Properly maintaining your car or truck’s tire pressure is a quick and easy task that pays off big time in the long run. Beyond promoting optimum fuel economy, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that your tires wear as they should, resist pops and provide as much service as they can. Between all the information floating around out there, the numbers written on the tire sidewall and the owner’s manual, however, you might be asking yourself: “What should my tire pressure be?”
Assuming you don’t have a leak, tire pressure changes throughout the seasons and simply the course of the day, because pressure is affected by temperature. So if it’s a hot time of year or you’ve been on the road all day generating heat through friction, the air inside your tires expands, increasing pressure. Tires need to accommodate that fluctuation, but they have their limits. Recommended pressure is set with this in mind, so it’s important that you get a reading at the right time and under the right circumstances, or you risk overinflation. First thing in the morning is best, before your tires heat up on the road. Try to have the car parked in the shade for similar reasons.
The Right Amount of Pressure
The max tire pressure marked on the sidewall of the tire is not for inflation purposes. This number takes into account recommended inflation plus expected pressure increases. Never inflate your tires to this pressure. You’ll want to find the manufacturer’s recommended pressure, reliably located in the owner’s manual and sometimes also listed on the edge of the driver’s side door.
The Tools for the Job
Tire gauges are cheap and easy to get a hold of. Some are digital, but these have a habit of running out of battery and acting up in extremely cold weather, leaving you without an answer to the question: What should my tire pressure be? Honestly, an old-fashioned analog slide gauge will do you just fine. It’s easy to read and reliable. Simply remove the dust cap and press the head onto the stem, and the slide ruler will pop out to the current reading. If you need to adjust the pressure, drive on over to the nearest gas station with an air chuck, apply the head in the same way as you did the gauge, and either press on the stem until you hear air hissing out or make a solid connection such that no air is escaping and pump more in. Afterward, take another measurement to ensure proper inflation.
How Often Do I Have to Do This?
As mentioned, there are a lot of benefits to keeping the right inflation, but ultimately it comes down to you. Checking every day certainly wouldn’t hurt anything, but if you only get around to it once every other month, you probably won’t be facing any major catastrophes as a result. The most important time to check is when the outside temperature is changing — so spring and fall. The more often you can do it, the better it is for you and the lifespan of your tires.
There aren’t a lot of excuses for neglecting this task, especially considering the payoff of not having to replace a set of tires as often. So grab a gauge and use it every once in a while — and don’t forget the spare.
Check out all the tools & equipment
Photos courtesy of Blair Lampe.
Blair Lampe is a New York-based professional mechanic, blogger, theater technician, and speechwriter. In her downtime she enjoys backpacking wherever her boots will carry her, rock climbing, experimental theatre, a crisp rosé , and showering love on her 2001 Sierra truck.