We have all heard it time after time: “You should have aired down.” Does airing down really matter? Is it something you should do all the time? When is the proper time to air down? These are all questions that an off-road enthusiast will have at one point or another.
We dive in to see what happens when you air down, different situations for when airing down can be beneficial, and to see if airing down is even needed on the trail.
Things To Consider Prior To Airing Down
Before we get too far down the deflated path, there are some things that need to be taken into consideration before any air is let out. The first thing that should be considered when thinking of airing down is how are you going to air back up. This does not count for those extreme emergency situations where anything needs to be done to get back to a safe location.
Driving on a deflated tire long enough could start to cause damage to the tire, just as if a flat tire was driven on for too long. If weeks go by without properly airing back up, improper tire wear could begin.
Aftermarket air compressors have come a long way. Many companies make kits to fit specific vehicles.
Airing up after hitting the trail could be as easy as stopping at the first gas station off the trail, using an onboard air system, or a portable air tank. For rigs that are getting trailered to and from the trail, this is something that would not need to be worried about.
When it comes time to air down, there are multiple ways to let the air out of the tires. You can use anything from a stick to an automatic tire deflator. What you use really depends on your budget.
There are many options on the market to help aid in deflating your tires – adjustable tire deflators (left) or EZ tire deflators (right).
Using a stick or key to deflate a tire can come in handy in a pinch, but it leaves you in the dark. That’s because while they will allow you to let that air out of the tire, you will have no clue on how much air you have let out.
One other thing that should be considered before airing down is the wheel and tire combination. Sidewalls on tires can vary in thickness and the amount of abuse that they can handle. Where the wheel comes into play is how low of an air pressure you can go down to. Beadlocks can allow you to drop the pressure further, as the beadlock ring will keep the bead seated.
How Low Should You Go
When it comes to figuring out the perfect tire pressure to drop to, there is no special formula or chart to go by. It all depends on your vehicle, terrain, and tires. To find the perfect tire pressure for your adventures, it will take time on the trail, playing around at different pressures.
Airing down is the perfect way to get extra traction on the trail or the rocks. When air is let out of the tire, it increases the footprint on the surface. Many off-road tires on the market are being designed with an aggressive sidewall, which does more than adding to the looks of the tire.
Don’t think pressure makes a difference? Check out this chart that shows the same vehicle and tire at different air pressures. 10 PSI may not seem like much, but check out the difference between 15 PSI and 5 PSI.
When the tire pressure is lowered, a 12.5-inch wide tire can easily turn into a 14-inch-wide tire. A larger surface contact patch allows for more tread to grip the dirt or rocks below. When it comes to tire pressure, it does more than adding to the traction of the vehicle, it can also help with the ride quality. A lower tire pressure can make a drive on a washboard road more enjoyable.
If a TPMS system is being used on the vehicle, airing down may cause a dummy light to come on for the trip. It is more of a nuisance than anything else. Fortunately, there are aftermarket programmers and tuners that can adjust the TMPS system to allow the lower pressure and keep the light off the dash.
Regardless of what pressure you run in your tires, they will see some major abuse.
Airing down is something that any off-roader should be informed about, not just the rockcrawler guys. No matter if you are on an overland expedition, traversing a muddy swamp, or in the sand dunes, if your tires hit the dirt, you should be letting some air out.
Out In The Dirt
As with anything, practice makes perfect. The best part about airing down is there is no wrong pressure. Go out to a local trail and play around on an obstacle. Start at a particular pressure, attempt the obstacle, then go back and do it again at a lower pressure.
Once you find a pressure that works, you may be surprised how much more your vehicle is capable of on the trail. If anything, it gets you off the couch and out in the great outdoors.
What tire pressure do you run off-road, and how do you air back up after the trail? Tell us in the comments below!