It has been days since you got your auto out. The tires do not seem okay – your metal monster has been idle for days. Getting your car out with deflated tires can be risky. Not to mention increased rubber wearing and the dangers of losing control over the steering. In fact, running on underinflated tires means more gas usage and hence, an inefficient driving experience. What to do now? Go ahead and check the tire pressure. At home? Well, yes! You don’t need a mechanic to check that pressure for you. Just follow the instructions below and save the day!
First things first, you will need a tire pressure gauge or a tire gauge (it’s the same thing). A tire pressure gauge is a simple device that senses your tire’s air pressure and gives a reading accordingly. The air pressure in tires is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch), and most tire gauges are calibrated in this unit only. You are likely to find a tire gauge in any auto parts store or even in convenience stores at a reasonable price.
Types of Tire Pressure Gauge
In case you are confused about which to pick from the available options of tire gauges, here is a guide briefly describing the three most popular types of tire pressure gauges:
1. Stick Tire Pressure Gauge
Stick gauges, also known as pen gauges, are small, compact and the most portable of all three mentioned. These come with a stick calibrated in PSI. The greatest con with stick gauges is the lower level of accuracy. You may consider lubricating the gauge to increase the accuracy.
2. Dial Tire Pressure Gauge
A dial tire gauge, also known as the analog tire gauge, is a round-shaped device with a needle that moves like the hand of a clock to give the reading of the tire pressure. These have a higher level of accuracy than stick gauges. The values of PSI are calibrated on the surface of the dial.
3. Digital Tire Pressure Gauge
The digital tire gauge is the most accurate and the easiest to read. Its prominent feature is an LCD screen which shows the reading. Some digital gauges come with a backlit option for visibility in lowly lit places. Most digital gauges run on batteries.
Some tire gauges come with additional features like a bleed valve, which is used to bleed air out of the tire, and extension hoses. You may want to consider all the options before buying the one which best suits your needs.
Tips for Buying a Tire Pressure Gauge:
The highest a tire pressure gauge can read up to differs from gauge to gauge. The range for the upper reading is from 60 PSI to 100 PSI for most tire gauges. Do not forget to check the highest a tire gauge can read up to (no matter which type of tire gauge you choose) before you purchase one. If your car is a heavy-duty one with high tire pressures, you will need a tire gauge with higher upper reading.
5 steps to check the tire pressure
When you have purchased a new tire gauge, or you have one at your home, follow the 5-step procedure as below:
Step 1: Check for the Optimum Pressure
Firstly, you need to find the optimum pressure for the tire. The optimum pressure is indeed the operating pressure for your tires. This means it is the value of the tire pressure you should be running your car on, as recommended by the car manufacturers. To find the optimum pressure, check the inside of the door to the driver’s seat. Along the edge of the door, you can find the optimum pressure for the tire in PSI and some other information that we really don’t need now. For most cars, the optimum tire pressure is between 30 PSI and 35 PSI until and unless it is a heavy-duty car.
You may be wondering about the pressure value scripted on the side of the tire. Actually, that is the maximum PSI for the tire and need not be the optimum PSI. (Please note that it is important to find the optimum PSI because running a car with its tires inflated to the maximum PSI can be risky because your braking threshold decreases, as well as the center of the tire, is likely to wear away while driving. Hence, always look out for the optimum tire pressure.
Step 2: Uncap the Valve Stem
Once you have found the optimum PSI, go back to your tire and take the cap off the valve stem. Uncapping the valve to reveal the tire nozzle is as simple as using your fingers to unscrew the cap slowly. If the cap is jammed, you may want to spray some lubricant on the cap. Any traditional grease or oil lubricant works. And then, use a pair of pliers (preferably needle-nose pliers) to hold onto the cap and unscrew it firmly. If the cap was jammed, make sure you replace it soon.
Step 3: Attach the Gauge to the Uncapped Valve
- For a stick gauge, make sure that the gauge stick is firmly inside the lumen of the gauge before you attach it. Having confirmed that, take the open end of the gauge and attach it to the valve.
- For a dial gauge, the extension on the top of the dial goes into the valve. This is called the contact point. The contact point of the dial gauge must be firm on the valve.
- For a digital gauge, fix the nozzle of the gauge firmly onto the tire valve.
Step 4: Press the Gauge Against the Valve
Now that you have placed your gauge, place it firmly on the tire nozzle (i.e., the uncapped tire valve stem). While doing this, make sure air does not escape. Look out for the hissing sound – make sure you don’t hear any. If air escapes, the gauge may inaccurately read the tire pressure.
Step 5: Get the reading
- If it is a stick tire gauge, the stick is pushed back due to the air pressure coming from the valve. The distance the gauge stick came out gives you the reading for the tire pressure.
- If you are using a dial tire gauge, where the needle points to the PSI on the dial that is the reading. You may have to wait for a few seconds till the needle rests at a reading.
- And if it’s a digital tire gauge, the reading comes directly on the LCD screen. Some digital tire gauges have a button that needs to be pressed before the reading is displayed. Make sure you do that!
If the reading corresponds to that of your optimum pressure, that means no worries! You are good to go. However, if it is any lower, you may consider getting some air to inflate the tire. At the same time, overinflated tires can be risky. So if the measured PSI is above the recommended one, or if you have exceeded the recommended PSI while filling the air in, try bleeding some air out by using a bleeder valve. But make sure to check with the tire gauge as you go so that you don’t end up releasing too much air.
As a bonus, here are a few best practices for checking your tire pressure:
- Avoid checking the tire pressure right after a run. Your tires must be well-rested to give an accurate reading of the tire pressure. The best time to check your tire pressure is usually in the morning after the tires have rested all through the night. With a change of seasons, make sure to check your tire pressures. Changes in temperature may increase or decrease the tire pressure. It is always best to have your PSI corresponding to that recommended by the manufacturer (the one along with the door of the driver’s seat).
- If you are planning for long mileages or loading your car with heavy weights, you may consider increasing the PSI by one or two more than the recommended PSI. Afterward, reset the PSI to the recommended one. In this way, the excess pressure on the tire upon long mileages or heavy loads is averted. Don’t forget to check your spare tires from time to time for the tire pressure, or at least before/after installing them. Tires may lose air pressure if unused for a long time. Always have a spare tire gauge in your car for any on-road emergency of adjusting the air pressure, like when changing tires.
- Having underinflated tires is one of the most dangerous yet one of the most overlooked car maintenance issues. You never want to be neglecting your tires till you are left with a flat one. In most cases, a tire with a PSI under 20 is considered to be flat. Running your auto over a flat tire is extremely dangerous with higher risks of a devastating blowout. Hence, honing the skill of checking your tire pressure is much more of a necessity than a leisure time activity. Like any other skill, checking the tire pressure requires practice. So make sure to practice and if you get stuck anywhere, just refer to this article.
Happy Tire Pressure Checking!
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Last update on 2023-03-23.