You Absolutely Need a Tire Pressure Gauge
- on August 11, 2020
- Categories: Guidance
Properly inflated tires are far less prone to blowouts, last longer, and make your car drive better.
Until flying cars arrive, which won't be any time soon, tires will remain indispensable. They are precisely engineered to perform multiple, often conflicting, functions: they must grip the road securely, cut a safe path through puddles and snow, turn with precision, contribute to good fuel economy, help smooth the ride, and be strong enough to resist damage from potholes and road debris. In order for them to function properly, they must be filled with a specific amount of pressurized air.
That's why you should have a good tire gauge to monitor your tires' air pressure. Why keep tabs on the air in your tires? The most important reason is to ensure your safety. Too much pressure can be problematic, but far more problematic and, unfortunately, more common is having too little tire pressure. A tire can lose a significant amount of air pressure before it starts to look low or flat, yet it is dangerous nonetheless. A badly underinflated tire has a greater propensity to deform or curl under the wheel when turning—during emergency lane changes, for example—and less ability to protect both the tire and the wheel it's on from damage or blowouts caused by deep, sharp-edged potholes. Maintaining proper pressure also improves wear, so you won't need to replace well-maintained tires as often as neglected ones.
It's also important to remember that tires can lose a small amount of pressure over time and are significantly affected by large swings in temperature: tires typically lose about a pound of pressure for every 10-degree drop in ambient temperature. So as the seasons change, and the outside temperature changes with them, your tire pressure needs to be adjusted as well.
It's ultimately your responsibility to ensure that the tires on your vehicle are properly inflated and, sooner or later, you're going to need to add air to them. When that time comes, we believe you should have your own pressure gauge. The air pump at your neighborhood gas station might have a pressure indicator that pops out from the grip when connected to the valve stem of the tire, but those are less than precise and hard to read, especially when covered by dirt and grime.
Having a good tire pressure gauge in one hand and the air hose in the other means you're going to set the pressures precisely. Check your owner's manual or the driver's-side door jamb to see the proper pressures you should set your vehicle's tires at when cold. If you've driven several miles to the air hose, add 3 PSI—pressure gauges are calibrated in pounds per square inch, or PSI—to the recommended pressures. Tires warm up when you drive and their internal pressures increase; adding the extra air pressure compensates for that.
Tips for Checking Tire Pressure
- Check tire pressure when the tires have been cooled to the ambient temperature, typically after sitting parked for 3 hours or more. Why? Pressure in tires goes up as the tires warm up in normal service.
- Set air pressure based on the tire information placard, typically found on the driver’s doorjamb, and not to the maximum pressure indicated on the tire’s sidewall.
- Check the inflation pressure of your spare tire.
- Remember that a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) isn’t a maintenance reminder, but a system to alert you that one or more tires is significantly low on air pressure and needs immediate attention. Just because the TPMS warning light isn’t illuminated, don’t assume your tire pressure has been set correctly.
- Store the tire pressure gauge in a secure, clean, accessible spot. Dirt and grime can affect the scale slide on a stick gauge, and battery life is a concern for digital gauges. Keep a tire pressure gauge in the glove compartment of every car you own.