Do underinflated tires have the best traction? Myth Busted!

Underinflated tires have the best traction only during off-roading and while braking and driving straight on dry roads. In wet roads, underinflated tires have very low traction while straight driving, braking, and cornering. On snowy roads, they give poor traction while driving straight and dangerously low traction during cornering and braking.

Do underinflated tires have the best traction or not, we have a detailed explanation for this question covered below. Read to find out if underinflating your tires can, in fact, solve your traction issues.   

Tire Inflation And Traction in Different Scenarios

Road conditions, weather conditions, as well as state of driving, are all factors that influence the resulting traction from underinflated tires. Have a look at its traction levels in different conditions as shown below. 

Different ScenariosDry RoadWet RoadSnow/Ice
Traction at straight drivingGood Very poorPoor
Traction during brakingGood Very poor Very poor
Traction during corneringPoorVery poorVery poor

Depending on the weather, road conditions, and driving state, underinflated tires may cause serious hazards instead of doing you any actual good. You might want to take a look at them as stated below.

Underinflated Tires’ Traction on Dry Roads

Here are three circumstances for driving on dry roads with an underinflated tire. 

Traction at straight driving 

While driving, underinflated tires provide acceptable traction. The contact area with the road is more and hence, the grip is greater. An image is attached below to show the differences between underinflated and properly inflated tires. 

Source: TechnoRV

Traction during braking

On dry roads, tires with low air pressure give better traction. Due to the increased contact surface with the road, the tires experience more resistance forces while braking. The stopping distance, as a result, is shortened.  As per a study, a tire with inflation pressure decreased by 20% yielded a 0.11% reduction in stopping distance. So, it was concluded that the underinflation of tires is beneficial in reducing stopping distance. 

Traction during cornering

Traction of underinflated tires while cornering is not satisfying. While cornering, the sidewalls of the tires flex more and cause the area of contact with the ground to lessen. As a result, the grip of the tire on the ground is lost. Thus, the tires show lesser responsiveness and synchronization with each other. Steering becomes more difficult as well, at low tire pressures. 

Underinflated Tires’ Traction on Wet Roads

An underinflated tire is a serious cause of concern on wet roads. Given here are different driving scenarios with their resulting traction. 

Traction at straight driving

Underinflated tires cause your car to lose contact with the road surface and slip on the water – a term commonly known as hydroplaning. Compared to a properly inflated tire at 35 psi, an underinflated tire at 25 psi have significantly lesser grip, a study shows. At 25 psi, the tread separates from the road, allowing water in the space of contact. This largely reduces traction and resistance to hydroplaning. 

Traction during braking

An underinflated tire has a reduced contact area with the ground. Since friction is directly proportional to the area in contact, underinflated tires experience much less friction than normal tires.  As a result, when brakes are applied, they resist stopping and have larger braking distances. 

Traction during cornering

The traction of underinflated tires is extremely low on wet roads during cornering. Since the tire has less air inside than normal, its ability to maintain contact with the road is already less. During cornering, the sidewalls of the tires flex, causing the contact area to be further reduced. This results in very low traction.

Underinflated Tires’ Traction in Snowy Roads

Lowering the tire pressure is a common technique to increase traction in winter. However, take a look at the real scenario in different driving states, for snowy roads.

Traction at straight driving

Due to lesser contact area with the road, underinflated tires have less grip on the snow. Due to their deformed shape, these low pressure tires are subjected to more friction and hence more rolling resistance. Thus, the tire has less traction and needs more fuel to run in the snow.  

Traction during braking and cornering

At lower temperatures, the density of gasses increases, and internal pressure decreases. This means the air inside the tire has even less pressure than intended. As a result they will undergo more flexing on the sidewalls than normal tires, during braking and cornering. Consequently, the tread of the tire tends to twist which leads to lesser traction.

Off-Road Traction for Underinflated Tires?

The only scenario in which your tires are likely to perform well when underinflated is during off-road journeys. In rocky or sandy roads, underinflated tires have more traction or grip and hence easily be able to roll off the wheel. 

For rough dirt covered roads, moderately rocky terrains, and washboards, a 25% drop is recommended. For soft sand covered roads, a drop of 50%, and for extremely rocky roads a drop of 30% should suffice. 

However, if you intend to up your speed to highway level, your underinflated tires may possibly fail. This is because then the sidewalls of the tires are exposed to more rocky edges and undergo flexing. Flexing results in heat buildup that may ultimately lead to failure. That why its always recommended to check tire pressure before going on a long trip.

Why Should You Not Underinflate Your Tires?

If you look at the complete picture, there are multiple reasons not to underinflate your tires including burning smell from tires. Take a look at them stated below. 

  • Overstressing of The Tire

Driving with tires at low pressure causes them to be subjected to more stress than usual. As a result, the tread on the tires is likely to wear down early. 

  • Decreased Fuel Efficiency

At lower tire pressure than normal, the tire tends to become deformed, soft, and saggy. This means the rolling resistance between the tires and the road is more. Thus, the engine faces more difficulty in making the car move and ends up using more fuel. In fact, for every psi drop in tire pressure, gas mileage is lowered by 0.2%. 

  • Incompetent Handling

At lower tire pressure than normal, flexing of the sidewall occurs during handling. As a result, steering control is lost and braking distance is increased.

  • Risk of Blowout

Underinflated tires tend to be in more contact with the road or “droop”. This means there is increased friction between the road and the tire, producing heat. Excess heat causes the tread to separate, resulting in structural failure of the tire. This is when a blowout happens.    

Other Ways To Improve The Traction Of Your Tires

If you’re thinking about increasing tire traction, it is very likely that you have been challenged by snowy roads in winter. We have a few tips for you to tackle this particular tire issue.

How to prepare your tires for winter?

  1. Cover your tires in the sand to increase their traction temporarily. 
  2. Use ice-melt to melt through the ice stacked on roads. 
  3. Use salt to melt through the ice stacked on roads. 
  4. Use snow chains to increase traction.
  5. Use snow socks if you want to avoid snow chains( for their adjustment difficulties).
  6. Use traction agents. 
  7. Rear wheel cars have the option of adding weight to the rear.

Another critical road condition is wet roads. Read below to know what to do to improve traction in such cases. 

How to prepare your tires for wet roads?

  1. Siping, or making cuts on your tires can help increase traction.
  2. Low tread tires have less traction. Check the tire read and replace the tire if low tread is detected.


What is the 4psi rule?

The 4 psi rule states that while changing to a “hot pressure” from a “cold pressure”, your tire pressure must increase by 4 psi. This rule is used to check if your tires were inflated properly in the first place.  

What is an unsafe PSI?

Any pressure value lower than 20 psi is underinflation and pressure greater than 50 psi is considered unsafe. This applies to all types of vehicles. The ideal pressure is 30 to 35 psi, but this varies from car to car. To find the ideal pressure of your car, you can check your owner’s manual for recommendations. 


We hope you now have the answer to the question “Do underinflated tires have the best traction?”. As a final tip, we suggest maintaining your tire pressure and condition with utmost caution for safe and comfortable rides.

Written By

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William Baldwin

This Is William Baldwin, The Founder & Managing Editor of this website. Me and my team share automotive tips, tricks, and news

Fact Checked And Mechanically Reviewed By


Talha Atta

Talha Atta, a Mechanical Engineer and experienced technical content writer and editor at with a passion for the automotive industry.