Tire pressure is very important, but many vehicle owners don’t give a second thought to their tires after they’re installed. By regularly following a few simple tire inflation tips, you won’t be caught off guard when your car’s tire pressure warning light comes on or you experience a blowout. Here’s a few tire inflation tips to help you get the most out of your vehicle and its tires.
Low Tire Pressure Problems
Underinflated tires can cause a number of significant problems, including:
- Decreased fuel economy / decreased battery range for electric vehicles
- Abnormal tire wear
- Poor traction, especially when braking and cornering
- Poor handling due to sidewall flexing
- Tire overheating, which can lead to blowouts
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),”there was an issue with a tire before the crash occurred in 1 of 11 crashes,” including underinflation and blowouts. Underinflated tires flex and move around more, which generates heat. The metal cords that make up the tire are also forced to bend more than usual. This all adds up to an overheated tire. And just like an engine a tire that has been run hot for too long will likely fail suddenly. Also, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that, for every one psi beneath specification, the average car loses about 0.3 percent fuel economy (electric vehicles lose nearly the same 0.3 percent in battery range).
Proper tire pressure will ensure that you get the maximum mileage out of your tires, too. Some tires may last up to 60,000 miles, but underinflated tires could become unusable after only 20,000 miles. But don’t think you can overinflate tires for even better economy, as the result will just be uneven wear and prematurely worn out tires.
Tire Inflation Tips for a Safe and Economical Ride
Begin by taking the tire valve cap off of the valve stem. If you have steel wheels and wheel covers, you may have to remove the wheel cover for access to the valve. Then, align the opening of the tire pressure gauge with the tip of the valve stem and press firmly. You may hear a short hiss of air; if the air keeps hissing, you haven’t quite aligned the gauge to the valve stem. Try again at a slightly different angle until you get it right.
With the gauge in place, read the pressure. Depending on their design, some gauges retain the pressure reading even after removing it from the valve stem, which can be a helpful feature if the tire is in an awkward position. Also keep in mind that some vehicles (like heavy vans and trucks) require higher tire pressures and therefore a higher range tire pressure gauge. Some heavy duty pickup trucks need up to 80 psi, so pick your tire pressure gauge accordingly. Your vehicle may also have the ability to display tire pressure on the infotainment unit. Check your owner’s manual to see if you have access to live tire pressure data from the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2. How much air is enough?
Think again before inflating your tires to the maximum PSI indicated on the tire sidewall; this is not the correct pressure specification. Instead, look for the “Tire and Loading Information” sticker, located on the driver’s door or door jamb. Vehicle manufacturers tune the suspension and handling to a set range of tire pressures. The maximum PSI on the tire sidewall is specific to the tire itself, not the vehicle. Always go with the tire pressure specified by the manufacturer. You should be able to find this information in your owner’s manual, which you should keep in the glove box with your shiny new tire pressure gauge.
3. When to check and adjust tire pressure
Given that tire pressure changes with temperature, usage, time and damage, the NHTSA recommends that drivers check pressure levels at least once a month. Tire inflation should always be checked and adjusted when the tires are “cold,” or when they haven’t been driven in at least three hours. First thing in the morning is usually the best time to check. You should also check tire pressure before any long trips to prevent any surprises along the way.
4. Don’t forget the spare
If your vehicle is equipped with a full size or donut spare, it likely hasn’t been checked in a long time. Take a few extra minutes to pull your spare tire out of its storage space and make sure it is aired up correctly. In the case of a compact donut spare the recommended tire pressure will likely be different than that of the other four normal wheels. Make sure you have a tire pressure gauge that can read up to 60 psi as well as access to an air compressor that can output the same amount of air pressure. Check your owner’s manual for the correct spare tire pressure range.
Following these tire inflation tips will probably be the cheapest maintenance you can do on your own car, takes just a few minutes and doesn’t require a high level of expertise. Why not try and fit tire pressure checking into your monthly car maintenance routine?
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Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.