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Does tyre deflation increase the chance of sidewall punctures?

When it comes to tyre deflation, its pretty well accepted that its the right thing to do when heading off road. Today though, we’re talking sidewall punctures, and whether tyre deflation increases the chance of a puncture or not. Are you someone who lets your tyres down on a gravel road, or do you leave them alone regardless?

If I’ve already lost you, my apologies. When you head to a gravel road for an extended period, do you stop and reduce the air pressure in your tyres, or just drive at full, normal road pressures and not change a thing?

Dmax tyres and wheels

Does deflating your tyres lead to a higher chance of a sidewall puncture?

I’ve always made a habit of reducing air out if at least one of the below applies:

We’re on the road for more than half an hour

The road is corrugated and uncomfortable for me, any passengers or the vehicle

There are rocks that are likely to cause a puncture

Recently though, I’ve had more than a handful of people tell me that they don’t deflate their tyres at all on gravel roads, ever, because it increases your chance of a sidewall puncture, and you know what? They are partially right.

The reason they are partially right is that when you deflate air out, the tyres bulge more, and you expose more of the sidewall. If you happen to clip the edge of a sharp rock, it can theoretically cut your sidewall, or cause a puncture more easily.

Sidewall damage

Lower pressures absolutely expose more sidewall

I don’t disagree with this, but I do question how often this would happen, compared to the huge array of benefits of running lower tyre pressures in the first place:

Substantially reduced chance of a puncture through the tread

Improved ride comfort for those in the vehicle

Reduction of mechanical force applied to the 4WD, which in turn reduces wear and tear

Reduced damage to the track, in helping to smooth corrugations rather than make them worse.

I wrote a post a while back about bumping into two blokes on the Gibb River Road, who’d suffered more damage than I have ever seen on fairly stock vehicles, and when we got chatting, they said to me ‘we were told not to let them down as it increases the chance of a sidewall puncture’.

Well yeah, it might do, but had their tyres been let down they’d have a lot less damage done to their vehicles, and for the (in my opinion) very small increased chance of a sidewall puncture, I’d do it every day of the week.

Interestingly, I’ve never had a sidewall puncture. I’ve had a couple of punctures through the main tread and had a tyre blowout on our camper (which I suspect was from a failed valve stem overheating it), but never suffered a sidewall puncture, and we’ve done a huge number of 4WD tracks all over the country.

Dmax puncture in our Bridgestones

We’ve yet to get a sidewall puncture, but we’ve had a few through the tread

I wonder if this advice stems from old tyre technology, when punctures were more common due to lesser quality/technologically advanced tyres being used? Most 4WD tyres that you buy today do a seriously good job of avoiding punctures altogether, and I don’t agree with leaving your tyres at full pressure on gravel roads.

Despite this, I still hear people saying that you shouldn’t let air out of your tyres on gravel roads, because it increases the chance of a puncture. What do you reckon? What do you do?

Gravel roads in the Pilbara

Do you let your tyres down on gravel roads?

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4 comments… add one
  • Brian Miller January 18, 2023, 7:06 PM

    Hi Aaron,

    I reckon you’re right with the old tyre tech… I’ve also heard that with the older tubes tires that letting your pressures down caused blowouts because the tube flexing and over heating.
    But I’m with you on pressures. Drive to the conditions and more often than not you’ll be alright.
    Cheers,

    Brian

  • Mark January 19, 2023, 12:47 PM

    Hi Aaron & HNY to you & the Fam!
    Love reading your blog & FB posts. We’ve done the Gibb twice in our old trusty Challenger in the past 3 years & always drop our tyre pressures down from road pressure [38 -40 psi +/-] to 25 – 28 psi & it makes a huge difference to the corrugations & handling of the car. Also adjust the speed & drive to the conditions 😉
    A good mate of mine who used to run outback tour buses said that tyres are cheaper to replace than the suspension components & it’s more pleasant for the occupants too. Same for sand driving & I always air down to 16 psi as a starting point.
    Keep up the good work…

  • Aaron Schubert January 19, 2023, 6:01 PM

    Hey Brian,

    Interesting about the tubes; I’ve never run them and have zero experience, but that makes perfect sense.

    Drive to the conditions always gets interpreted differently, but yep, fully agree

    All the best
    Aaron

  • Aaron Schubert January 19, 2023, 6:03 PM

    Hey Mark,

    Thanks for your kind words, and yep, letting a bit of air down is certainly the way to go. I’ve seen some slow motion footage of corrugations on a 4WD, and its nothing short of brutal; anything you can do to reduce the shaking being passed through everything else in your vehicle is a good thing!

    All the best
    Aaron

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