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Tire Pressure: When Airing Down Really Makes The Difference

One of the perks of living in Southern Utah, other than the gorgeous landscape is being able to do as much off-roading as we like. This part of the country is home to hundreds of trails and we at Dixie 4 Wheel love organizing group trail rides. After all, off-roading is always more fun when you’re part of a group of avid off-roaders.

During these trail riding or one of our off-roading training events, people always come up to us asking for tips on how to improve their performance. They often expect us to tell them to get some upgrades or some new modification to really power up their 4X4s. While these will definitely work, one simple trick we often point out - that’s often overlooked- is airing down tires.

Successful four wheeling in most off-road conditions counts on how much traction your tires have and airing down can greatly improve the odds of negotiating rough terrain. Whether you want to ride down a muddy field, crawl over boulders or traverse the vast Sand Hollow State Park, shredding as many dunes as you can, modifying your tire pressure to suit the trail conditions makes a world of difference.

Why Airing Down Matters

Why is airing down so important you ask? Simply because it’s a perfect way to get extra traction from your tires. Running the correct psi (pounds per square inch) of air in the tires to suit particular terrain is crucial if you want to make headway while avoiding damage to your vehicle or the environment.

Lowering your tire pressure makes the treads expand, increasing their footprint on the ground and providing better grip. The bigger the surface area of your tires, the more contact they have with the ground, rocks or whatever surface you’re driving on and the better traction you’ll get. That extra traction is crucial if you want to make it over obstacles, float on sand or avoid sinking in mud.

Another advantage of letting some air out of your tires is improved ride quality. It takes the sting out of riding on rough, washboard roads, making it easy for your vehicle. Also, you won’t be jarred and jostled about as much- so it’s a win-win!

Finally, airing down helps you tread lightly. Enhancing traction also reduces the chances of wheel-spinning which goes on to reduce erosion on the trails so it protects the environment.

What to Consider Prior to Airing Down

Before letting some air out of your tires, you need to take some things into consideration.

  • How you’re going to let the air out.

When you’re in a tight spot, a small stick or the awl of your pocket knife can work in a pinch, helping you poke at the valve core and deflating the tires. However, there are more efficient methods of getting the job done namely, tire deflators. A tire deflator allows you to air down quickly and several come with a gauge to help you monitor how much air you’ve let out. This way you can reach the desired psi more precisely. There are also automatic tire deflators that deflate tires to a set pressure.

  • How you’re going to air back up.

Letting out air is one thing, airing back up is another. Driving for extended periods on deflated tires could damage them, leading to uneven or improper wear. Additionally, it’s not safe or recommended to drive on deflated tires on a highway as chances of losing a bead are high. To air up you can either stop at the first gas station off the trail, get a built-in compressor installed on your rig or carry a portable air compressor. There are several aftermarket air compressors to choose from and many companies even make compressor kits to suit different vehicles.

  • Your tire and wheel combination.

Tires are not all equal. Some have thicker treads and sidewalls than others and different tires can withstand different levels of abuse on the trail. So ensure you know how much airing down yours can withstand. You also need to consider your wheels. Airing down sometimes causes the tire to separate from the wheel unless you have beadlocks on to keep the bead seated.

  • The weight of your vehicle

You should also take your ride’s weight into consideration. Increased vehicle weight (e.g. like a heavily loaded SUV or a heavy full-size truck) might not allow you to go below a certain psi.

How Low Should You Go

Now that you know the advantages of airing down, the question then becomes how low should you go? There’s no definite formula or magic number as it depends on your vehicle’s tires, the terrain you’re on as well as the kind of vehicle you’re driving.

Take your time to experiment with different psi, letting a little air out at a time, seeing if you can comfortably tackle obstacles then adjust from there to see what works best. Once you learn your ideal psi range, you’ll be able to air down quickly and get close to that psi for maximum traction on the trail. Remember, your ideal psi for mud might not work on sand or rocks.

Keep This in Mind

A few things to remember as you deflate your tires:

  1. Always travel at reduced speeds if you have aired down your tires. Aired down tires have different reaction time and might affect your braking. Take this into consideration especially if going over loose surfaces or taking corners.

  2. Always air your tires back up if you’re going on a highway. For increased safety and efficiency, always ensure you air back up before driving on pavement. The combination of increased tire temperatures from deflated tires coupled with increased chances of losing a bead can be disastrous.

So the next time you’re looking to increase your performance by gaining some traction on the trail or you simply want to have a smoother more comfortable ride on a rough surface, try airing down your tires. The difference will surprise you.

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