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When, Where, and How to Air Down Your Tires

The air pressure used in tires has a dramatic impact on their performance. For most high-speed street applications high pressure is required. However, slow off-road use can greatly benefit from lower pressure. We air down tires a lot so in this article, we focus on when and why you might want to air down your tires and how to do it without causing damage. Keep reading if you’re new to off-roading as this information can improve your driving experience.

Airing Down Your Tires - Why, When, How

What Does It Mean to Air Down?

Airing down tires means you reduce the pressure in them. This creates a larger surface area for the tire, increasing the amount of traction between it and the terrain. Airing down also makes for a smoother driving experience and can prevent a vehicle from getting stuck due to a lack of traction.

However, you should never air down tires when driving on pavement. This can create a tremendous amount of heat for the tires and potentially cause a blowout or even fire. Once you finish off-roading, you should air your tires back up to avoid any issues or damage.

➡ When it’s time to air up your tires, you’ll need a reliable air compressor. Check out our recommendations: 7 Best Off-Road Air Compressors for Overland, Trucks, and Jeeps

air down tires
Any time we are off-road for any significant distance we lower the pressure of our tires.

What Is Used to Air Down Tires?

You can use a variety of tools to air down tires. All you need to do is press in on the valve stem on your tire, and you’ll feel it shoot out the air.

You can use a variety of objects to let the air out until it’s at the desired pressure. While using your fingernail or other sharp objects may be tempting, you can easily injure yourself or damage the stem or valve. It can work in a pinch, but we don’t recommend making a habit of it.

Alien Sunshade Alien Tire Deflator (0-75 PSI) Off...
  • QUICK & ACCURATE TIRE DEFLATOR KIT- our offroad tire inflator...
  • TOUGH & RUGGED - our air down kit features corrosion resistant...

There are tire deflator kits specifically designed for deflating tires quickly. You can even purchase automatic tire deflators that will stop once they reach a pre-set pressure for your tires. These tools allow you to avoid letting too much air out and reduce the time it takes as you won’t be checking the pressure unnecessarily.

The Australian Original Tyre Deflator, Also Known...
  • FAST: Accurately air down all four tires from street pressures to...
  • AUTOMATIC: Apply one deflator onto each tire stem and Staun...
  • ADJUSTABLE: Airdown from street pressures to between 6 and 30 PSI...

Pro Tip: We found the 6 Best Tire Deflator Tools for Airing Down Off Road With Ease.

Off-road tire covered in mud
Airing down tires can increase traction on soft terrain.

What Is the Fastest Way to Deflate a Tire?

The fastest way to deflate a tire is to remove the valve stem core. This drastically increases the amount of air that can exit your tires. Instead of taking seven to ten minutes, you can achieve the intended results in much less time.

This will require you to have a specifically designed tool to remove the core, and you’ll need to be careful not to lose it during the process. Keep an eye on the pressure as you’re releasing it. If you lose too much air, you’ll need to add more to bring it up to the correct level.

Troubles With Mud On Our First Overland Adventure In Utah - Truck Camper Adventures Episode 2

When and Where Should You Air Down Tires?

Anytime you plan to take your vehicle onto rough dirt roads, loose terrain, or soft conditions like mud or sand, you’ll likely want to air down your tires. You’ll get a smoother driving experience, reducing the chances of getting stuck. Keep in mind that you will need to drive slower with low air pressure.

If you want to avoid getting yourself into a situation, be proactive and air down your tires before you start noticing the conditions. While airing them down can help get you unstuck, it’s best to avoid the entire mess in the first place.

It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it. We personally air down anytime we are going to be on dirt for more than a few miles.

Truck off-roading in sand
Airing down your tires can help you get traction if you’re stuck in the sand.

Should You Air Down Tires for Sand? 

If you’re planning to be on sand, you should air down your tires to 50% of the maximum PSI. Sand, mud, and other soft surfaces can cause your vehicle to sink. Reducing the tire pressure creates a broader base for your tires and spreads out the weight. 

If it’s too late and you’re stuck, letting air out of your tires can also help get you out of a muddy or sandy mess. Before spinning your tires, which won’t help, reduce the air. You may be able to get enough traction to get yourself out.

In addition to PSI, your tire type makes a huge difference in how well your vehicle handles off-road terrains like mud. Find out: Should I Put Mud Tires on My Truck?

Does Airing Down Tires Help on Ice?

While some drivers claim that airing down tires helps on ice, it can be very dangerous. Reducing the air pressure in your tires creates a wider footprint for your tires. However, driving your tires on the highway with low tire pressure can make steering difficult. The sidewalls will flex, and the increased friction between the tires and the road will quickly ruin the tires.

It’s best to ensure you have the correct tires for driving or off-roading in icy conditions or wait until conditions improve before driving.

Morton's overland truck camper off-roading
20 psi is recommended as a starting point for off-roading.

What PSI Should Tires Be When Off-Roading? 

While airing down tires can help when off-roading or overlanding, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule. Unless you have beadlock wheels, you should never attempt to go below 10 psi. This can cause the tire to come off the wheel, damaging both.

Most off-roading enthusiasts recommend airing down your tires to approximately 20 psi at first and working your way down if needed.

You’ll need to consider the weight of your vehicle, the size of your tires, the tire diameter, and the terrain where you’re driving. It can take some practice to adjust and learn what works for your specific setup and the terrain.

Many off-road tire manufacturers will even provide tire pressure charts that include weight, tire pressure, and max speed.

tire air down chart
This is an example of an off-road tire pressure weight chart. It’s important to find your specific tire chart if you are going to be heavy. Our overland camper can run the full load down to 32 PSI but only at 12MPH max.

How Fast Can You Drive on Aired Down Tires?

Anytime you air down your tires, you want to avoid driving at excessive speeds, especially if you need to turn corners. The increased pressure in your tires will result in less steering. If you dip below 20 psi, you’ll likely want to keep your speeds under 20 mph. However, once you hit the pavement, you need to air your tires back up.

Driving on paved roads with lower tire pressure can quickly ruin your tires. If you’ve bought off-roading tires, you know they’re not cheap and not something you want to replace any sooner than necessary.

Pro Tip: If you’re having tire troubles, use this guide on How to Plug a Tire the Easy Way and Get Back on the Road Fast.

Off-road tires
Make sure you air up your tires before driving on pavement.

Where will your off-roading adventures take you? We’ve got the scoop on some of the best trails across the country. Take a look: What Is the Best State for Overlanding?

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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