How to Check and Inflate Your Car Tires Properly

Inflating your car’s tires doesn’t really sound like a very daunting task. How difficult is it to stick an air pump in your tire and fill it up, right? Checking and filling your tire’s air pressure is, in fact, a relatively easy thing to do, but it’s surprising how many of us forget to do this one simple and vitally important chore.

We spoke with Jehangir Alam, owner of Tire and Auto Repair, in Inglewood, CA to find out how to properly check and inflate your car tires.

But before we can get to that, let’s discuss why it is so essential to have properly inflated tires.

The Department of Transportation estimates U.S. drivers collectively waste 2 billion gallons of fuel yearly due to low tire pressure. This is bad news for your wallet and the environment—that means we’re exposed to over 57.5 billion pounds of carbon monoxide pollutants because of tires that aren’t inflated.

Additionally, the wear and tear caused by driving around with under-inflated tires can shorten a tire’s lifespan by up to a year.

Perhaps the most important reason, however, is your own safety. Having under-inflated tires makes it difficult to handle your vehicle, raising your chances of getting into an accident.

To prevent these common mishaps and potentially dangerous events, Alam suggests checking your tire pressure at least once a month. And remember, you can’t tell by merely looking, so you should keep the following steps in mind.

How to check your tire pressure

  1. Make sure tires are cold to get an accurate reading. If you’ve been driving around, the heat will cause the air to expand and give you the wrong pressure reading. Ideally, you should check your air pressure in the morning before you leave the house.
  2. Have a tire pressure gauge handy. You can find a relatively inexpensive one at any auto parts store.
  3. Find the tire pressure requirement for your car. This number, measured by PSI (pounds per square inch), can be found on a sticker located on the driver’s side doorjamb or the owner’s manual. Don’t go by the number on the tire’s sidewall– this is the maximum air pressure for the tire, which is usually different than your vehicle’s.
  4. Locate and unscrew the valve stem cap from the tire. The black extension near the hubcap, usually around an inch long.
  5. Once you’ve unscrewed the cap, press the tire gauge onto the valve stem and hold it down firmly for a second or two.
  6. If you hear a hissing sound, you are letting air out and you need to press down a little harder. Make a note of the given reading.
  7. Do this with all four tires and compare the tire pressure reading with the specified amount for your car. If your air pressure is lower than the recommended amount, you need to bring it up.

How to inflate your tires

  1. You can either inflate your tire at home with a portable air compressor, or use one at a gas station–which usually costs between 50 cents to a dollar.
  2. Make sure the hose reaches your tire and turn the compressor on.
  3. Remove the stem cap from the tire and set it aside in a safe place where it can be easily found and not roll away.
  4. Press the air hose fitting onto the valve stem, keep a firm grip, and press the lever to begin the air flow. You should feel the air moving through the hose.
  5. To check if you have reached your desired air pressure, release the lever and check the hose fitting. This will show you approximately how much you have. You can also check with your own gauge to be sure.
  6. If you have over-inflated the tire, press the gauge down enough to hear a hissing sound to let the air out. Or press down on the small needle in the center of the valve with a fingernail or pen.
  7. Once your tire reaches the correct air pressure, replace the valve stem cap and repeat with the remaining tires.
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