Studies from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have found that 27 percent of passenger cars and 32 percent of light trucks in the United States have one or more “substantially underinflated” tires. It’s easy to understand how that happens…after all, we all tend to take tires for granted until something goes wrong. It’s even easier to skip tire inflation since radial tires tend to look fully inflated until they are drastically low on air.
Rubber is a porous material, and even new tires will lose one to two pounds of pressure per month, through the valve and through the tire walls. Underinflated tires have more rolling resistance (think of what it’s like to ride a bicycle with an underinflated rear tire); more rolling resistance means more heat, and heat is the enemy of your tires. Underinflated tires mean:
- Poor handling and response
- Increased chance of tire failure, tread separation and blowout
- Increased fuel consumption
- Shortened tire service life and invalidation of tire warranty
You should make a habit of checking your tires’ inflation level once a month. Use a quality tire gauge – don’t rely on the built-in gauge on the hose. A dial-type pressure gauge tends to be more accurate than the pop-out pencil-style gauges. Check your tires’ inflation while they’re still cold, as air expands with heat and hot tires will show inaccurate readings.
You can find proper inflation levels for your tires on a sticker that’s usually found under the hood, on the driver’s door frame or inside the fuel filler lid. Don’t rely on the inflation number that’s branded on the tire sidewall; that denotes the maximum cold inflation pressure for that tire, not the recommended pressure for your vehicle.
It’s easy to forget about your tire pressure until something goes wrong…but it’s also easy to stay on top of the situation. Why spend more money on fuel, shorten the life of your tires and potentially risk your own safety?