What tyre pressures do I run on road trips?

If you ask a dozen road trippers what tyre pressures they run, chances are you'll get a dozen different answers.

There isn't really a magic formula that works for everyone because there are a lot of variables and everyone has their own experiences.

What is concerning though are the road trippers who only check their tyre pressures occasionally or, worse still, leave them at one pressure for the entire trip, despite the changing road surfaces.

So why do tyre pressures matter?

We're blessed in Australia to have every conceivable road surface available to us . . . mud, sand, corrugated dirt, bull dust, gravel, sealed bitumen and even snow occasionally.

When we go on a road trip chances are we'll encounter most of these road surfaces at one time or another . . . and often in the same day!

And while doing so, our 4WD's are usually fully loaded and often towing a trailer or caravan that can weigh thousands of kilograms.

So the performance we're demanding from our tyres could not be more extreme.

Additionally, tyres made for sealed roads have significantly different designs, construction and tread patterns than those designed for off-road - so we're compromising one way or another and most of us tend to pick something that is a good average for both.

Once you get going on your trip the one thing you can control to maximise your tyres performance and safety and minimise the risk of damage or a blowout, is your tyre pressures.

And the difference is significant!

Setting your tyres at the right pressure for the job can be more effective at gaining and maintaining traction than the tread pattern itself.

Softer tyres on rougher roads are less susceptible to punctures and chipping from sharp rocks and will give you more traction in mud and sand.

But traction is only one issue . . . the bigger issue is safety.

Your life and the lives of your passengers are riding on your tyres!

A tyre blowout can be catastrophic and send you out of control either into oncoming traffic or off the side of the road.

Blowouts are often caused by tyres that are incorrectly inflated for the conditions.

Watch what happens when this Bronco towing a camper trailer gets a blowout.

Wow . . . wow . . . wow . . right?!

So it's essential to invest in your own tyre compressor and tyre pressure gauge so that you're able to manage your tyre pressures along the way without being dependent on a service station.

Dropping your tyre pressures when you get to the rough stuff and re-inflating them again when you get back to the sealed road is 10 minutes well invested and a good chance for everyone to stretch their legs.

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What tyre pressures do I run?

Having invested in a few sets of tyres over the past 25 years or so, I've reached what I've found to be the best overall tyre pressures for the driving I do.

These pressures are for my 80 Series Landcruiser which is usually fully loaded on a road trip and often towing our camper trailer.

I'm currently running Cooper ST MAXX 265/75/R16 tyres which have travelled about 60,000km and will be replaced before our next road trip.

These pressures are based on cold tyres, checked in the morning before we get going.

They'll increase by about 4 to 6 psi when they're warmed up after driving for a while.

I've had 3 or 4 flat tyres over the years but they have always been due to sharp objects penetrating the tyre - Tek screw, rivet and a sharp rocks.

But I've actually never had a blowout in over 400,000 km of driving, so there's something to be said for managing your tyre pressures.

DISCLAIMER - This is a guide only - I'm not a tyre expert and I'm not advising you to run the same tyre pressures as I do. You need to do your own homework and I would highly recommend you drop in to a tyre centre that sells the model of tyres you are running and get some expert advice. The pressures you should run will be based on your tyres, vehicle, load, terrain etc which are likely to be different to my setup.

Sealed Road

sealed-700
I run 36 psi around town when my rig is mostly unloaded and increase them to 40 psi when I load it up for a trip. Once the tyres are warmed up on a trip they will be at around 45 psi.

Pressure: 36 to 40 psi
Speed Range: 90 to 110 kph

Good Unsealed Road

Unsealed-700
While I could maintain 36 psi on quality unsealed roads, it's rare to find continuous sections of high quality unsealed roads! They usually include rougher sections, so lowering tyre pressures helps to soften the ride and reduce the wear on the tyres from occasional rocks and corrugations. It also reduces the chances of a puncture through running over sharp rocks.

Driving fast over corrugations to 'smooth them out' with hard tyres will increase your chances of losing control and/or getting a blowout. Let some air out and drive a bit slower and you'll be better off.

