PSA: Check your Tire Pressure (Updated)

A lot of people fall into the “I’ll check it later” category when it comes to car maintenance, especially with today’s TPMS setups that use in-car sensors to check each tire’s pressure while you drive.  Despite this technological safeguard, I want to emphasize how important it is to have proper tire pressures, as well as what improperly-inflated tires can cause.

After some reader feedback, I added a bullet about spare tires to the “Checking your tire pressure” section below.

Having not checked my tire pressure since I bought my 2010 Nissan Maxima in March of this year, even I am not immune to forgetfulness or being too busy to check the tires.  They looked ok, so they must be properly inflated, right?  Wrong.  The tires on my car were at 39 PSI, from the dealership.  After lowering the pressure in each tire to 35 PSI (still 2 PSI high, but I wanted to make sure everything was OK before lowering to the factory-specified 33 PSI), the car drives a lot smoother, handles better and is somewhat quieter.

Checking your tire pressure:

  • Check your owner’s manual or a sticker on the driver’s door jamb for the manufacturer’s pressure specifications, provided your car is equipped with the same wheels and make/model of tire it came with.
  • Use any gauge that’s working properly, whether it be digital or analog.
  • Check your tires’ pressure at least once a month, if not twice, and especially before going on any road trips.
  • Make sure to keep an eye on tire pressures during seasonal changes, from summer to fall and winter to spring especially, as outside temperature has a large impact on the density of the air in your tires.
  • Check your tires when the car’s been sitting for at least a few hours, because the friction between rubber and road causes the air inside a tire to heat up, which will give you falsely high readings.
  • Tire pressures don’t have to be exact, but all four should be the same pressure, and close to manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Also do a visual inspection of each tire, looking for bubbles or rips in the sidewall that can lead to blowouts at highway speeds.
  • UPDATE: Also include your spare tire in the tire pressure check – you never know when you’ll need it!  If your spare is mounted on the under side of your vehicle, take it off at least twice a year and check the area for rust, and to make sure the spare comes off properly.  Check your owner’s manual for instructions on removing your spare tire from your vehicle.

Tire pressure sticker on a 2010 Nissan Maxima

If you live more than a few blocks away from where you can add air to your tires, check them before you head out, and then check them the next morning to see how close you were.

The following graphic shows what happens when your tires are not properly inflated, as mine were.  In addition, a harsh ride can accompany over-inflated tires, and a loss of handling can be felt if the tires are under-inflated, which was the problem with Ford Explorers with under-inflated Firestone tires on them.

by John Suit

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