Tire maintenance & safety
One of the most important tools any driver should own is a tire pressure gauge. Being able to check how much air is in your tires quickly may not seem very important on the surface, but it absolutely is.
Your tires perform best when it has the right amount of air in it. And no matter how good you think you can judge the amount of air with just your naked eyes, there’s no way you can match the performance of a tire pressure gauge.
If you’re reading this because you’ve been intimidated by tire pressure gauges in the past, then welcome! You have nothing to worry about. This is your guide to every step in the process.
There are different types of tire pressure gauges to consider, but all of them basically work the same way. Keep the equipment that you prefer in your vehicle at all times so you can check your tire pressure at any time.
Having the tire pressure gauge in your vehicle will improve your vehicle's performance on the road, keeping you and your family safer in any driving condition.
How to check your tire pressure
Checking your tire pressure is easy. However, there are a few preparatory steps to be aware of before you begin.
Find the recommended psi (otherwise known as the recommended air pressure for your tires) on your vehicle's tire information label. It's usually on the driver's side door jamb or door ledge, but you may also find it in your glove box or vehicle owner's manual.
Now that you know what your tires should be inflated to, you can go about the business of actually checking them. But wait! There’s another thing to consider...
Check tire pressures before you go for a drive. But if you forget, then come back and check at least three hours after driving. The recommended pressure you found on your door jamb or owner’s manual is the cold inflation pressure.
Tires heat up when you drive, which increases pressure. If you were to check tire pressures immediately after a drive, you’ll get a false reading. So if you forget to check before driving, giving the tires – and the air inside them – about three hours to cool down will bring the accuracy of your reading back in line.
Great job checking all four tires! But don’t forget most vehicles actually come with five tires...
Check the pressure of all four tires, as well as the spare tire, if your vehicle has one.
Check your tire pressure every month. Tires naturally lose pressure over time, and changes in outdoor temperature affect your tire pressure too.
At this point, you might be saying, “Great, now I know the importance of checking tire pressure, but I still don’t know exactly how to do it.”
Read on – we’re about to tell you exactly what to do.
How to use a conventional tire pressure gauge
The short answer is you press the head of the gauge against your tire valve and see what the reading says. The long answer is a little more involved.
There are different kinds of “conventional” tire pressure gauges. First, there’s the pencil gauge, which is about the size of, well, a pencil. They typically have metal exteriors with plastic rods that extend when the device is attached to a tire stem.
As air rushes out of the tire, it forces the plastic rod to extend. Notches along the rod's side will tell you how much pressure has been exerted. Most tire pressure gauges have black notches on white rods. Every tenth notch is usually a bit larger than the others. This makes it easier for you to read the PSI.
For instance, if you attach the gauge to your tire and the rod extends to a large 3 and a small 4, then your reading is 34 PSI. Don't get confused by thinking that the gauge is giving you a measurement of 3.4 PSI.
A dial gauge has a hose attached to a round face with numbered marks that represent different measuring units like Bar. In the US, we primarily use PSI, or Pounds per Square Inch.
Once you depress the end of the hose into the tire’s valve stem, the rushing air will move the needle on the face to show the reading. Whereas a pencil gauge sees the plastic rod extend, a dial gauge’s needle sweeps across the face and stops at the PSI of your tire.
How to use an electronic tire pressure gauge
Using an electronic tire pressure gauge is just like any other gauge: You simply turn the device on, press it against your tire's nozzle, and get an accurate reading of the pressure. Electronic gauges can give you highly accurate pressure ratings.
There are, however, some drawbacks to using an electronic tire pressure gauge. First, they cost more than conventional tire pressure gauges. The extra expense, however, isn't that great. If you have a hard time reading the notches on a conventional tire pressure gauge, then the extra money is worth it.
The bigger problem is making sure the electronic tire pressure gauge is properly powered. If the batteries are running low, then you could get inaccurate readings or no reading at all. That puts you and your family in danger.
If you prefer using an electronic gauge, then make sure you check the batteries regularly. You might also want to keep spare batteries in the vehicle for emergencies.
Practice using your tire pressure gauge
Regardless of whether you prefer a conventional tire pressure gauge or an electronic one, you should practice using the tool before you encounter any emergency situations.
A small amount of practice could make it much easier for you to check your tire pressure on the side of the road.
It is essential to know how to measure your tire pressure because properly inflated tires are safer than under or overinflated tires.
It’s also worth noting that tire pressure gauges are rated to read up to a specific PSI. However, they are most accurate in the middle of their range. Keep this in mind when shopping for a gauge.
If your vehicle’s tires are supposed to be at, say, 30 PSI, it’s best to look for a gauge with a maximum rating of around 50-60 PSI. Also, several gauges are only rated to 50 PSI. Like those on heavy-duty pickup trucks, some tires require more air than that – sometimes upwards of 70 PSI. So keep this in mind when shopping for a gauge.
As long as you know how to use a tire pressure gauge, though, you can check the pressure regularly to make sure your family is safe on the road.
How do I know if I need air in my tires?
If you can visibly see your tires looking flat, you are way overdue for some tire maintenance. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to check your tire pressures once a month. It’s easy and only takes a few minutes.
If you do need to add more air, there are a few things you can do. If you’re in a pinch, a standard bicycle pump will work, as many bicycles also use a Schrader valve like a car. A few pumps will likely top you off if you only need to add a little amount of air. However, if you need to add a significant amount of air, this will wear you out quickly.
The other options are using an air compressor with an appropriate attachment or going to the gas station and using the air pump on hand. Most gas stations are required to have an air pump on site. Lastly, any tire center will be happy to inflate your tires properly for you.
Can you check air pressure without a gauge?
If you want an accurate PSI reading, then no. Sometimes a tire can look like it’s low to the naked eye, but in reality, after checking with a gauge, it will be within specifications. This is why a gauge is so important.
What should I do if I'm constantly losing air pressure?
Go to your nearest tire center right away if you are constantly losing air pressure, because there’s a good chance your tire is leaking air from somewhere. A tire technician will be able to find the leak and suggest an appropriate solution. If you’re lucky, it will be a small pinhole leak that can be repaired. In a worst-case scenario, you may need a new tire.
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