Deciding between split rims or tubeless tires is not easy. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Tube-type split rim tires are easy to fix and have strong side-walls for driving over rocks and rough terrain. Tubeless tires can be plugged without removing the tire from the rim. Tubeless tires are safer and more comfortable at highway speeds and can be run at much lower tire pressures than tube-type tires on split rims.
I recently had to decide whether to replace my old 1977 Land Cruiser HJ45’s split rim tube-type tires with a new set, or switch over to tubeless rims and tires. It was not an easy decision to make. Here is a summary of the research I did on the pro’s and con’s of split rims vs tubeless tires.
Tube-Type Tires (on Split Rims)
Split rims are made from steel and can be split in two for easy removal of the tire and inner tube. Split rims with tubes are mostly found on old trucks, commercial vehicles, and tractors. That said, until very recently you could still buy a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser 79 with stock split rims. My old 1977Toyota Land Cruiser HJ45 Troopie still had split rims on when I bought it from the original owner.
Where I live, game rangers and farmers use split tims on their trucks and game viewers because it is cheaper to maintain and easier to fix flats in the bush. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of split rims.
Advantages of Tube-Type Tires
Tough tread and side walls
Most tube-type tires have tick tread and sidewalls, often 8 to12 ply. These tires are made to take a beating in the bush, not to be quiet and comfortable on the asphalt. This makes tube-type tires on split rims great for offroad vehicles that has to last in rocky terrain or in the bush where there are tree stumps and big thorns to withstand.
Easy to fix puntures
Split rims were designed so that anyone with basic tools can split the rim in two to remove the inner tube to repair or replace it. Most punctures are small enough to patch with rubber cement and patches. To split the rim, a locking ring is removed with normal tire irons (after deflating the tire completely!!!).
Once the locking ring is removed, the tire and tube can be slipped over the end of the rim to re repaired. This is especially useful if you are in the middle of nowhere, far from a fancy tire repair shop with equipment to fit tires to rims. Anyone who has some experience (and a set of levers) will be able to help you fix the puncture.
Original wheels are worth more
If your vehicle was originally sold with split rims and tubes (like my old 1977 Toyota Land Cruiser HJ45, and many Land Rover Defenders) it will hold its value much better than a truck fitted with aftermarket wheels.
Classic car collectors are always willing to pay more for a vehicle that was kept totally original. That’s why I was easily able to sell my Land Cruiser’s split rims for more than what I paid for a brand new set of steel wheels. That’s also why I had a hard time explaining to prospective buyers why my Cruiser doesn’t have the original split rims wheels anymore when I sold it.
Disadvantages of Tube-Type Tires
Due to the thick sidewalls and tough tread, tube-type tires generally give a much harsher ride than tubeless tires. Tube-type tires also need to be run at high pressures, which will result in a bumpier ride. The focus of tube-type tire design is on ruggedness instead of comfort, so they are generally noisier than tubeless tires that were designed for passnger vehicles.
You can’t run lower pressures
Tubeless tires are generally only found of commercial vehicles or recreational four-wheel-drive trucks. A major disadvantage of tube-type tires (and one of the things that helped me decide) is that you cannot run tube-type tires with low air pressues.
In order to prevent shafing between the inner tube and the tire, you need to always run the manufacturer’s recommended tyre pressure. Off-road enthusiasts often deflate their tires to increase the tread lenght and contact patch for thick sand driving. Lower pressures are also more comfortable on gorrugated dirt roads.
With tube-type tires, you need to grit your teeth and gun it.
Overheating due to friction (and blowouts!)
Any tire can overheat or cause a blowout if run too flat, damaged or poorly maintained. Generally speaking, however, tube-type tires are more prone to overheating do to the friction between the inner tube and the tyre. That’s why they need to always be run at the correct tire pressure.
If a tube gets too hot it can suddenly blow out causing the driver to lose control. Yes, this can also happen with tubeless tires, but they usually run cooler and therefor are more forgiving.
When I was looking to replace the worn tires on my old Land Cruiser with new tube-type tires I really struggled to find tyres. There were 2 or 3 known brands available in the right size to fit my split rims. This is because new vehicles all come out with tubeless tires.
If you really want to kee your split rims, you’ll have to settle for an aggressive offroad tire that will likely be noisy and uncomfortable at the speed limit.
They are dangerous
Most people that are interested in cars and trucks will know a story or two of a split rim exploding and taking the head off the operator. While this is definitely a risk and also the reason why tire repair shops inflate split rim tires in metal cages, it doesn’t happen nearly as often as you think.
I put this disadvantage at the bottom on purpose, because I believe that the risk of an exploding split rim is low. In most (if not all cases) of a rim exploding, it was due to operator error or a damage rim or tire. If the rim and lock ring is clean (and free of rust), and you know what you are doing (i.e. remove the valve before removing the lock ring), you should be just fine.
