How Much Air Should You Put in Your Tires?

Man checking tire pressure on car

Tire maintenance is one of the most important things you can do for your car from a safety and cost standpoint. The easiest way to care for your tires is both quick and inexpensive: maintain the correct tire pressure.

Driving on under-inflated tires is one of the biggest causes of tire failure, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and not having enough air in your tires present many other problems. They wear out more rapidly, handle poorly and reduce fuel efficiency. In addition, over-inflated tires are more susceptible to damage from road irregularities, and this also creates a bumpier ride. Overfilling your tires is just as dangerous as under-filling them, so it’s important you know what is recommended for your vehicle.

How to check tire pressure

Knowing how to check tire pressure is critical to your safety and keeping your tires in good working order.

Use a tire pressure gauge

When it comes to choosing a gauge, you typically have 3 options:

  • Pen-type pressure gauges – Have a ruler-like rod that slides in and out of a sleeve to measure air pressure
  • Dial pressure gauges – Feature a numbered dial with a watch-like hand
  • Digital pressure gauges – Display numbers on a digital screen

Put the pressure gauge into the valve stem, making sure the gauge is evenly and firmly pressed onto the stem. If using a pen-style gauge, read the number on the rod that pops out of the sleeve. Read dial pressure gauges like you would a watch with one hand. With a digital pressure gauge, simply read the number on the screen. Don’t check your tire pressure more than once, since air can escape through the valve stem on subsequent readings.

Find tire PSI

Find your tires’ recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) in the owner’s manual or on a sticker just inside the driver’s side door. The proper PSI is crucial to your safety and the car’s longevity. Under-inflated tires can overheat and wear unevenly; over-inflated tires can blow out.

For an accurate PSI reading make sure to check tire pressure when tires are cold. The outside temperature can actually change your tire pressure, so re-check your PSI every few weeks for any time you notice a change in tire performance. This will help to ensure maximum safety. Take your car to a mechanic you trust for a professional assessment

What is the right tire pressure

Since maintaining your tires is so important to your safety and your car’s overall performance, it’s important to know what tire pressure is right for your vehicle. Air pressure in tires is measured in pounds per square inch, or PSI; usually, the recommended pressure ranges between 30 and 35 PSI.

To learn what your tire pressure should be, look for your manufacturer’s recommendation, which is printed on a label inside your car. Depending on the vehicle, this label may be on the edge of the vehicle’s door, on the doorpost or in the glove box. The label will usually give recommendations for the front and rear tires as well as the spare, and it’s important you stick to those guidelines. (While you’re at it, check the air in your spare tire, too. It loses air pressure over time.) Even after you’ve replaced your tires, the same pressure guidelines on your car’s label apply to new tires of the same size. If your tires are larger than the stock models that came on your car and you’re unsure of the recommended PSI, check the tire’s sidewall to find the maximum cold PSI level.

Pressure recommendations are based on readings taken from a tire pressure gauge. Check the pressure first thing in the morning or wait at least three hours after driving; this provides sufficient time for them to cool back down.

How to maintain proper tire pressure

Of course, knowing your recommended PSI isn’t enough. You have to ensure you’re checking your tires regularly. Some experts recommend you check the air pressure every time you refuel; others say once a month is sufficient. Your car’s TPMS, tire pressure monitoring system, measures the amount of air in your tires to let you know if your tires are properly inflated.

Frequently checking your PSI becomes even more important in the fall and winter, when outside temperatures drop and weather conditions fluctuate causing your tires to lose air more quickly. Generally speaking, your tire will gain or lose one PSI for every 10-degree change in temperature, which means if you have a sudden drop of 30 degrees, you could lose three PSI overnight. If your tires were already low, this could cause tire damage, steering problems or even a flat tire.

Knowing and maintaining the right air pressure is important to the safety and longevity of your tires. All it takes is a tire pressure gauge and a few minutes of your time.

Once you have the right tire pressure, make sure you also have the right coverage. Learn more about how Nationwide auto insurance can help protect you and save you money.