Pressure’s On

By Julia Price

March 1, 2018 5 min read

When we get into our car, we're so often worried about traffic, getting to our destination on time and how much gas we've got in the tank that we forget about car maintenance to keep us safe. However, one of the most important, simple and life-saving things you should do at least once a month is check your tire pressure. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported "vehicles driving on tires underinflated by more than 25 percent are three times more likely to be involved in a crash related to tire problems than vehicles with proper inflation." Low tires not only have the ability to blow out but can also affect your steering -- which can lead to a lack of control at the wheel. Accurate tire pressure also minimizes general wear and tear and maximizes gas efficiency. These methods of checking tire pressure will offer peace of mind on the way to your destination.

So, how do you actually know when your tire pressure is too low? Most cars have a symbol near the speedometer on the dashboard. The TPMS light, or tire pressure monitoring system light, is a bright yellow exclamation point surrounded by two parentheses with an enclosed bottom. If it is lit up, at least one of your tires is significantly underinflated. If it flashes on and off repeatedly versus being constantly lit up, it could just be the exterior temperatures; colder nighttime temperatures can decrease the pressure, but the pressure can increase again as the temperature of both the car and the outside heat up. Just keep an eye on it to see if it continues to flash.

To ensure that you have correct tire pressure, measure with a tire gauge (if your car isn't equipped with one or you have lost it, you can purchase one for several dollars at a hardware store). According to a blog post on the Firestone website, you can find out exactly how much many psi (pounds per square inch) your tires require by looking in the owners manual of your car, most often found in the glove box. Otherwise, check on the car manufacturer website, or look on the placard on the inside of your gas door, glove box or car door. "Most people forget about their tires until something goes wrong," Firestone notes. "The truth is, tires lose pressure daily. In cool weather, a tire will typically lose one or two pounds of air per month. In warm weather, tires lose even more air. That's why it's recommended that you check air pressure every other time you stop to fill up your gas tank." Foresight and diligence could save you from further complications.

To fill your tires with air on your own, head to a gas station with an air pump. Have the tire gauge measurement and required psi in mind. Once the air pump is turned on and ready to go -- many require several quarters to run -- unscrew the tiny valve stem cap on the tire, and set it aside. Cover the valve with the air pump. There should be a small lever with a tire gauge attached. Press the lever, and allow the air to flow through and inflate. To see if you have enough, release the lever and read the gauge. Once correct, screw the cap back on. Repeat to other tires as necessary, including the spare.

Perhaps you're a less hands-on vehicle owner and you prefer to have your car serviced by professionals. No matter what, it's imperative to check your own tires visually before you drive, especially if you've recently gone over a pothole, broken glass or something else that could have left some damage. But if that's as involved as you want to be, you can sign up for a plan like OnStar that has advanced capabilities to monitor your car's diagnostics without your having to do anything; it will just let you know through smart technology and send you notifications about what type of service your car needs. If you have an older car, you can also take it in for regular inspections, and most places that change and rotate your tires will happily top off your air for free. And of course, it's always recommended to have a great insurance plan if it's within your budget, or to invest in a roadside assistance membership like AAA. Any of these options will help you stay on top of car safety without having to get your hands dirty.

Like anything, the more you learn about your vehicle, the more empowered you'll feel because you can anticipate the necessary actions to take if you have an issue. But the hope is that most of this knowledge will help you prevent any possible problems altogether. For more information, check out your local tire center or one of the larger chains like Firestone. Tires are the only thing between your car and the road. Stay mindful of your tire pressure so you can cruise along knowing you'll be safe and taken care of no matter what.

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