Pressure: 30 to 34 psi
Speed Range: 70 to 90 kph

Rough Unsealed Road - corrugation, gravel, bulldust

Rough-Road-700
Where the unsealed road is consistently bad or contains a considerable amount of rough sections, I'll drop down to 26 psi and reduce speed. Tyres will be better able to soak up sharp rocks, ruts and other nasties if they are softer and you are driving slower. Additionally I'll have more reaction time to avoid hitting large tyre shredding rocks and washouts.

Pressure: 26 psi
Speed Range: 50 to 70 kph

Rough track - mud, rocks, creek crossings

Rough-Track-700
This is low range 4WD type track which is probably completely unmaintained and can be any surface you can imagine. Low and slow is the order of the day. Be especially careful when cornering as too much speed & momentum can roll a tyre off the rim. The lower pressure will also help get more traction to climb in and out of creek beds and other obstacles.

Pressure: 22 psi
Speed Range: 10 to 50 kph

Sand

Beach-700
Beach driving is risky, especially below the high tide line. The temptation is to drive lower down the beach on the harder sand to get more traction but you also risk being swamped if you get stuck and the tide comes in. The general rule is 16 psi which will give you about double the amount of rubber on the sand and a lot lower pressure per square inch. This helps to float over the sand instead of digging in. If you get stuck or are struggling to get forward motion, lower your tyres more. But remember that with very low pressures comes a much higher chance of the tyre rolling off the rim so drive slow and corner gently.

Pressure: 10 to 16 psi
Speed Range: 20 to 30 kph

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22 thoughts on “What tyre pressures do I run on road trips?

  1. PETER says:

    On a recent round Australia road trip travelling on all types of roads towing a caravan
    the only adjustment to tyre pressures I made was to increase the pressures when fully loaded
    about 8-10psi for both van and vehicle, till the tyres seemed to me to be adequetly inflated.
    ie no undue side wall bulging and drove at a sensible speed 95k/h on sealed roads pulling back
    a bit on unsealed roads to around the 80k/h leaving the tyre pressures unadjusted.
    There is no rush for me I did see guys who had in my opinion too low a tyre pressure and had
    tyre troubles punctures etc on gravel roads the only time I lowered my pressure was in deep loose sand
    the pressures were lowered to around 18psi and travel was slow but had no problems.
    Over the whole trip of 35,000km and 6 months of driving never had one flat or wheel hassle for the whole
    journey the intel that I gained from talking with a couple of truckies and a tyre bloke I met on the journey
    was proven quite sound check that your pressures are even and that your tread is square to the road surface no undue side wall bulging especially on dirt roads where sharp stones can cut the side walls.
    Happy trucking fellers.

  2. Colin Moore says:

    Gday All. 2016 saw us on our big lap - 42000+ kms in 12 months; around 1/2 of that on dirt. Most of the usual suspects: Merini Loop, West MacDonalds, Old Ghan Route, Finke Desert, Simpson Desert both ways, Oodnadatta track, over Cape Range Ningaloo, Pilbara, Gibb River Rd, Kalumbaru Rd, I could go on..... We have a Landrover Defender 110 wagon and towed a Jayco Swan all together weighing in around 5.2t. Had 2 punctures on the car - both in the first half of the trip; both of which I spaghetti plugged by the side of the road. I had Wrangler 235 85 16 AT's with Kevlar on the Landy with 60000kms on when I left home and by the time I got to Darwin they were well used & abused, but the plugs remained air tight - one for 20000kms! I used similar pressures to you Steve but I run 10 - 15% lower in the front as it just doesn't have the weight on like the rear. I checked pressures every day and adjusted according to temperature, road conditions and weather. We averaged fuel consumption of less than 16.5l/100kms for the whole trip, with no tyre loss on the car at all.
    I did blow a tyre on the Jayco whilst on the Tarmac but it had a slow leak so no surprises! Just quietly, we sheared all the studs off the drivers side hub on the van and spent 2 1/2hrs searching for the wheel near Lawn Hill Qld! I was doing just under 100kms /hr on a fairly good dirt road at the time and it really wasn't too exciting, thankfully. We generally travelled at around 100 on tarmac and around 80 - 100 on the dirt depending on conditions. Lower tyre pressures definitely save your vehicle and the occupants on the corrugations and lower speeds are often called for as surfaces deteriorate.
    The only thing I would change is my poor old compressor - it's pretty slow and gets really hot!
    I've always wanted to do the lap but your DVD sold it to my wife & 3 daughters, so, thanks Steve & Jen!

