Ask Andy: If My Tire Isn’t Flat, It’s Perfectly Fine…Right?

Andy VegaIn honor of National Car Care Month, which occurs bi-annually in April and October and is sponsored by the Car Care Council, we are starting a new segment titled “Ask Andy”. Andy Vega is the Service Manager here at Hershey Motors in Parkesburg, PA and is a wealth of knowledge about not only car maintenance, but everything car related. If you have a question for Andy, feel free to send it to us – it might be the topic of our next post!

Today we’re going to talk about the importance of maintaining your tires at their proper inflation. We’ve all done it – walked by the car, noticed it appeared a tad on the low side and thought eh, it’s not flat, I won’t worry about it or The tire pressure light isn’t on, it must be fine, right?  But what many people don’t know is that under-inflated tires will decrease your fuel economy and may also present a significant safety risk, especially during the summer months and in hotter climates. Remember, no matter how great the safety ratings on your vehicle or how many safety features it includes, you’re only as safe as the four pieces of rubber that stand between you and the pavement.

There are several factors that can contribute to a tire overheating beyond its design ratings, including pavement temperatures, high-speed driving, frequent braking, and excessive cornering. Most of these factors are out of your control, but one that isn’t is tire pressure. Under-inflated tires run hotter than tires inflated to the manufacturer’s specifications and, therefore, when other extreme-heat conditions are present, the combination of these factors may lead to blowouts. Blowouts can lead to accidents, and nobody wants that – especially when preventing one may be as simple as checking the PSI of your tires.

Checking your tire pressure is simple. No, really – it’s simple. Even for people who know nothing about cars. All you need is a tire pressure gauge, which can be purchased for around $15, give or take, and a source of air, which can be found at most gas stations for under $1 (often for free). Once you have acquired an accurate gauge and located an air machine, all you need to do is complete the following steps:

  • Step One
    Find out the proper PSI rating for your tires. This information should be located in your owner’s manual and on the sticker on the driver’s side door. When purchasing new tires, ask the salesperson for the ideal tire pressure so you’ll have it for future reference. For sedans and small cars, the range is usually between 30-40 PSI, and for larger vehicles it’s typically a little higher.
  • Step Two
    tire pressure - valve stemWhen your tires are cold (haven’t been driven in at least three hours), place the gauge evenly and firmly onto your tire’s valve stem (the nozzle on the side of your tire). The reading should appear either as a digital readout, or on the metered stick of a traditional gauge. If the reading falls into the normal range, you’re all finished! If your tire is under-inflated, however, you should continue on to step three.
  • Step Three
    Add enough air to your tire to increase the PSI to the normal range. Air machines can be found at most gas stations and can be used for free or for 50 cents or so, depending on the gas station. Ideally, you should park with your car centered at the source of the air so that the hose can reach all four tires, but it may be necessary to move the car to get to each tire. Remove all four valve stem caps and check the pressure on each tire. Choose which tire you want to fill first, add any required payment, and place the air hose nozzle on the valve stem. It will hit a pin, causing air to leak out of your tire, but once the air hose nozzle is properly applied, the leaking will stop. Some air hoses automatically release air into the tire once the nozzle is on securely, while others require you to squeeze a handle to activate the air. Frequently remove the nozzle from your tire and check the pressure; it is also important not to over-inflate your tire. Over-inflated tires wear more quickly and also increase the chances of a blowout.

Once all four tires are properly inflated, you can replace the valve stem covers and return to your vehicle with the assurance that you are now maximizing both your fuel economy and your safety. Remember to also get your tires rotated regularly, about every 5,000 miles for all-wheel-drive vehicles or every 6,000 miles for front- or rear-wheel drive vehicles. And check your tire pressure frequently! Let us just say that again: check your tire pressure frequently! It will help to save your hard-earned money at the gas pump and it might just save your life! Be green, be safe, be smart!

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