see much road time, a ribbed tire will last longer than a lugged. Again, it’s really a give and take.”
A lugged tire design also has better resistance to puncture damage from stubble, which is a major concern for many farmers.
Radial versus bias
Bias tires are generally less expensive than radials, and because price is the deciding factor for many farmers, bias tires are chosen more often than not. There are, however, many benefits to using radial tires on an implement.
“With radials, you won’t have to sacrifice as much performance in one area to get performance in another,” says Campbell. “They have a much stronger carcass and are less susceptible to wear and damage. So, they’ll have a longer lifespan.”
Radials are also able to carry the same weight at lower inflation pressures than a bias. This means better flotation in the field and less soil compaction. Their strong carcass makes for better resistance to puncture damage and better roadability with less tread wear.
Choosing a replacement tire
In choosing a replacement tire, it’s important to match the size to the exact overall diameter (OD) of the existing tires, and because sizes can differ slightly between brands, it’s important to use the same brand of tire.
“An inch makes a big difference from one side to the other,” says Campbell. “Tire manufacturers have a range to work within by the Tire and Rim Association, so one company’s 9-5 L15 may be slightly smaller than another’s. For that reason, I’d recommend sticking with the same brand on any replacements.”
Implement tire care
Regularly checking the air pressure of implement tires is the best way to ensure their longevity. The deflection caused by underinflation can cause the tire to wear rapidly and unevenly, particularly in the shoulder area, eventually leading to cracks in the carcass. Overinflation, on the other hand, creates an under-deflected tire, leading to increased wear on the center of the tire. Moreover, the tightly stretched carcass becomes more susceptible to impact breaks.
A properly inflated implement tire, however, can live a very long life. Because these tires are generally only used for a portion of the season, the rest of the time is spent in storage. Sloan recommends a couple of simple steps to keep them safe during that time.
“I’d recommend putting the implement on blocks during the off-season,” says Sloan. “If a tire goes flat, you don’t want the weight of the implement on the rim, because that rim can cut into the sidewall, and when spring rolls around, you might have to replace it rather than just inflating it.”
When it comes to implement tires, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Although choosing a brand or type of tire may seem like a trivial decision based on price, choosing the wrong implement tire can lead to shortened lifespan and unplanned downtime during a crucial time of year. A farmer must base his or her decision on how the tire will be used, with special attention given to speed rating, load rating, tread design, size and shape, and construction type. Proper selection and care will ensure an implement will be running when the farmer needs it most.