  3. Peter says:

    As we know, the tyre pressure will rise as we drive, even on a cool day. Should we be letting our tyres down after a few hours driving to get back to the pressure that we set when we took off that morning? Should this cycle of checking and lowering continue all day? Taken to extremes, it could result in very low pressures by nightfall.

  4. Aaron says:

    Hey Steve, great article! Our 80 runs much the same tyre pressures on the terrains you've mentioned, although I do find myself adjusting the front and rear tyre pressures differently, due to the weight difference. Tyre pressures are the most important factor you can easily control when 4WDing!

  5. Glenn says:

    At the end of the day I think Steve has hit the nail on the head with all the pressures he has put up on this page. The only difference I do to any of them in my Dmax is 18 on sand as I have never needed to go lower.
    Ps. Just finished your Big lap DVDs and absolutely loved it!! I am taking the family to cape Leveque and GRR in July with the camper trailer so madly writing down all your spots. Any chance I can get one of your pancakes up there? 😉

    • Steve Baile
      Steve Baile says:

      Thanks Glenn, you won't see us up there making pancakes this year unfortunately but if you search our site for 'Lake Argyle Pancakes' you'll find a post with the recipe so you can setup the tailgate breakfast and pick up where we left off 😉

  6. Jeremy says:

    Hi Steve. This tyre pressure debate continues. Most folk have no idea of how high their tyre pressures rise while driving. I have pressure sensors on each wheel and I have found that I have had to increase my pressures quite considerably to avoid the alarm being raised. The old idea that the pressures should not rise more than 4 to 6psi which could show low tyre pressures, goes right out the window if keeping to recommended manufacture pressures. At one stage I was up to 65psi or 70psi before the pressures stopped going over the 6psi increase. I have a Prado 2003 120 series and am running goodrich lt 265/65 rt 17 with a max pressure of 80psi. So, do we go by pressure increase, or by comfort, or listen to the pressure sensors and increase pressures until the sensors stop showing over pressure increase percentage. I always check the pressures in the morning before setting off, but how cold the morning is can also affect pressures as the tyres warm up. There appears to be no simple answer. This also while towing a caravan.
    Regards
    Jeremy

    • Steve Baile
      Steve Baile says:

      Hi Jeremy, what you really highlight here is that one way or another tyre pressures need to be monitored because there are so many variables like vehicle, tyres, load, ambient temperature etc.And all vehicle setups will be different. 'Set and forget' is not the answer yet so many people don't give much thought to tyre pressures then are quick to complain about brand X tyres being rubbish because they fail prematurely. I haven't used pressure sensors yet but I will when I next change tyres so it will be interesting to see the numbers in real time. Thanks for your input.

  7. Graham says:

    You need to consider the load rating of your tyres before you reduce inflation pressure much below 30psi (except on very soft surfaces like sand, were you are more or less obliged to travel slowly). In general, the bigger the tyre, the higher the load rating. It is the pressurised air contained within the tyre that bears most of the weight, not the tyre carcass itself. Consequently, the load bearing capacity of a tyre is directly related to its inflation pressure - reduce the inflation pressure and you reduce that tyre's load bearing capacity. You can offset that to some extent, but not entirely, by reducing speed. A 265/75 R16 All-Terrain tyre - what you might find on an older model Land Cruiser or Patrol - generally has a load rating of 1550kg at maximum inflation pressure. On the other hand, some 4WD dual cab utes (e.g. earlier model Isuzu D-Max) have tyres around the 245/70 R16 size. That size tyre typically has a much lower load rating of 1150kg at maximum inflation pressure (which in the case of BFG All-Terrains happens to be a whopping 65psi). At "normal" highway inflation pressures of around 40psi, the load bearing capacity of that tyre is already down to something like 800-850kg. Put those tyres on a moderately heavy hybrid camper with an ATM around the 1800kg - 2000kg mark, or a heavily loaded 4WD, and you are really pushing your luck if reduce your inflation pressures below 30psi, even at reduced speed.

