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How to Properly Inflate Your Tires

by Jonathan Logtenberg

Did you know that even the littlest psi difference from the vehicle maker’s recommended tire inflation pressure can affect the vehicle’s handling and control? Vehicle manufacturers recommend specific tire pressure that’s proper for safety and efficiency.

But sadly, a large number of drivers do not check and inflate their tires correctly to the recommended pressure levels. According to a 2009 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report [1], a whopping 28 % of light vehicles on the roadways run with an under-inflated tire.

How Do You Tell the Correct Tire Pressure for Your Car?

It is essential to stick to the manufacturer’s recommendation unless guided otherwise by an expert on alternative pressure levels. The manufacturer’s recommendation is usually listed on a sticker behind the driver’s seat. This listing usually indicates the proper inflation pressure for each tire, even the spare. You can also find this listing in the supplied manual or from car dealer offices.

The maximum listed pressure is usually 35 psi, and it will often be indicated as maximum “cold” pressure. “Cold” here means it’s advisable to fill in the morning or after sitting in the shed for hours. There’s a disadvantage of inflating to the max psi when not in cold conditions; it reduces traction and gets difficult to handle. For that reason, experts recommend the 30-35 psi range.

Checking and Filling Your Tires

It’s advisable always to check your tire pressures when cold as warm temperatures tend to distort readings. So, morning, before getting behind the wheel, is okay.

Checking the tire pressure:

  • Pull the car in the shade with a level surface
  • Remove the dust caps from the tire air valve and place them safely in a Ziplock bag
  • Place the tip of your tire gauge onto the valve stem and get the reading
  • Repeat the steps once or twice more to check for consistency.
  • If gauge reading is higher than recommended, let out the excess by pushing down on the air valve with the tire gauge till tire starts to leak. However, never let out excess pressure, if you sense it, while on the road. It’s normal for pressure to build-up after driving for so long)

Filling the tire:

  • You are going to need an air compressor. If you don’t have one, try the nearest gas station. they have air compressors for truck tires, car tires and all kinds of vehicles.
  • Firmly secure the air-hose tip onto the valve stem until the air stops escaping then start to let in the air from the pump.
  • Check the pressure level as before and continue adding till the optimum (as per vehicle manufacturer)
  • If reading exceeds the optimum release, then let out the excess by pushing down on the air valve. Don’t worry about releasing too much; you can always add some back.
  • Put the dust caps back in place.

Can You Use a Bicycle Pump Instead of a Tire Air Compressor?

While it’s possible, it’s a little insane as the good old bicycle pump is not the ideal tool to inflate car tires. Just get your automatic air compressor at $50-$150. However, if push comes to shove, you can’t roll on a flat tire to the gas station, and that’s when a bicycle pump comes in handy – make sure it’s Schrader-valve compatible.

  • Remove the dust caps then firmly attach the bicycle pump valve to the tire’s air valve till leaking stops.
  • Start pumping in the gas from the bicycle pump
  • Stop frequently to gauge pressure and continue till optimum psi – 5 psi shy of the recommended.
  • Screw the caps back on.

Dangers of Driving on Inflated Tires

According to the NHTSA report [1], even slight pressure differences from the vehicle manufacturer’s recommendation could lead to:

  • Incidences of blowouts
  • Tread separations
  • Poor fuel economy
  • Difficult handling and control
  • Shorter tire lifespan

The science behind it all? Inflated tires tend to get fatter, which increases their surface area. This means increased resistance and lots of heat gets generated, and the consequences are the dangers mentioned above.

Under-inflated tires, therefore, do not only lead to more spending but could kill you. That’s why you should routinely maintain your tires. Newer car in fact is getting fitted with warning lights to indicate when pressure falls short. You can also get others with Tire Pressure Monitoring System that sends a warning if the pressure drops by 25 per cent.

But sadly, for older cars, such indicators are missing, and you are going to have to rely on your mental faculties to stay keen on tire pressure. The NHTSA says that maintaining proper tire pressure can boost your gas mileage to 3 per cent.

There you have it then, be a responsible driver with a glove box containing a pressure gauge and perform routine pressure checks. The rule of the thumb is to check for pressure every time you inflate your tires, every 10-degree change in temperature, every month.

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