Your tires are some of the most important components on your vehicle. They are the only points of contact between your vehicle and the ground. How much grip your vehicle has will depend on the type of tire you have, the road conditions, and how well your tires are maintained.
Have you checked your tire pressures lately? Many people haven’t. Here’s why you should closely monitor your tire pressures to ensure you make it to your destination safely.
What Should My Tire Pressure Be?
Each vehicle and tire size will require a slightly different pressure. Most passenger cars inflate their tires somewhere between 30 and 36 PSI cold.
A “cold” tire pressure measurement is taken while the vehicle is at rest with a cool engine. Once you start driving, the tire pressure will increase due to the friction from the road.
If you’re not sure what your tire pressures should be, check the sticker on the inside of the driver’s door jamb. There should be a label that indicates what cold tire pressure the vehicle should run with the OEM tire.
If you can’t find the label, Google is a great resource for finding the OEM spec. For instance, you might search Google for “2005 Toyota Corolla tire pressure”, substituting your specific year, make, and model.
Reasons Your Tire Pressures Might Be Low
When you check your tires, you’ll typically find the pressure to be a bit lower than the spec. Low tire pressures hurt fuel economy. In extreme cases, low tire pressures can even compromise the integrity of the tire. Here are some common reasons your tire pressures are low.
As it gets colder outside, your tire pressures will naturally drop. As a rule of thumb, you can expect your tire pressures to drop 1-2 PSI for every 10 degree drop in temperature.
As fall approaches, it’s important to check your tire pressures frequently, as the pressure in your tires could change dramatically. Many auto shops see an influx of customers whose tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) lights have turned on due to the changing temperature.
Tires tend to leak a little air over time. If it’s been months (or even years) since you checked your tires, it’s possible for very small amounts of air to permeate through the tire. While this isn’t noticeable day to day, it could add up to a significant loss, given sufficient time.
A puncture is a quick way to lose air. Many punctures are caused by nails, screws, and other debris in the road that get picked up. Sometimes this debris stays lodged in the tire. The tire will hold air, but will now have a slow leak.
If one tire is significantly lower than the others, there’s a very good chance that tire has a puncture. The good news is many tires can be patched at a tire shop, as long as the puncture happened in the main tread block and not too close to the sidewall.
Reasons Your Tire Pressures Might Be High
Sometimes you may find yourself with overinflated tires. Although overinflated tires tend to be good for short term fuel economy, overinflation increases tread wear on the center of the tire and decreases grip. Here are some reasons your tire pressures might be high.
As you go up in elevation, there is less weight of the atmosphere pushing down on you and your vehicle. A significant change in elevation (such as a drive up to Pikes Peak, Colorado) could cause a significant increase in tire pressures.
2) Severe Driving Conditions
Driving your car creates friction between the tire and the road. Friction creates heat, warming the tire and the air within it. The harder you corner, the more friction and wear your tire will experience.
If you are doing any sort of performance driving, you may find your tires to be slightly overinflated after a bit of driving on the limit. To maximize grip, you may need to bleed some air out of the tire to return the tire pressures to a proper spec.
Any time you end up bleeding air, be sure to have an air compressor on hand so you can add air when the tires cool back down. If you don’t the tires will be underinflated the next time you go drive.
What Happens If My Tire Pressure is Wrong?
Tire maintenance is very quick and easy. To check your tire pressures, unscrew the valve stem cap. Grab a tire pressure gauge and stick it over the end. Sometimes it helps to take a couple readings to make sure your measurement is accurate.
It’s best to check your tires when they’re cold, as this is the way manufacturers present their tire pressure specification. If your tires are already warm from normal driving, add about 3-4 PSI onto the manufacturer’s spec to get an approximate hot tire pressure.
Never exceed the tire manufacturer’s max pressure rating. You can find the tire’s max pressure rating on the sidewall of each tire.
Pressure is Too Low
If your tire pressures are low, grab an air compressor or tire inflator and inflate the tire until it reaches the manufacturer’s recommended inflation pressure.
Pressure is Too High
Many tire pressures gauges come with a raised surface that can be used as a bleeder, making it easy to deflate your tire quickly. If your tire pressures are too high, gradually bleed some air out of the tire.
After a couple seconds of bleeding, recheck your tire pressure. It’s easier to bleed air than it is to add it, so you’ll want to avoid bleeding too much air out of the tire.
How Often Should I Check My Tire Pressures?
It’s a good idea to check your tire pressures about once every time you fill the gas tank. If the weather changes rapidly in your area, it may be a good idea to check your tires even more frequently.
If your vehicle is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), you should check your tires every single time the warning light comes on, even if you think it is a false alarm.