  8. John Staring says:

    I pretty much agree with the pressures listed and recommended, from trial and error. If you want to be really fussy about the correct pressures and avoid destroying a tyre then get a relatively cheap infra red thermometer. I bought one from Jaycar, and it has proved extremely useful, not just for tyres but for doing a quick check of the trailer wheel bearings as well. If the walls of the tyres are getting too warm then you can adjust the pressures accordingly. Along with my regular travelling partner, once off-road we have a habit of stopping approx every hour and doing a quick check of the tyres and hub temps. Too easy, and good preventative maintenance. Much simpler than a destroyed tyre out in the never-never, or even a flipped vehicle/trailer.

    • Steve Baile
      Steve Baile says:

      On our last trip we pulled into a roadhouse on the Stuart Highway in the NT and a guy came over and without saying a word, laid down behind our Landcruiser and pointed his infrared thermometer at our back diff! Then he jumped up and said "don't mind me, just trying to work out if my diff is running hot by comparing it to yours!" - fair enough! That wasn't you was it John? 😉

    • Jeremy says:

      All very well checking the temperature, but how does that relate to pressure. Again for wheel bearings, what increase in temp would be considered normal. Yes, a check of all wheels and one showing much higher could be an indication of trouble.

  9. Marko says:

    You are driving to fast at those pressures for sand, rough tracks and unsealed roads. You are building up heat which will slowly destroy the tyre itself and cause delamination. Please be aware that driving with low pressures voids any warranty on tyres. Just keep the speed down when letting air out. I know all the 4wd training business, 4wd clubs, magazines and dvd's tell you to lower tyre pressures which is fine but if you claim a tyre that is still under warranty which I did your not covered. When I tried to claim a tyre under warranty the manufacturer took the two tyres away for inspection and a few days later they called me and asked if I had let my tyre pressures down, which I replied yes and they said the tyre isn't made to lower pressures therefore no warranty claim approved. I made some enquiries with a few well known tyre companies and they also said not covered by warranty if tyres have been run at lower tyre pressures than the recommended pressures for that type of vehicle. I asked how would they know if tyre pressures a run below recommended vehicle manufacturers tyre pressures and they said by inspecting sidewall belts which begin to separate due to lowering pressures.

    • Paul says:

      Marko, worrying about warranties on tyres won't help you much in the middle of the outback in Australia. The emphasis on this article by Steve is SAFETY ! Sand driving at hard tyre pressures is bad news for your 4wd running gear, temps, cooling and drive line gear. Steve has suggested 16PSI as an average which is correct if you don't want to spend the day on the end of a long handled shovel. Try the northern end of Fraser Island in summer at harder pressures and see how you go. on lighter dual cabs for example 18 PSI is about the same taking in weight of vehicle and foot print. Dropping to 10PSI is when your in trouble. It creates a massive foot print to help gain traction, to get you out of trouble. Depending on what you drive, side walls should "bag out" for maximum traction in the sand, speed determines whether you will damage tyres. This is the same as leaving the beach and driving 10km's to the nearest service station to air up, but forgetting that your tyres are still at 16PSI. Theres a good chance tyre failure will happen if you're doing 80km/ph for 10 km's at 16PSI on tarmac, the tyre will heat up, and potentially fail ! There is a degree on common sense needed when touring on different terrain, this article is pointing out the obvious confusion travellers encounter when dealing with changing road conditions. If you're biggest concern is warranty on a 4WD tyre, i'd suggest you don't leave the tarmac, most tyre issues are related to the person who operates the vehicle.

