Hey guys, we are adding something new... we'll be taking a look at tips, tricks and gear amongst other things to add to your Jeeping experience. We're going to begin with something pretty basic and yet often overlooked and many times not well prepared for.
Airing down. We air down to add comfort to our ride, aid traction and protect our tires as well as the trail. Airing down reduces the internal pressure of the tire creating a softer ride which you will appreciate on rutted or rocky trails. Comfort alone is a great reason to air down but there are other benefits as well... as the tire pressure is lowered the tire softens and it's able to conform to the shape of terrain and the footprint of the tire is widened which increases traction helping your vehicle to climb obstacles, navigate rock gardens and make it through sandy or soft terrain. Something that's often overlooked is that airing down helps with trail conservation - imagine you're going up a hill with your tire at full pressure and your tire slips three or four times going up that hill… you're basically moving three or four shovelfuls of dirt going up that hill, now multiply that by the amount of Jeeps in your group. If you have 10 Jeeps in your group you basically moved 30 to 40 shovelfuls of dirt going up that hill. Can you see now how airing down helps to preserve the trail?
There are many different ways to air down. Some people use specific airing down tools whereas others use a key or the pressure release on an air gauge. Let's talk about some of the more common tools that are available.
Pictured above is a Coyote brand preset automatic air down tool - it's preset to the desired pressure, and as soon as you thread it onto the valve stem it begins to release air until the pressure is reached and the internal spring forces it closed. Below you see a picture of a tire being aired down with a valve stem removal tool with gauge made by ARB. This tool threads over the valve stem allowing you to remove the core inside the tool and the air is released and monitored by the gauge.
When the desired pressure is reached you can stop the release of air and use the tool to thread the core back into the valve stem. When you're looking to buy one of these tools there are many reputable brands including Staun, Coyote, ARB and Smittybilt - if the price is too good to be true it probably is. Remember the old adage "buy once cry once". Ask other Jeepers what they use, what their experience has been and what they like and don't like about the various tools they've seen or used.
One new deflating device that seems to be rather new is this preset device that's actually marked and easily adjustable to your preset pressure. The owner of these JT Brooks tire deflators claims that whatever he sets them to, his TPMS shows them to consistently extremely accurate!
Well, one thing about airing down... sooner or later you're going to need to bring your tires back up to highway pressure. Running your tires at high speeds with low pressure increases the friction and in turn causes the build up of heat in the tire. This heat buildup can eventually cause separation and damage to the side walls, or even cause a blowout - so you definitely want to air up as soon as you hit the highway. This leads us to different ways to inflate your tire to highway pressure. The most common method is to use a compressor.
Let me tell you, for beginners this can be one of the most perplexing equipment issues they run into, because there are so many tire inflators on the market seemingly available everywhere and yet most of them are nowhere near suitable for off-road use. Most compressors/tire inflators that you find at your local auto parts store, Walmart, Target or on Amazon are designed to add air to one tire but not to fully inflate four tires in a row. Most of these common compressors aren't designed to run for very long and don't really put out much air - their real purpose is to add a few pounds to a low tire or possibly inflate one flat.
Pictured above is a compressor by All Top, similar compressors are available from Smittybilt, Viair and Air Champ among others... the most important feature they all have in common is that they have an output of 5 cubic feet per minute or more. Realistically any compressor with a lower output than this will be incredibly slow to inflate your tires and probably have a limited lifetime.
A good rule of thumb if you're looking for a budget compressor is if it has a cigarette lighter adapter it's probably not powerful enough for what you need - at least get something that requires alligator clips that attach to your battery, these are the more powerful versions.
This little red compressor is available on Amazon and a few auto parts stores, it's a lower priced compressor which is less powerful than those I've mentioned but will actually be fine for tires up to 31 inches and in fact I've actually inflated my own 33s and 35s as well with it, it'll be a little slow but it's designed to run for up to 45 minutes continuously so it can handle inflating a set of tires easily without damaging or overheating it (just be sure to get the red version).
Another great option for airing back up is utilizing a CO2 bottle. This method is extremely fast and convenient on the trail - it does however require taking the time and pre-planning to be sure your bottle is pre-filled regularly. The bottle pictured here is a Smittybilt but you can also get one by Power Tank and a few other manufacturers. As with any equipment it's important to buy from reputable manufacturers, particularly when purchasing any compressed air bottle system.
Just like anything in the Jeep world you'll find that the options are as limitless as the imagination and budget. Did I say budget!? Permanently mounted compressors with plumbing that routes air to the tires are a popular option but most definitely a more advanced project requiring appropriate skills, planning and of course a budget. Systems can be built or even purchased to actually air down and reinflate your tires. This blog is hardly exhaustive, more just to introduce people to the concept of airing up and down and give them a basic primer on the more common pieces of equipment we would use to achieve this.
I hope you find this helpful, see you on the trails!