What does it mean to air down your tires? And is it really worth the time when a
two-hour trail ride may not intentionally involve any technical terrain?
Airing down your tires can produce some really great benefits, and it is the
easiest and most affordable suspension and performance modification you can
do to your rig to quickly achieve noticeable advantages to your off-road
Some of the benefits to airing down include:
- A more comfortable ride
- Increased traction, capability, and performance
- Minimizing tire exposure to sidewall punctures
- Less wear and tear on your suspension and vehicle
- Minimized damage to trails, since it is our responsibility to minimize impact to the natural environment
Airing down could be the difference between successfully tackling an obstacle, or
spinning your tires, sliding off an obstacle, and getting stuck.
What is the Advantage?
When you air down, you are essentially creating a larger surface area for the tire
to come in contact with the trail surface you are navigating. Increased contact
with the ground surface results in improved traction, which keep your vehicle’s
momentum propelling forward and over obstacles.
When air is released from a tire, it becomes more flexible or pliable. This gives
you a better advantage when crawling uneven terrain, larger rocks, or any
ground surface irregularities you may come across on trails. For example, picture
a fully inflated tire – it is essentially as hard as the obstacles you are trying to
crawl over. Since a fully inflated tire has no room to give, a tire can be more
easily damaged or punctured when it comes in contact with a branch or a sharp
rock. When the tire’s pressure is reduced, the tire has some room to flex, and it
will mold to or hug an obstacle to use as an advantage, rather than sliding off, or
worse bouncing off or into it and ultimately puncturing your tire.
Increasing the comfort of your ride can be achieved with just a small drop in tire
pressure. With fully inflated tires, your ride will be harsher, and you will likely feel
every rock, bump, and dip in the trail. But a tire with less air pressure absorbs
impact better, and thus smaller irregularities in the trail, such as small branches
or rocks are absorbed before the springs and struts even get a chance to do their
job. This also minimizes the likelihood of shaking cargo, like your roof top tent, or
other vehicle components loose and hopefully reduce the number of frustrating
rattles you experience. Ultimately adding a bit of flex in your tires gives your
suspension components a break because they will have to work less and absorb
Airing down also becomes helpful in situations where your vehicle may need to
float over terrain as opposed to sink; like in mud, sand, or snow and ice; and if
you are towing a trailer across sand for example, we recommend airing down the
trailer tires down too. This will help to avoid sinking your trailer tire into the sand.
Airing down is a small investment in time that produces immediate results.
Depending on your deflation process and the device you use to deflate your tires,
this process can take between five and twenty minutes. There are many
methods, tools, and systems available to deflate your tires such as single tire
deflator kits, manual tools to release tire air pressure from the valve, you could
even use a stick when in a pinch.
Our favorite method is our affordable multi-tire air system, it saves so much time
since you can air up or air down all your tires at the same time, and using this
system allows for equalization of tire pressure.
Things to Consider
When your tires are running at a lower pressure ensure to avoid high speed
driving as this can cause excessive heat to build up in a tire, which could result in
a blow out. This is a pretty simple thing to monitor. Test heat build-up by placing
your hand on the tire. If the tire feels like it is getting progressively hot ensure to
reduce your speed.
Since you are letting air out of your tires, you will also be affecting your ground
clearance, and it is possible to lose up to an inch of clearance. If you are used to
having a certain amount of ground clearance make sure you are conscious of
Also ensure that you do not reduce the tire pressure past the manufacturer’s
recommended minimum for the tire/wheel lip. If you release too much air, this
could result in popping a bead, which definitely is not something you will want to
be messing with on the trail.
We always recommend carrying a spare or riding with another rig if it is your first
time running lower tire pressure. That way you have someone else to help spot
with the new change in ground clearance or to help your recover in the event
something goes wrong.
Now the age old question, what PSI should I air down to? This going to depend
on a few things:
- The size and weight of your vehicle
- The volume of air in the tire
- Tire construction
- Wheel type, or the size of the wheel lip where the bead sits
- Bead-lock or non-beadlock
- Trail conditions
This is another personal preference and will probably take some experimentation
to see how your rig reacts with different pressures in different conditions.
FasterFlate recommends airing down in 5-10 PSI increments depending on the
severity of the terrain, testing out obstacles, and adjusting as you go.
Say your tire is rated for 35 psi on pavement -- we might suggest starting with 25-
30 psi to navigate smaller gravel roads or maintained dirt fire roads like the trails
we usually navigate round Central Florida, or perhaps 20-25 psi if you are
navigating a larger gravel or rock trail, 18-20 psi for mud and very rocky terrain,
and as low as 15 psi for soft terrain like when driving on our beaches. You may
even consider running different pressures front to rear based on the amount of
weight carried at each axle or if you are towing a trailer.
A psi lower than 15 is generally for highly technical terrain, and we would
recommend bead lock wheels with off-road rated tires. We do not recommend
going below 10 psi on a non-beadlock wheel, as this will more than likely result in
a popped bead.
Be Safe and Have a Good Time
Please always remember to check your vehicle, wheel, and tire specifications for
any manufacturer recommendations, and always remember to air up before
leaving the trails. Driving on paved roads with aired down tires below the
recommended pressure is not recommended and can cause damage to the tire
and possibly result in a tire blow out. So be sure to air back up prior to returning
to the pavement.
Be safe, have fun, and feel free to let us know what you prefer to run for your tire
Author: Jillian Infurchia | @4runnerandthebeast