Maintaining proper tire inflation is relatively simple and essential to the overall tire performance of your vehicle. A properly inflated tire will provide longer life, quicker steering response, better fuel efficiency and a smoother ride than an improperly inflated tire. Both underinflation and overinflation can cause headaches like premature treadwear and possible tire failure. The best way to ensure you're getting the most out of your tires is to check your tire pressure on a monthly basis.
Knowing how to use a tire pressure gauge is very simple. Here’s how to check tire pressure and refill your tires.
Items You Need When Checking Tire Pressure
- Tire pressure gauge
- Air compressor
- Pen and paper
Your tire pressure gauge can be digital or standard. Auto parts stores typically carry both. Many auto parts stores sell portable air compressors that run from your car battery or 12v power port. Alternatively, you can use the air compressor found at most gas stations. They usually cost $0.50 or $1.00 to use.
How to Check Tire Presure
1. Start with Cold Tires if Possible
Vehicle manufacturers specify PSI – literally “pounds per square inch” of pressure – assuming tires are cold. Tires are considered cold when the vehicle has been parked for three hours or more, or if the vehicle has been driven less than a mile (1.6 km) at moderate speed. PSI is the unit your pressure gauge uses to provide readings.
2. Check the Manufacturer’s Recommended PSI
Look on the driver’s side door jamb or your owner’s manual to find the recommended cold tire PSI for your front and rear tires. If you cannot find it, you should consult your vehicle dealer, manufacturer, or a qualified tire professional.
3. Write Down the PSI for Each Tire
If your front and rear tires require different pressure levels, write down the correct PSI for each to avoid getting confused as you move around your vehicle checking tire pressure.
4. Check Tire Pressure with Your Gauge
Remove the valve cap from one of your tires. Then place the pressure gauge on the valve stem and press down hard enough so the hiss sound disappears and your gauge provides a reading. With a standard gauge, the air pressure will push a small bar out from the bottom of the gauge. Measurement units are etched into the bar. A digital gauge will show you the reading on a screen.
Write down the reading and repeat this process for all four tires.
5. Fill to the Recommended PSI
Use an air compressor to refill any tires with low pressure. Many air compressors are different, so read directions carefully to be sure you’re using it correctly.
If you’re using the air compressor at a gas station, be sure to park so that the hose will reach all four tires. Insert change into the machine until you hear the motor running. Fill each tire by placing the end of the hose over the valve stem and pressing on the lever.
Using a gas station air compressor means your tires might be “hot.” If it is necessary to adjust inflation pressure when tires are “hot”, set their pressure to 4 psi (14 kPa) above the recommended cold inflation pressure. Recheck the inflation pressure when the tires are cold.
After filling your tires, use the gauge to check pressure again. At this point, it’s ok if you overfilled the tires because you can always let some air back out. Never drive on overinflated tires. Overinflation can result in decreased traction, premature wear, and decreased impact absorption.
6. Repeat: Check Tire Pressure Monthly
Make the above procedure a monthly ritual. Regularly checking your tire pressure is the best way to ensure your tires never dip far below the optimal PSI.
Tire Pressure Gauge Accuracy
Accuracy matters and you should keep that in mind when choosing a gauge. For just a few dollars, you can find a quality, accurate tire pressure gauge that gives accurate readings. If you’re not sure which one to purchase, ask a professional technician which he or she prefers.
A digital tire pressure gauge will provide accurate readings, but don’t forget that it operates on a battery. If you think having to replace the battery will prevent you from using it, it’s best to go with a standard gauge.
It’s best to use your personal tire gauge versus those available attached to air hoses at service stations. Of all the pressure gauges out there, they’re the most likely to be weathered, and possibly inaccurate.