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How to avoid punctures on the Gibb River Road

When the words ‘Gibb River Road’ are spoken, a lot of peoples minds turn to the thought of tyre punctures. There’s a good reason for this too; punctures are very common along the Gibb river Road, and a lot of places recommend you take two spare tyres for this exact reason.

When you have a minimum of 660km, but more likely around 1000-3000km of gravel driving, the chances of getting a puncture along the way are not unlikely.

If you are heading to the Gibb, we’ve done the ultimate free guide that covers everything from tyre pressures, where to get fuel and water, where you can camp, what its going to cost and heaps more here; The Ultimate Guide to the Kimberley.

Tyre puncture

Punctures aren’t much fun, but they are possible on the Gibb River Road

Why are the punctures so common?

The rocks in the Pilbara and the Kimberley are not anything like those that we have around Perth, or the rest of the country. They are bigger and sharper, and most of all, much more common. Its not uncommon to be driving on a road off the Gibb River (like the one to Bell gorge), that is entirely made up of rocks that are all around 50 – 100mm wide.

The road condition certainly doesn’t help, but there are a number of other reasons which improve the chances of getting a puncture, which we go into below.

Sidewall damage

Sidewall damage is usually irrepairable

Most common tyre punctures

On the Gibb River Road, it seems that a lot of the punctures are sidewall blowouts. Usually this is from a rock that gets spun up, and punctures straight through the sidewall. These are not repairable either, and whilst a heap of plugs might get you out of real strife, you should be replacing the tyre with a spare.

On the side tracks, a few people spike their tyres, but it seems to be much less common.

The other very common puncture is when people run their tyre pressures too low, or they get a small leak and don’t realise. This allows the tyre to run flatter and flatter, which makes it hotter and hotter until the sidewall of the tyre falls to bits. If you see ripples all the way around the sidewall in a failure, its likely from heat, and driving for too long/too fast for the tyre pressure.

4WD puncture at Dirk Hartog

A sidewall blow out, from driving too long at low pressures

What can you do to avoid them?

Get yourself a decent set of tyres

Possibly the most important step to avoiding tyre problems on the Gibb River road is to get yourself a decent set of tyres. If you pick up the cheapest tyres available on the market for your 4WD and camper trailer and then expect to do a 4WD track with no damage to them, you are mad.

The difference between cheap, rubbish tyres and the higher end ones is chalk and cheese. Do your research, and get something that is going to get you home with the best possible chance. This means Light truck specification, and all terrain tread, or mud terrain tread if at all possible.

4WDing Australia

Some good tyres will make the biggest difference to avoiding a puncture

Speed

You should drive to the conditions, at all times. If you can see there are big rocks on the side that are likely to flick up and damage your tyres, slow down! Excessive speed not only stresses your 4WD unnecessarily, but it reduces your reaction time and greatly improves your chances of hitting a rock you could have avoided, had you been going slower.

We’ve written the ultimate guide to gravel driving; check it out.

Corrugations and pressures

Pick the right speed for the conditions

Tyre pressures

If you are driving on gravel with road pressures, you have less traction, and a much greater chance of getting a puncture. Gravel driving should be done at around 30% less air pressure than your normal highway tyre pressures. These are pressures when your tyre is hot (measure it after you’ve been driving for over half an hour at your intended speed).

Pick the right tyre pressures

Airing down at the start of the Gibb River Road

Avoid the rocks

It might seem like common sense, but do everything you can as the driver to avoid rocks that could potentially damage your tyres. If you see a sharp rock sticking out, drive around it. If there are big rocks to the side, make sure they cant get flicked up into the sidewall of your tyre. Preventing your tyres from contacting something that can damage them is the best way to avoid problems.

One thing you might not know is that you are better to go over a rock, than clip it with the edge of your tyre. You won’t see every rock on the road. It’s just impossible. However, if you have to make a split decision as to whether its best to try and avoid a sharp looking object, or go over it, you are better off going over it. 

The tread part of your tyres is actually pretty strong, and especially when your tyres are deflated correctly it will just mould around it. If you try and avoid the rock, you risk the chances of lack of control, but also increase the chance of a puncture through your sidewall which is far more vulnerable.

Cross the creeks slowly

Some of the creek crossings off the Gibb River road are a bit harsh. Take your time crossing them, in low range, 4WD and first or second gear. The slower you hit the rocks, the less likely you are to slice your tyre open.

Pentecost River Crossing

Take your time crossing creeks and rivers

Tyre age

Rubber deteriorates as it gets older, and this is most certainly the case with 4WD tyres too. If you are running tyres that are older than 5 years, it will be significantly more likely to cause you a puncture than one that is newer. If you are running a tyre older than 7 – 10 years, you shouldn’t be on the Gibb River Road, period. These will often show signs of deterioration (cracking, hard rubber etc) but sometimes they don’t, and they’ll just let go. 

A blow out at high speed on a gravel road is a sure way to end up in a whole world of trouble, and plenty of vehicles end up on their side, or roof; its just not worth it. If you aren’t sure how to tell tyre age, we have a guide for you.

Tyre age stamp

Check the tyre age before you leave

Luck

Lastly, there’s no guarantee that with the right tyre pressures, good driving practice and quality tyres that you will get through without a puncture. We’ve done it a few times and never had an issue, but I know of those who are experienced with good gear who haven’t been so lucky.

Particularly if you are on a freshly graded road, the chances of a puncture are possible, and its something you need to be prepared for.

Gibb RIver Road

No matter how well you do it, there’s still a chance of a puncture

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