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  • Off Road Traction : Tire Air Pressure & Airing Down

    Four wheeling with your tires at highway air pressure results in extremely poor traction off road. This was one of the first lessons I learned 10 years ago on my first off road adventures. A fellow 4WD driver took the time to explain the advantages of reducing air pressure for increased traction.

    The basic concept is that as tire pressure is decreased it allows the tire to flex more; as the tire sidewall flexes it increases the tread contact surface area. The tread on the tire will wrap around rocks and terrain to grab a hold and give the vehicle traction.

    Increased traction off road enables the driver to finesse over obstacles rather than using speed or spinning the tires. The increased control keeps the vehicle moving forward in the proper direction. This will help limit the possibility of damaging your vehicle or breaking parts.

    How much air is enough? In most cases, less is more; meaning that it's best to run with the lowest pressure possible. When airing down your tires wait until you see the tire sidewall start bulging out while sitting on level ground. This will be a good pressure to start with; target range is 6-15 psi. Then test it and air down further as needed. Different conditions will call for different tire pressures. In snow and sand you'll want to run extremely low tire pressures often sub 10psi; this will give you maximum "flotation". For rocks and trail driving I often prefer running a bit higher tire pressure to keep maximum ground clearance. Of course, it just depends on your vehicle setup. For those running 33" tires or smaller you need to consider your ground clearance as you reduce the tire pressure. I've found that 20-25psi is good for all around trail driving for my truck. Every tire and truck reacts differently at the same tire pressure so you'll want to do your own testing to determine the best tire pressure for your rig in different conditions.

    Some tires with thick sidewall construction will need less air pressure than tires with thin sidewalls. For instance, Super Swamper TSL or Bogger tires (thick sidewalls) may perform best at 6-8 psi; while a BFGoodrich AT (thinner sidwall) may perform well with 12-15 psi.

    Will too little air pressure be an issue? Yes, it certainly can be. The primary concern is that the tire may come off the rim if the pressure gets too low. This generally happens when a rock or stump pushes the tire sidewall away from the rim. You've probably seen the Extreme Off Road Vehicles with beadlock wheels. The beadlock wheels bolt the lip of the tire to the rim keeping it from coming off the rim at low tire pressure. In most cases beadlock rims are not necessary. I've had my tire come off the rim once in 10 years of 4wheeling. Just exercise a bit of caution.

    Quick note: Be sure you or someone with you has an air compressor and carry a spare tire. Sometimes the unexpected happens and having the proper recover equipment is essential.

    Click on the forum link below to share the tire pressure that works well for your tires.

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. KILRB's Avatar
      KILRB -
      Great info!!!
    1. Ganoid's Avatar
      Ganoid -
      who's the dork in the red truck with their tire wadded up on the rock?
    1. dropzone's Avatar
      dropzone -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ganoid View Post
      who's the dork in the red truck with their tire wadded up on the rock?
      that Dork seems to have a habit of that

      Glad you found it..
      Did you ever put in a bigger power steering cooler?
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