If you go off-road often, you probably know that deflating your tires is usually a must. However, you may have to deflate to different levels for different terrains. Here’s what you need to know!
You will need to lower your tire pressure to different levels for different terrains. It is advisable to reduce psi by 25% for uneven roads, trailheads, washboard, and comparable obstacles, 35% for rock crawling, and 50% for sand or mud. Take good equipment so you can air back up afterward.
Different terrains have different requirements and safety tips. Read on to learn how to deflate safely!
Trailheads and Washboard
First of all, why air down tires at all? Usually, this is not a good thing. Airing down tires too much creates the risk of damaging your wheels, puncturing your tires, or having them fall off the vehicle altogether. All these scenarios are less than desirable! However, if you are going off-road, airing down your tires is usually a must. Off-road means there is no pavement, less traction, and occasionally large, sometimes sharp objects. Lowering your tire pressure means your tires become less hard and more flexible. When they are somewhat deflated, they will glide over rough terrain rather than bounce off of it. You might still run the risk of losing a tire or two, but if you have bead lock tires this should not be a problem.
As mentioned above, different terrains require different levels of deflation. For trailheads, mild obstacles, washboard terrain, and uneven roads deflate your tires by about 25% psi (pressure per square inch). Washboard roads occur when a large number of vehicles drive over a stretch of dirt road multiple times, creating ripples in the dirt (kind of like the ripples you might see in the shallows of a lakebed). It hardens and creates an annoying, teeth-rattling drive, almost like driving over a never-ending rumble strip. Not fun! It might only be irritating at first, but if driven on at a high speed, it can become dangerous. Driving rapidly over a washboard road does minimize the vibrating, but it also minimizes the amount of contact your vehicle has with the road which is rarely good for the car.
Trailheads and uneven roads pose the same problem. They are often riddled with large holes and dips which can be nearly as uncomfortable as driving over washboard terrain. You do not want to drive fast over any of these terrains, as you run the risk of losing control and even possibly flipping your vehicle. Going too fast and not taking proper care is not only uncomfortable on the drive, but it can also damage your vehicle. Going up and down too fast will strain your suspension as well as overheat and put extra strain on the shocks. Deflate your tires by about 25% for any of these types of landscapes. It will give you more traction and actually improve your vehicle’s control and handling capacity. it will help reduce skidding and sliding and make your drive a lot more comfortable than it would be otherwise.
Rock crawling can be much trickier than driving over washboard roads. Your elevation tends to be higher, your vehicle needs to handle better, and, obviously, it can be a lot more dangerous. Rock crawling requires precision and a good skill set. Going fast is not even a slight option; going too fast means you could capsize or roll your car which could prove to be deadly. Additionally, you have to make sure your tires are adequately deflated so they don’t pop unexpectedly. Reducing your psi by 35% is a pretty good rule for going rock crawling. It will give your tires added flexibility and the ability to mold and climb over large and sharp rocks. It will also give your car the necessary traction to make it over slick areas since it has a wider grip patch.
Accidents can happen everywhere, but rock crawling accidents can be incredibly serious. If your vehicle flips, crashes, overheats, or breaks down, panicking is the last thing you want to do. It may be hours or even days before a rescue team could reach you so before setting out, you should adequately prepare for any of these scenarios. Here are a few things you can do to be prepared for the worst.
Be adequately prepared. A breakdown can occur for a multiplicity of reasons, including but not limited to, low fuel, an overheated engine, or something that is not as easy to identify. In the event of a breakdown, any necessary rescue may not occur for hours or even days, so make sure you have brought plenty of food, water, flashlights, protective gear, and extra fuel with you. Extra fuel must be transported carefully, however. A bad wreck with a car full of gasoline could potentially cause an explosion, and not many people are likely to survive that. A first-aid kit is a must, obviously, and bringing a tarp or tent along with you is never a bad idea. It could take you a trip or two to get everything out of the car, but it would be a small price to pay for warmth and shelter.
Be calm and collected no matter what. A car crash, especially out in the wilderness with no one around, is traumatizing. However, the best thing you can do if your car flips over or gets stuck is to take a few deep breaths and analyze the best way out of your car. First and foremost, make sure you aren’t attempting an off-road excursion by yourself. If you have rolled your car and don’t know how to escape, the best thing is to have a friend to help guide you out of danger (also called a spotter). Don’t immediately try to escape your car. If you move too quickly, you could shift the car’s center of gravity which might make the situation worse. Carefully maneuver your way out of the vehicle, and immediately see to any injuries that might’ve been sustained. Call for help if possible.
Off-Roading in Sand and Mud
It is harder to roll your vehicle in sand or mud, but, it is just as possible to get maddeningly stuck. Because both sand and mud shift and move, your car will require twice the amount of traction that a vehicle driving on washboard roads or rock crawling will need. Lowering your psi by 50% should ensure a safe, non-frustrating journey through the swamps or the dunes. This does, however, put you at greater risk of losing or damaging your tires greatly along the way because of how deflated they’ll be. If you go off-roading on soft terrain often, you might consider investing in bead lock wheels. These are not great for road driving, but if you’re off-road they’ll give you a handy advantage. Bead lock wheels keep the tire from leaking additional air, plus they keep your tire from falling off your car completely.
When driving up a dune you don’t want to be all over the place. Driving straight up and straight down the other side will lessen the probability of you getting immovably stuck. If you find yourself needing to go back the way you came, don’t turn around. Instead, shift to reverse and drive straight backward. Another good safety tip is to have a sand flag with you at all times. There are plenty of blind spots between dunes, so if there are other off-roaders nearby, fit a brightly colored flag to your bumper. This will ensure that you will be seen even in tricky areas.
It is also a good idea to carry traction aids and shovels. You cannot go driving in the sand without expecting to get stuck at least a couple of times. After digging your wheels out as best you can, fit your traction aids snugly against the tires and slowly accelerate until you are no longer stuck. Chances are, you are going to have a very frustrating day if you forget either of those things. After your day of fun is done, take your car home for a much-needed and well-deserved cleaning. Failure to do so may not be costly at first, but over time sand will erode your car’s parts and that could prove to be far more expensive in the future.
You ought to follow a similar set of rules when driving in mud, one of the only differences being you sometimes need to accelerate a bit more than you would when driving in sand. Mud is an ever-changing terrain. It can get wetter or drier over time (depending on where you’re mudding) and that often means that lots of things might be hiding in it. If possible, watch someone else go through the mudhole first. If they wobble and shake a lot, there’s a good chance that deep ruts or rocks and logs are buried underneath the muck. If they go through fairly smoothly, you should be clear to proceed at a higher speed. Unlike sand or rock crawling, going slow through mud is one of the easiest ways to guarantee getting stuck.