Serious off-roading is as much about the capability of the tires as it is about the capability of the truck itself. While finding the right tire for the job is important, there’s also such a thing as tire pressure control. The amount of inflation that you maintain in your tires can do a great deal for the kind of grip and traction that you get on different surfaces.
Certainly, if you’ve read a little about off-roading, you do know that when you’re on a slippery surface, you want to put as much tire surface to terrain as possible, and deflating tires partially can help in this aim. An underinflated tire will spread out, much like a camel’s foot, providing plenty of surface area. It’s a move that comes with its own set of trade-offs, though. You need to know about them before you proceed.
First, make sure that your tires are up to it
While you could air down any tire for extra traction, you need to be aware that underinflating is capable of causing tire damage. Most regular tires have thin sidewalls that aren’t built with enough strength for flexing. Off-roading tires, the other hand, or built to be driven with little air. They come with extra-strong and extra-thick sidewalls that allow for a great deal of flexing. These tires also come with extra bracing against rim damage – an underinflated tire can bottom out and hit the rim, after all.
Picking the right rubber strength
Tires come in different rubber strengths from soft to hard. Very hard rubber tends to have less give, offering superior grip off the road. In the process, though, hard rubber tires often suffer breakage of tire lugs. Softer tires may not seem as capable as hard ones, but can actually withstand tearing and gouging forces far better than hard rubber. Hard rubber, in general, is good for a few off-roading purposes.
If you have hard rubber tires, it’s a good idea to switch to soft ones for offroading purposes. Hard rubber is usually fine for tarmac.
You need to think about the health of your suspension
If you need to haul heavy loads over rough terrain, you may need to inflate your tires hard — high levels of tire pressure work well for high load-bearing ability, as well as with fuel efficiency. It’s important to remember, though, that tires inflated hard tend to transmit a great deal of stress to the suspension when they go over bumps. Hard tires wear out suspensions for more quickly than tires inflated to regular or low pressures.
Keep these tire pressure tips in mind when off-roading
If you drive a truck, the level of inflation that you give the tires is something you need to think of prior to each drive.
- If you plan to take a long highway trip, over-inflating your tires by 4 psi can help with both ride quality and fuel efficiency. Nevertheless, it’s important to never exceed maximum tire pressure ratings.
- If you plan to tow a heavy load, raising tire pressure by 8 psi makes sense.
- If you drive a truck like the Ram 1500 in Canada in winter, lowering tire pressure by 4 psi can help with traction in icy conditions.
- Low pressures are also good for sand, rock and corrugations and mud. It can actually damage your suspension to use high-pressures.
Finally, it’s important to remember that there is a great deal of stress to the tires at lower tire pressures. It’s important to slow down. Lowering tire pressure by 40%, for instance requires that speeds be no greater than 25 mph. It takes a great experience to grasp how to manage tire pressures when offloading. Until then, it’s important to keep watching, absorbing and learning.
Matthew Schneider grew up wanting to be Indiana Jones but alas, a job in the adventure travel industry had to suffice! When he’s not in the outback or halfway up a mountain he has taken to blogging. You can see his articles on a range of travel blogs where he shares his passions.