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January 04, 2006

Standard Rims or Split Rims, which is best for your four wheel drive?

By Vic Widman

For many years the rim of choice by the outback traveller was the venerable spilt rim. In fact, in the early days most four wheel drives came with split rims as standard.

But these days it is rare to find a split rim on the modern four wheel drive vehicles that grace our city streets.

But venture into the outback and take a look at what the country folk are driving on and you will see that the split rim still lives.

Base models of Landcruiser, Patrol, Troop Carriers and Traybacks, loved by the cow cockies, are built to a price and generally have split rims as their standard wheel issue.

The major advantage of the split rim is its ease of breaking the bead to change the tyre. Any old bushie could bash away at a steel split rim with a hammer and tyre lever and get that flat tyre off the rim to repair the hole in the tube in no time.

But things have changed an awful lot these days in tyre manufacturing and the equipment required to change tyres. Most of the modern four wheel drives now have single piece steel or alloy rims with tubeless tyres.

It is fair to say that the highway terrain tyres fitted to new four wheel drives sold in the city are pretty poor at handling the outback gibbers and corrugations and on my 4WD tours I strongly recommend that my customers replace their highway terrain tyres with a good set of off road orientated tyres such as Coopers ST range.

In fact, with the correct tyre choice and tyre pressure it is rare to get a flat tyre. I have travelled over 100,000 kilometres in the last couple of years and only suffered one small pin prick on my Cooper tyres.

The equipment available to the city slicker also makes tyre changing and repairing a cinch. As an emergency temporary repair a tubeless tyre can have a plug inserted in the hole, provided it is in the tread of the tyre and not on the sidewall.

With tubeless tyres this can be done without the need to dismount the tyre from the rim, I have even done this repair as a tyre slowly deflated on the vehicle and had it plugged before all pressure was lost.

With the modern air compressors such as the Big Red compressor, tyres are easily and quickly inflated on the side of the road, and if necessary, beads can be re-seated without the need to find a tyre repair workshop. Even the modern tyre plier kits are easily operated by most folk, making breaking the bead on a tubeless steel or alloy one piece rim a relatively easy job. It is important to note that all split rims have tubes fitted and hence all flat tyres on split rims require removal of the tyre from the rim and repair to the tube.

So these days the split rim, due to the improvement in tyre technology and repair equipment is becoming obsolete. Split rims can be dangerous when reseating the steel rim and inflating the tyre, never stand over a split rim when inflating the tyre because if the split rim is not seated correctly it can let go with tremendous force and has been blamed for some pretty serious injuries over time.

My advice is, if you have one piece steel or alloy wheels, keep them and use quality tyres such as the Cooper ST range for your outback journeys and keep pressure below 40psi when on gravel roads.

If you have split rims, think about changing them over to one piece rims, equip yourself with a good tyre plier kit and repair kit and a Big Red compressor and you will be reasonably self sufficient when it comes to tyre repairs on your next big journey.
Here are some more practical tips for a happy 4WD experience -

  • Carry a spare set of fan belts and a top and bottom radiator hose.
  • Carry a simple set of tools and a first-aid kit.
  • Carry additional drinking water, food and fuel.
  • Check each morning the condition of your under-bonnet items, in particular all fluid levels, and air filter and inspect the tyres and pressures.
  • Some of the tracks are best suited to high-clearance, dual-range transmission vehicles, so check with locals on the suitability of your vehicle and know both you and your vehicle's capabilities in the bush - do a 4WD course!
  • Take only the essentials and try and leave unnecessary items behind - they'll add more weight and stress to the vehicle and use more fuel.
  • Avoid the use of roof racks and if they are a necessity, pack only light items upstairs to avoid the risk of rollover. - If towing a trailer, makes sure your tyres are up to the job and check the condition of the wheel bearings and suspension before you leave.
  • Leave advice with friends or relevant authorities on your destination and itinerary, so if you overstay your journey the alarm can be raised for search and rescue.
  • Give some thought to communications; a UHF CB radio gives reasonable coverage with other road users and pastoralists, whilst an emergency positioning beacon (EPIRB) is an inexpensive failsafe for desperate situations.
  • In really remote country someone in your party should have HF radio or a satellite phone, they can be hired inexpensively.
  • If rain threatens, be prepared to stay put for a couple of days to avoid damaging the roads (penalties apply for road users driving on closed outback roads) and if you're driving in a dry creek bed get out of there quick-smart, for there's a good chance a flash flood might roar down the watercourse, claiming vehicle and possessions.
  • Some common courtesy and patience goes a long way, so too leaving gates as you find them and staying on designated tracks and trails.
  • Avoid windscreen damage and dust when approaching on-coming cars, slow down and move over to the left of the road lane. If the approaching vehicle is a road-train, give it plenty of room and get off the road and don't even think about overtaking a road-train kicking up a heavy cloud of dust. Stop and have a cuppa and a stretch. A 15-minute break will put plenty of separation between you.
  • If you do get stuck, do not leave the vehicle!

  • Editors note: Vic Widman is the owner/operator of one of Australias leading 4WD tag-along and Driver Training companies, Great Divide Tours, check out his website at