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A friend has an off-road vehicle with a particular tire for muddy surfaces. When I asked him why, his answer made me wonder what are flotation tires?

If you have ever gone off-roading in a swamp or on a soft beach and gotten your vehicle buried in the muck, you know the value of getting your vehicle fitted with flotation tires. It can be a hassle trying to convince your four-wheeling buddy to come to get your off-roader out of the mud with a winch. Farmers know this problem too well because, without special tires, most of their equipment stays stuck on the back 40 acres, making it impossible for a tow truck to get there.

A flotation tire is a specially designed tire that glides over soft surfaces, like loose dirt or sand. The tires minimize the imprint of the rubber onto the soil by spreading the surface contact rather than digging in to get traction as a standard tire would.

If you haven’t considered flotation tires for your off-road vehicle or farm equipment, you should. The uniquely equipped tires can keep the soil and sand undisturbed, making the environment more enjoyable for future uses. These specially designed tires can reduce a carbon footprint and preserve parts of nature that deserve to thrive in their natural habitats.

In truth, until my friend told me about them, I never realized that special tires could make such a difference. To understand their value, I decided to research the whats and whys of these unusual tires. In consulting with the farm industry, or even weekend warriors, I learned the importance of a round piece of rubber could be under certain conditions.

Table of Contents

What Are Flotation Tires Exactly?

A flotation tire is not like a standard tire at all. While a regular car tire will have a tread designed to grip the road and provide a central traction point, a floating tire spreads the rubber over a wider surface area. (Imagine a tire with shallow internal air pressure that widens out the sidewalls to help carry the load, and you will have a good idea about what these tires are).

This tire aims to keep the heavy equipment or other farm vehicles above ground by spreading the weight distribution. A broader and more buoyant tire means less weight forced down from the tires onto the soft surface. If you have ever watched a heavy tractor lumber down the road, you’ve probably noticed the vast, massive tires). The wider the tire surface, the increase in flotation. The problem is one of fundamental physics, which allows the weight of an object to be spread evenly across a surface area. When used in farming on soil, the tire's width gives the illusion that the tractor is “floating” over the ground.

Why Are Flotation Tires Used?

Flotation tires allow farm implements to be run over fields multiple times without causing damage. Every time a farmer pulls an implement across of field, it causes the soil to be disturbed (a tractor rut or groove). When you consider that a typical farmer will need to operate equipment in a field to produce a crop (plowing, planting, distributing pesticides, watering or adding nutrients, and then harvesting), you can see the need to minimize the impact on the ground. The minor wear on the topsoil, the more nutrients the field retains, and the longer the longevity it has to produce crops for a high yield.

Flotation tires can reduce fuel costs. The lighter load on a field, the less energy is needed to move the tractor. According to the USDA, farmers spend about $12.1 billion in fuel-related expenditures every year. With the price of diesel going up, any advantage a farmer can get means more profit to the bottom line and less cost to consumers.

These unique tires help those in agricultural settings, but they also aid the weekend warriors who love the thrill of off-roading. Larger tires on jeeps use the same principle by spreading the vehicle's weight over a more significant ground surface, minimizing the vehicle's depth to sink in the muddy wetland. While flotation tires sling more water and mud up, they can help navigate the backwoods on a rainy day to get to the deer camp.

When Were Flotation Tires Invented?

While military scientists began developing a “flotation” tire for use in the sands of North Africa during WWII, they did not have much luck. Flotation tires were adequate only during certain months in Europe when roads began wet and muddy but were virtually worthless on dry pavement. The military issued “tire kits,” trying to stay ahead of soldiers' ever-changing conditions during the conflict. Ultimately, the plans were scrapped due to the lack of rubber at the time (flotation tires needed a higher amount for production).

In 1960, a tire dealer in Indiana developed a flotation tire designed to reduce tire impact on a field. He discovered that widening a tire by putting dual tires on a farm implement could reduce the downward weight force. He surmised that creating a larger tire with more surface area would accomplish the same result. Soon tire companies began to notice the demand from farmers across the nation, and these manufacturers began to fashion the bigger tires. Today, the flotation tire business accounts for a large portion of the world's farming efforts.

Do Flotation Tires Work on an ATV or Off-Road Vehicle?

The short answer is yes, you can. Over the years, technology related to flotation tires has increased dramatically, and its use applications have widened. According to reports, an estimated $14 billion was spent on off-road vehicles globally in 2020. Many ATV enthusiasts find that equipping their all-terrain vehicles with special tires is an effective way to navigate dense swamps or prone to flood areas. Any farm or tractor supply or extreme sports retailer can assist you in selecting the right tires for the conditions you encounter. The right equipment allows human beings to explore even more of our world's hidden wonders.

What Are Floatation Tires?

About The Author

Charles Redding

Charles Redding

I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.

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