Maintaining proper tire pressure is essential to safe and fuel efficient driving. We therefore recommend checking your tire pressure twice per month to make sure they are not under-inflated (or losing tread depth).
Under-inflated (or under-pressured) tires are unsafe. A 25% decrease in tire pressure will increase a drivers risk of a tire pressure related accident by nearly 3x… Nearly 200 deaths occur each year as a result of tire-related crashes. Given these statistics, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tells us that proper tire pressure is the most important part of tire maintenance. Thus, if you buckle your seatbelt and put your younger children in car seats, like nearly all Americans do, then you should also regularly monitor your tire pressure (and check your tread depth and wear).
All tires lose pressure over time. Simply hitting a pothole or even bumping the curb when you park your car, for example, can cause your tires to lose pressure. For these reasons, most people in the U.S. drive with under-inflated tires, perhaps by as much as 25%. Given the safety risks, that’s a huge problem! Thankfully, it’s easy to fix.
To address this problem, all new cars have tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). But many TPMS will notify you only when your tire pressure is severely low. If you care about minimizing your risk of an accident, you shouldn’t wait for an alarm to go off before checking your tire pressure. And if you drive an older car, like millions of Americans, then you do not have the luxury of a TPMS. So to be safe, you should check your own tire pressure on a regular basis or install an aftermarket TPMS. How often should you check your tire pressure? We recommend twice a month.
If you don’t have a TPMS that tells you individual tire pressure, how do you check your tire pressure? It is very easy to do, as this video demonstrates.
As you can see, you can typically find your optimal tire pressure on a sticker or placard attached to the driver-side door frame. This is not the same as, and is typically lower than, a tire’s Maximum PSI (which is stamped on its sidewall). Once you know your optimal pressure, all you need is a simple and inexpensive tire pressure gauge and 2 minutes of your time every 2 weeks to see whether your tires are properly inflated. This is the first “rule of en-gaugement.” If they are not, and you need to add air, you have several options: (1) manual — use a bicycle pump with a Schrader valve (roughly 6-10 pumps per PSI); (2) plug-in pump (our recommendation) — use an inflator that plugs into your 12V/cigarette lighter; or (3) as a last resort, drive to a gas station that has an air hose (make sure you check in advance as many do not).
Not convinced? What if we told you that properly inflating your tires would save you lots of money? Under-pressured tires are inefficient, which means they wear faster (costing you money because you must replace them far more often) and reduce your gas mileage (costing you more money because you are at the pump more often). For an average driver, a 3% increase in fuel efficiency (which is roughly the gain that would result from properly inflating substantially under-inflated tires) would save roughly $60 at the pump every year, especially with the gas tax increase that was implemented in California on November 1st. You can keep giving that money to big oil or you can treat yourself to an extra latte every month at Starbucks — your choice.
Lattes aren’t your thing? What if we told you that properly inflating your tires would help the environment? Burning a gallon of gas produces roughly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide. For an average driver, a 2% increase in fuel efficiency would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by roughly 300 pounds per year. If just you and a few friends were to start paying attention to your tire pressure, the environmental impact would be substantial: The editors at Edmunds estimated that if their 212 staffers properly inflated their tires, they would save 5820 gallons of gas every year, which would translate into 116,400 fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Just imagine if just 2% of drivers in California, Oregon, and Washington pledged to Drive2Save by properly inflating their tires, they could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 180,000,000 pounds.
Our cars are getting smarter and more autonomous. But until they can monitor and inflate our tires (while whipping up our favorite latte) at a price point the average consumer can afford, drivers should ensure their tires are properly inflated. Other than subscribing to our Newsletter, there may be no easier way to save lives, money, and the planet.
To learn more about the best gauges and pumps on the market, check out our Product Testing Page.