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Tire Types and Tread Patterns: How to Choose the Right Wheels for Construction Equipment

Tire Types and Tread Patterns: How to Choose the Right Wheels for Construction Equipment

Close-up of a machine's tires

Tire Types and Tread Patterns: How to Choose the Right Wheels for Construction Equipment

Reading time: 6 min

When it comes to construction, tires have an outsized impact on the performance of your heavy equipment. Tires come in a wide variety of sizes and types, and choosing the best tires for your application can help your equipment operate more efficiently, saving you time and money.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always obvious which tires are best suited to your equipment and the task at hand. If you choose tires that aren’t well-suited to your application, you may run into traction issues and the tires may wear down quickly, costing you more money in the long run.

Here, we dive into the basics of tire design and tread patterns for construction equipment. By understanding the types of tires and tread patterns available, you can choose the best tires for your equipment and application.

Bearings for Construction Equipment

If you’ve been shopping for heavy equipment tires, then you may have heard sales reps talk about “L-3”, “L-5”, or “E-3” tires. Each of these codes refers to a specific kind of tire with a specific type of tread.

Understanding TRA Codes

The Tire and Rim Association (TRA) maintains a tire classification system that is used to classify tires according to their type and tread. The abbreviation system consists of two components – a letter and a number.

The letter portion of a tire’s TRA code represents the type of tire. Tires are assigned one of four letters, according to their type:

  • E: Earthmovers
  • L: Loaders and Dozers
  • G: Graders
  • C: Compactors

Meanwhile, the number portion of the tire’s TRA code refers to the tread and tread depth of the tire. There are 4 classifications of tread:

  • 2–Traction tread, 100% depth
  • 3–Normal tread, 100% depth
  • 4–Deep tread, 150% depth
  • 5–Very deep tread, 250% depth

So, for example, an L-3 tire is a tire made for loaders and dozers, with a normal tread of regular depth. An L-5 tire, on the other hand, is a tire made for loaders and dozers, with a very deep tread.

Sometimes, the TRA code may also be followed by another letter, which provides additional information about the tire’s tread pattern. If you see a TRA code that ends with a letter, here is what that letter means:

  • T: Traction. Tires with a low rubber/void ratio, offer extra traction.
  • R: Rock. Tires with a higher rubber/void ratio, which makes them more impervious to cuts from rocks, but confers less traction.
  • S: Smooth. Tires with this indication do not have a tread pattern. They offer very little traction but are resistant to cuts due to their superior ground pressure distribution.

Finding Your Tires’ TRA Code

TRA codes are widely used and recognized throughout the construction and heavy equipment industries, making it much easier to order replacement tires. If you aren’t sure of the TRA code of your machine’s tires, check a tire’s sidewall. The TRA code is usually printed there, alongside other information about the tire.

Heavy Equipment Tire Tread Patterns

In addition to a tire’s classification and tread depth, it’s also important to consider its tread pattern. While tread depth describes the depth of a tire’s tread, a tire’s tread pattern refers to the shape and orientation of its tread blocks. 

In general, there are a few features that will determine how suitable a particular tread pattern is for your application:

  • Rubber/void ratio: A tire’s rubber/void ratio is a measure of how much of a tire’s surface area is taken up by lugs or tread blocks, as opposed to voids. Tires with a higher rubber/void ratio have less traction but are less prone to cuts.
  • Lug direction: Some tires have angled lugs, which are meant to provide extra traction in the forward direction of motion.
  • Block shape: Various block shapes can impact how the tire will perform on particular surfaces, such as sand, soil, mud or gravel.

Heavy equipment tire manufacturers typically have several dozen or more tread patterns to choose from. Each manufacturer might have a different way of naming and classifying these patterns, so it’s best to work with a licensed dealer to discover the best tread pattern for your application.

Choosing the Right Tire Type and Tread Pattern

Choosing the best type of heavy equipment tire for your needs involves considering various factors, including tire types and tread patterns. Here are some steps to take when trying to choose the best tires for your application:

  1. Consider the application. Start by getting specific about the types of tasks you’ll be performing with your heavy equipment. Will you be excavating soil? Hauling debris? Digging trenches?
  2. Consider terrain and surface. Assess the primary types of surfaces your equipment will encounter and choose a tire tread pattern that matches the terrain. For example, L-3 tires are suitable for soft and muddy terrain, whereas L-5 tires may be better for smooth, hard surfaces.
  3. Determine load and weight capacity. Calculate the maximum load your equipment will carry, including any attachments. Be sure to choose tires with a load index that exceeds your equipment’s maximum load.
  4. Evaluate tread depth and pattern. Think carefully about which type of tread is best suited to your application. Deeper treads offer better traction in soft terrain, whereas shallow treads will provide more stability on hard surfaces.
  5. Seek expert advice. Check your equipment’s manual for tire recommendations and specifications. You may also reach out to tire professionals or suppliers who can provide valuable insights and recommend suitable options based on your needs. 

Heavy Equipment Tire Maintenance Tips

Once you’ve found the right tires for your heavy equipment, it’s important to take the necessary steps to maintain them. Like other components, your machine’s tires will last longer and function more efficiently when they are looked after as part of a comprehensive preventive maintenance plan.

Tires should be sprayed down and cleaned at the end of each shift. This will prevent mud and other debris from caking on the tires, preventing unnecessary wear. It’s also important to maintain your tires’ inflation level. Tires that are over- or under-inflated may wear down more quickly, increasing operating costs.

For additional tire maintenance tips, check out our guide on tire maintenance best practices.

Final Thoughts

Type and tread pattern are critical aspects to consider when purchasing a new set of tires for your heavy equipment. Choosing the right tires for your application will help them last longer, resulting in less hassle and greater cost savings for your team. 

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