The problem is, I’d always worry! Is my rim just a but too rusty? Did the previous guy install the lockring correctly? Did I buy the one in a million dud tire? You can give me the stats all you like, I’d always when inflating the tube on a split rim.
To be fair, normal tubeless tires can also explode and take your face off if you don’t know what you’re doing of if it is in a bad condition. So be careful around pressurized systems!
Tubeless Tires (on Solid Rims)
Most (if not all) modern cars and trucks (not lorries) have solid rims with tubeless tires. The tire fits snugly into beads on a solid rim for an air-tight seal. There is no need for an inner tube which has a whole lot of advantages over tube-type tires.
Advantages of Tubeless Tires
Easier to fix yourself (in most cases)
Most punctures (I won’t guesstimate a percentage) are caused by sharp objects like rusted nails (often man-made). These punctures can easily be fixed by anyone with a tire repair kit like this off Amazon.
Just remove the offending object, pump up the tire, clean the hole with the serated spikey thingy, add glue to the plug, and jam it in there. I’ve fixed many tires like this over the years without ever experiencing a leak afterward. I kept driving the tires until they needed replacement.
If your tire is damaged on the sidewall, this might not work. A buddy of mine got a sidewall tear on his Toyota Hilux and jammed three plugs into the large hole. It got him home, but I doubt that it is very safe. In a pinch, yes… but keep your speed low and replace the tire as soon as possible.
More readily available
All new cars and SUVs are sold with tubeless tires. That means, there are a lot more options available compared to tube-type tires. You can fit highway, all-terrain, or mud tires to your car or SUV. There are also a wider price range available if you are budget-consious.
Tubeless is safer
While both types of tires and rims are safe if maintained and fitted properly, in general tubeless tires are safer for the following reasons.
Tubeless tires are less prone to overheating when run slightly flat, since there is no tube to shafe on the inside. Tubes get old and can perish over time, resulting in a blowout when you least expect it. Tubeless rims are solid without a lockring that can take your head off if fitted incorrectly.
To be clear, both types of tires can kill you if you’re not careful, but tubeless are generally safer to idiots like me.
Can be deflated
Since tubeless tires don’t have tubes to move around inside, they can be run at much lower pressures. This is very useful offroad (like sand or even loose, rocky terrain) where a wider footprint will give more grip.
Tubeless tires can be run as low as 1 bar or 15 Psi… not recommended on tube-type tires at any speed. This was a major consideration for me that wants to use the Land Cruiser in the sand.
Quiter, better fuel economy, more comfortable
It obviously depend on the type of tubeless tire you fit, but in general, they are quiter and more comfortable than hard tube-type tires. This won’t hold true if you fit tubeless mud-terrain tires and try to do 75 mph on the highway.
I’ve found that the best compromise for a touring vehicle – that you also take offroad now and then – is an all-terrain tire. They are quite, offer good fuel economy, last a long time, and still offer decent grip on gravel roads. If you are planning on driving thousands of miles in your truck, tube-type tires can be a pain.
Disadvantages of Tubeless Tires
Hard to remove from the rim
Tubeless tires are very difficult to remove from the rim without specialized equipment. If you get a sidewall tear or you need to fit an inner tube to get home, there is no way you’re getting the tire off the rim with tire irons.
Without a spare wheel, a big hole in a tubeless tire will leave you stranded. Luckily, most punctures are smaller holes caused by sharp objects. If you stop in time, you should be able to plug the hole with a repair kit.
I once drove a Subaru Outback through the desert. I heared a bang but felt nothing (due to the self-levelling suspension). After a few minutes I stopped just to check. Sure enough, I had a puncture and by the time I stopped, the tire was completely ruined. If in doubt, check it out!
Ruins the look (and value)
While not true in all cases and in all markets, tubeless tires on classic car that came out with split rims will lower the value in the eyes of purist collectors. This is not a train smash, as you can simply get split rims again if you want to sell.
The problem is that original split rims are getting scarce and you may have to settle for a slightly lower market value. To be fair, I don’t think I lost any value on my 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser due to swapping out the splitties for tubeless white rims.
I did get a lot of questions about it, however.
Why I Chose Tubeless Tires for my 1997 Land Cruiser HJ45
I spoke to a lot of car people before selling my original split rims and replacing them with white solid rims with tubeless tires. My biggest concern was the look and potential loss of value.
In the end I went for the tubeless tires because the Cruiser was my daily drive (and only car) at the time. We were also planning on doing a 2 500 mile road trip (mostly on tarred highways) – which we did. My family’s safety is number one and after all, I don’t think the tubeless tires looked too terrible on the old girl.
All the best with your decision!