Your car’s tires are its one and only point of contact with the road – for this reason, they’re one of its most important components. We all know that keeping tires at the correct pressure is vital to keeping a vehicle running smoothly; what gets discussed far less often is how to actually do this.
Why Does Tire Pressure Matter?
Tire pressure matters a lot. By keeping your car’s tires properly inflated, you keep yourself, your passengers, and other road users as safe as possible. Under and over inflated tires pose a whole host of risks:
- Over Inflation
Over-inflated tires are more rigid than they should be, which reduces their ability to absorb shocks on bumbier roads. The high pressure inside over-inflated tires also makes them considerably more explosive than their properly inflated counterparts, increasing the risk of a blown tire. Finally, keeping tires at too high a pressure decreases the surface area in contact with the road. This reduces your grip on the road, and makes handling more difficult.
On the other hand, under-inflated tires pose their own problems. If the pressure in a tire is too low, their lifetime can be reduced by as much as 25%, meaning you’ll need to replace them more frequently. Not only is this inefficient, but it also leads to totally avoidable spending. On top of this, under-inflated tires increase your fuel consumption by 5%, and significantly compromise your car’s handling.
Keeping your tires at too low, or too high, a pressure can seriously compromise both your safety and economy. Conversely, a properly inflated tire creates a comfortable ride, allows for optimal handling, and contributes to better fuel efficiency.
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Finding the Optimum Tire Pressure for Your Vehicle
Luckily, it’s easy to find the correct pressure for your car’s tires. In fact, there are a few different places you can check:
- Your Vehicle’s Door
Perhaps the simplest place to find out the optimum pressure for your tires is on the driver’s side door. Open the door, and look for a sticker on the inside.
- Your Vehicle’s Handbook
Many older cars don’t have this handy sticker, but if you have still have your vehicle handbook, you can find the correct tire pressure here.
If you can’t track down your vehicle’s handbook, you can always check for the correct tire pressure online. The most reliable source for this information is the manufacturer’s website.
When you do track down the optimum pressure for your tires, you can expect the figure to be given in PSI (pounds per square inch). For the majority of passenger vehicles, optimum tire pressure ranges between 32 and 35 PSI. As a rule of thumb, you can expect the ideal pressure range to increase as the weight of the vehicle in question increases.
How to Inflate Car Tires Properly
Now that you know the best pressure for your tires, your next concern should be checking the pressure, and altering it if necessary. This is a straightforward process that you can do yourself:
- Locate a pressure gauge
Most gas stations have an air compressor with a built-in pressure gauge for their customers to use; some are coin operated, but many are free to use. You can also purchase a portable pressure gauge for as little as $15, which is a great way to check up on your tires on long journeys.
- Check the pressure
Locate the small metal or rubber valve stem on the tire, before unscrewing the small plastic cap that sits atop it. Next, connect the pressure gauge or compressor hose. With a portable gauge, you’ll need to push the open side against the valve stem until you hear a light rushing sound. After a few moments you can remove the gauge and look at the screen for a pressure reading. At the gas station air compressor, simply attach the tip of the pump to the end of the valve stem.
- Adjust the pressure
If the pressure reading is lower than the recommended level, pump up the tire. How exactly this is done will depend on the type of pump – you may need to pull down a trigger, or simply hold the hose firmly to the tire. Watch the pressure, and stop filling when the correct level is reached. If the pressure is too high, you can release air on the go by simply pressing the tip of a screwdriver onto the metal pin in the center of the tire valve. Whether inflating or deflating, stop regularly to check the pressure. At the gas station compressor, another control on the hose will release air – check the operating procedure on a case by case basis, and consult the staff if you’re in any doubt. Keep an eye on the pressure gauge as you go, and stop letting air out when the correct level is reached.
- Replace the valve stem cap
Screw the plastic cap back in place, firmly.
Caring For Your Tires
Checking and adjusting your tire pressure regularly is just one way to keep your tires in tip top condition – you can also:
- Inspect your tires for wear and tear regularly
- Avoid overloading your cars so as not to put undue pressure on your tires
- Keep tires clean to help prevent debris from damaging or punctuating the tire
- Have your tires balanced, and your wheels aligned every 3,000 to 6,000 miles
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When to Replace Your Car’s Tires
You can expect to replace your car’s tires every 50,000 to 60,000 miles, or when they’re too worn to perform as they should. Look out for these signs of damage:
- Tread wear
The tread should be at least 4/32” thick. You can check this by placing a quarter into the tread with Washington’s head facing down. The top of his head should not be visible.
Bulges in your tire are a huge red flag, suggesting their inner wall isn’t intact.
Unusual vibrations while driving are another telltale sign of damaged tires. If you notice this on the road, pull over as soon as possible.