Under Pressure? Your Tires May Be, Too: How to Check Your Tire Pressure

Checking your tires’ pressure can prevent blow-outs and improve the gas mileage on your car. It should be at the top of your list of regularly scheduled maintenance, and the good news is… it takes perhaps a few minutes. Since your car isn’t likely to have a sensor to tell you when pressure is too low (or too high!), here are tips for how and why to stay on top of your tire pressure.

Is Tire Pressure Really That Important?

Well… yes. And here’s why:

  • Under-inflated tires are more likely to blow-out or become damaged, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • Under-inflated tires wear out faster.
  • Under-inflated tires are likely to, after time, cause loss of control, blow-outs, and even crashes.
  • Properly inflated tires improve gas mileage (which is reduced by .2% for every 1 Pound per square inch (PSI) of tire pressure up to the proper level). Depending on what type of car you drive, your driving habits, and what type of gas you get, you could save as much as 3% in gas!
  • Properly inflated tires are more environmentally friendly because of this gas mileage reduction

So… What’s PSI, and Why Does It Matter?

PSI refers to “pounds per square inch,” which refers to the amount of air in your tires. Your owner’s manual will give you the correct number of PSI which should be maintained in your tires. Your car’s PSI is determined by its weight, size, towing weight capability, and recommended tire size. You should always use the recommended amount of PSI indicated by your vehicle’s manufacturer because they have already determined the optimal PSI at which your car will run most efficiently. Information for your particular car can be found in the owner's manual or on a sticker in the driver's doorframe.

How Often to Check Tire Pressure

Your car doesn’t have to run over nails to leak air from the tires. This will happen naturally over time. Many factors affect your air pressure, like:

  • How far your drive
  • The temperature
  • How much weight your car tows or carries

At least, most manufacturers recommend checking your tire pressure monthly. After a month, natural wear and tear on your tires can cause them to lose even several pounds of pressure. Temperature affects loss even more, especially heat. Also, any damage (even damage not visible to the naked eye) can cause significant loss of tire pressure. With all this said, it’s best the check your tire pressure often.

When and How Do I Check My Tire Pressure?

Firstly, check your pressure when it is cold or if it has been awhile since you’ve driven your car. This will give you the most accurate reading.

Then, use a tire pressure gauge. A traditional stick gauge is cheap and easy to use, but there are fancier (and more reliable) digital gauges on the market. You can buy a gauge yourself or borrow one from a local gas station or auto shop.

Check the recommended PSI for your tires to use as a standard before checking your tire pressure. To use your gauge:

  • Remove the cap on your tire’s air valve and put them in a safe place.
  • Place the gauge onto the valve and press down quickly or the most accurate reading.
  • Assess the PSI by reading the number on the gauge and comparing it to the manufacturer’s recommended PSI.

Note: Getting a quick, accurate reading can be tricky, so take several readings and average them for best results.

If there is TOO MUCH air in your tires:

  • Press your gauge into the tire, press, and hold to release air. Only release a small amount at a time. Then, take another reading. Repeat until your car has released enough air to reach recommended level. Then, replace the cap on your air valve.

If there is TOO LITTLE air in your tires:

  • Fill your tire with air until the desired level is reached, continually checking with the gauge to avoid over-filling.

This whole process should take only a few minutes but can save you money (or your life) in the long run!

How to Determine that You Need New Tires

Checking your air pressure often is the best way to determine when you need to repair or replace your tire. It’s as simple as this: if your tires are relatively new, but the gauge indicates that they are continuing to leak air, you should talk to your mechanic about the possibility of needing new tires.