  10. José Fernández Piñar says:

    Great information thanks!
    Me I run 30 psi as an all-terrain average, what do you think? I do road trips here in Patagonia, covering sealed road, good unsealed road and rough unsealed road. I use Yokohama Geolandar A/T-S 255/65/R17 on a Toyota Hilux SW4. I have had a couple of blownouts of the last year appartently not caused by any sharp object, any idea of what may me causing this?
    Thanks again!

  11. Ade Larsen says:

    A lot of this doesn't apply to those running cross ply tyres like the superior MRF range of tyres.

    If you want a tyre that never gets punctured then a cross ply tyre is simply the only option.

    Next, You wrote : "Softer tyres on rougher roads are less susceptible to punctures and chipping from sharp rocks".
    That's not the experience of trucks and off highway vehicles. Cross ply tyres are hard as hell and virtually never get punctured.

    You wrote : "Blowouts are often caused by tyres that are incorrectly inflated for the conditions"
    That's not true. Blowouts are caused mostly by a very slow leak that you don't notice and as you drive the temperature of the tyre sky rockets and then has a catastrophic blow out.
    Most blow outs are started long before the bang. They are started by the smallest of pin pricks.

    If you want the best and easiest tyres and save money, buy cross ply tyres and split rims.

    But hang on, splitties and cross plies aren't sexy and cool like Cooper Balloon tyres.

    Ask any 2nd world 4wd operators what they drive on. It's not radials and popular brands.

    Ade

    • Steve Baile
      Steve Baile says:

      Ade thanks for your input. I don't have any first hand experience with cross plys but I have heard tales of them outlasting the vehicle they're mounted on! If you'd like to put together an article that expands on the merits of cross plys we'd love to publish it on the site and spread the word. Shoot me an email through the Contact Us page if you want to discuss. Cheers, Steve

    • Paul says:

      Ade, THE Indian built MRF range of tyres are not superior, many tyres have cross ply technology including the tyre that Steve has referred to on his 80 series cruiser. Last i checked MRF don't even make a 4WD tyre for passenger 4WD wagons like a land landcruiser (correct me if I'm wrong by all means.) Your reference to Steve's "softer tyres on rougher roads are less susceptible to punctures and chipping from sharp rocks" you say thats not the experience of trucks, Steve didn't say anything about trucks, you're suggesting cross ply tyres are hard as hell. The ST Max that Steve refers to on his truck, has armour tek (3rd ply at 8 degree angle, which reduces rubber gaps in the ply) so theres the cross ply you are referring to, however, they are not hard as hell. The whole idea of this article is to use your tyre pressure to mould to the terrain you are travelling over. Anything "hard as hell" will put you through "hell" and your vehicle will do well to survive or for that matter, stay in one piece. You suggest that it's "Not True" - Blowouts are often caused by tyres that are incorrectly inflated for the conditions" Do some research, google it ! i don't need to say you are wrong here, Steve is not making some sort of play for a tyre company, he is stateing the obvious to people who do it regularly, and passing on his personal experience (which is justified as experieneced when you have done a big lap and then some over the years) to people who are new to 4WDing and touring. I'm baffled about why you think skinny split rims would be better than a wider rim for a Land cruiser type vehicle, maybe so for a 20 seater adventure built truck that does tours, but we are talking about mum and dad travel here, Not 2nd world 4WD Operators. Travelling around this country are large 4wd wagons, dual cabs and SUV type vehicles to name a few. I bet you won't find any of them on MRF Indian tyres that have never been tested in Australia or tested for Australian conditions on any 4WD passenger vehicle sold and driven in this country. Trucks however might be a totally different story for sure. But mum and dad don't drive trucks for this article. Lastly, Well done to Expedition Australia, it's people like you that restore common sense and help people understand what they can do to prepare for all conditions in their 4wd's.

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