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How to Check Tire Pressure: Tools Everyone Should Have Handy

Close-up of a tire in grass

If you drive any type of car, then you should learn how to check tire pressure. It only takes a few minutes and requires just one simple tool. Accurate tire pressure is crucial for your safety, since an underinflated tire makes the car harder to steer and can blow out while you’re on the road. Here are some tips for how to check tire pressure.

Get the Right Tools for the Jobchecking tire pressure

First, you need a tire pressure gauge; there are several varieties — stick gauges look like a ballpoint pen and are usually the most affordable option, though not as easy to read. Digital gauges are more expensive but provide the exact pressure reading on an LCD display. Finally, there are dial gauges that have a face like a clock. In the end, it doesn’t matter which gauge you use because they all do the same thing.

Check Pressure When Tires Are Cold

You should always check your tire pressure when the tires are cold. When you drive your car, the tires and the air inside them get warm. Warm air expands, which creates an inaccurate reading when you check tire pressure. The best time to check tire pressure is when the car hasn’t been driven for at least three hours.

Clean the Valve Stem

The valve stem sticks up slightly from within the metal wheel and has a cap that screws off, so you can attach the tire pressure gauge to your tire. Before you remove the cap, wipe the valve stem off with a towel or rag. This keeps dirt, sand, road salt and grime from getting inside the valve stem when you remove the cap. Dirt can clog the stem, making it difficult to add air, which creates inaccurate readings when you check the pressure.

Take the Tire Pressure Reading

Once you unscrew the cap from the valve stem, place the gauge onto the stem. You may hear a little hiss of air when you first attach the gauge, and that’s normal. That brief release won’t significantly reduce your tire pressure.

A digital gauge displays the exact tire pressure, while a dial gauge has a needle that swings up until it reaches the current tire pressure. A stick gauge has a stick that pops out of the back end with numbers that indicate the tire pressure.

What Does the Number Mean?

That number is the psi, which stands for pounds per square inch. You can find the recommended psi for your vehicle’s tires by looking at the sticker inside the driver’s door jamb or in your owner’s manual. If the measured psi is below recommendations, then it’s time to add air.

How Often Should You Check Your Tire Pressure?

A good rule of thumb is to check your tire pressure in every tire at least once per month. It’s also a good idea to check it when the seasons change, especially in the fall. Colder weather often requires adding a little extra air to your tires.

If in doubt, break out that tire pressure gauge. Keep it handy in your car, so you can be sure your tires are always properly inflated.

Check out all the tire gauges available on NAPA online or trust one of our 17,000 NAPA AutoCare locations for routine maintenance and repairs. For more information on tire pressure, chat with a knowledgeable expert at your local NAPA AUTO PARTS store.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.


Nicole Wakelin View All

Nicole Wakelin covers the automotive industry as a freelance journalist for a variety of outlets. Her work includes news pieces, podcasts, radio, written reviews, and video reviews. She can be found in The Boston Globe, CarGurus, BestRide, US News and World Report, and AAA along with lifestyle blogs like Be Car Chic, The Other PTA, and She Buys Cars. She is active on social media with a large following on both Twitter and Instagram and currently serves as Vice President of the New England Motor Press Association.

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