Off-roading can be kind of dangerous for so many reasons. There are a lot of ways that off-roaders can mitigate this, although it sometimes feel like one thing in particular gets the most attention from outsiders, possibly because it goes against everything most people know about tire maintenance.
When driving on sand, airing down a car’s tires gives the car a lot more traction. This makes off-roading on beaches or in dunes much safer. Of course, this is no replacement for careful driving, and even on sand, there are some risks to airing down.
It’s useful information to know, especially if you plan to go off-roading in a sand area sometime soon. Even though there are risks involved in airing down your tires, the advantages that come with it are worth it in certain environments, especially if you take the necessary precautions.
How Does Airing Down Tires Help?
The primary purpose of airing down tires when off-roading is to increase traction. When tires aren’t fully filled with air, more of their surface area comes in contact with the ground. With a higher surface area touching the ground traction naturally increases.
Why is having extra traction important? The thing that it really does to help you drive off-road is prevent the car from getting stuck.
On sand, this is especially important, as getting stuck on sand is a place that can be pretty difficult to get out of. Even on rocks, this can be a problem, but rocks present other problems for off-roaders that also make airing down more dangerous.
When to Air Down Your Tires
While airing down your tires on sand is always a good idea, there are a few ways you should modify your vehicle before you attempt to use it in this way.
Airing down your tires increases the chance of the tires coming loose and spinning independently of the thread. If the happens it can make it hard to brake or steer.
In order to solve this problem, you should put beadlocks on your tires before you go offroading.
There’s a rumor that beadlocks are dangerous to drive with and that they’re illegal, but that isn’t actually true. Beadlocks are only dangerous if you put them on wrong, so as long as you put them on right you’ll be fine.
You can also air down your tires whenever your vehicle is stuck. This will give your tires more traction and help you get out of whatever hole you’ve gotten yourself into.
How Much Should You Air Your Tires Down?
It all depends on where you’re going. With beadlocks, you can air down pretty far and still be safe, but you probably don’t ever want to go under 50%.
On the sand, 50% is actually exactly where you want to be. The loose ground can be a struggle to get through without proper traction, so surfaces like sand and mud require larger contact patches to be driven on safely.
For rock climbing, you should probably go down to 35%. Any lower could risk you blowing out a tire, although the rocks are easier to go over if your tires can mold to the surface a little bit.
For anywhere else 25% should be just fine. If you’re just driving over dirt there isn’t really much reason to go further down than that.
Of course, if you’re on the road your tires should be exactly 0% down. When you’re done off-roading you should always refill your tires back to their usual place.
I’m just gonna say this upfront, the downsides are worth it most of the time if you’re off-road. Having that extra traction makes things a lot safer for both you and the vehicle.
However, these are all important reasons that you shouldn’t air down your tires on the road or in other unnecessary situations.
The biggest downside is that it decreases the lifespan of your tires. The increased surface area that comes from airing down is a double-edged sword, as more tires touching the ground also means more wear and tear on the tire as a whole.
We’ve already talked about the very real danger of blowing out a tire while they’re aired down. It can happen, especially if you aren’t using properly applied beadlocks.
If you care about fuel economy or speed, then you should be careful about airing down your tires. Tires that aren’t full can decrease both of those things, meaning that you’ll be using more fuel to go slower.
Ironically, airing down your tires can even make steering more difficult. All that extra traction is great for getting out of tough spots, but not for making tight turns.
But you probably wouldn’t want to go very fast off-road anyways. It definitely seems like none of this would be as much of a problem if you were going over sand and liable to get stuck if your tires are too full.
What Tires Are Best For Off-road?
The best off-road tires are probably the Toyo A/T2 Off-road tires. They work both on-road and off, which is a big plus. They’re especially good on the Jeep if that’s your vehicle of choice.
What really sets them apart is their long-lasting treads. Considering the uses they will likely come to this is pretty important. When you’re off-road and you need traction badly enough that you’ll deflate your own tires treads are important.
It works well enough on other cars as well though, so it should definitely be one set that you’re thinking about when deciding which tires to buy.
For sand specifically, the Interco Super Swamper TSL/Bogger tire is probably your best bet. The Super Swamper is designed for loose fluid-like environments like mud and sand, and as such it puts a lot of work into getting as much traction as possible.
They are also street legal, which many off-road tires are not. This means that you don’t need to change tires every time you switch between on-road and off.
When it comes to budget options the Federal Couragia is probably the best one. Most off-road tires will set you back over two hundred dollars, but the Federal Couragia is only about a hundred and they still have high quality.
Obviously, they aren’t quite as good as their more expensive counterparts, but at least you won’t be sacrificing safety by using ordinary road tires.
Where to Buy Off-roading Tires
Tire stores come to mind, but you can also pick up off-roading tires direct from the manufacturer on a lot of company websites.
When it comes to dedicated off-roading tire websites there are a couple of big websites that pay Google to skip to the top of the list.
Tire Rack.com offers free shipping and has a pretty good number of options.
It’s also the only online tire store that will actually send you the tires that you buy instead of just having you go to the nearest tire dealer. In my mind, that automatically makes it better than all the others.
The one place you shouldn’t try to get off-roading tires is used. You want your tires new since old tires have a much higher chance of blowing out or sustaining some other kind of catastrophic damage.
Because of this no matter how much money you save buying them off of a buddy who’s done with them you should probably just get new ones and save the money on healthcare instead.
Other Safety Tips For Off-roading
Off-roading is dangerous! It’s important that before you go out there you have a little bit of useful knowledge to help you keep safe.
Always Bring Friends
Everything is safer when you have friends with you. Whether they are just your bait for a grizzly bear or helping pull your ride out of a pit, having a small group is pretty much always going to make your travels a lot less likely to end in disaster.
Always Prepare For Recovery
I know you think that you’re never going to drive your car into a death pit. I know you think that. Here’s the thing: You will, and when you do you’ll be glad that you brought some kinetic rope so that your buddy with the pickup truck can pull you out.
Winches, rope, the like, are all worth having with you at all times off-road, if nothing else then to mitigate the risks of driving around on sand.
Always Prepare For Injury
In much the same way that your car is not invincible, you are also not invincible. If you crash, you can seriously hurt yourself, and when you do you’ll want to have things like a first aid kit, emergency flares, and lots of water easily on hand. Even if you don’t plan to stay on the trail overnight, you should be prepared for that eventuality.
You never know what could happen out there, and so you should prepare for everything that you can.
Always Prepare For The Weather
The weather is more powerful than you are. Go try and fight a cloud, I promise that you will lose. Before you go aff-roading, make sure you know that it isn’t going to be raining or snowing or whatever. Rocks are dangerous enough to drive on when they’re dry, if they’re wet they could suddenly become deathtraps.