Originally created 04/09/04

Check those tires!

April is National Car Care Month. The Car Care Council is recommending paying attention to factors that contribute to poor fuel economy as this year's theme. Poor fuel economy can be an expensive proposition, as well as an environmentally sensitive one, and often can be improved by a few simple measures.

One of them is paying proper attention to tire inflation.

According to a survey released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 27 percent of passenger cars and 32 percent of SUVs and light trucks have at least one dangerously underinflated tire.

According to NHTSA, tires were considered underinflated if they were 8 pounds per square inch (psi) below the manufacturer's recommended pressure, usually 32 psi. Low tire pressure adversely affects vehicle handling, fuel economy and tire life.

Underinflated tires can lead to blowouts, which can cause drivers to lose control. Underinflated tires also can cause tread separation.

Insure.com, a Web site for the insurance industry, recommends checking your tire pressure at least once a month. Tire pressure should be checked when the tires are cold, ideally after the car's been sitting overnight.

How do you know what the correct pressure reading is? It's usually printed on a decal on the driver's side door jamb. Another location is inside the glove compartment door. As a last resort, read the owner's manual.

To check your tire pressure you need a tire pressure gauge. Most air pumps you find at gas stations have tire pressure gauges on them, but because of their extreme use, they often are inaccurate.

It's much easier to keep a tire pressure gauge in the glove compartment. Take it out regularly and use it. If you use the same gauge every time, your readings will be consistent.

There are three major types of tire pressure gauges: pencil, dial and digital. All perform the same function, but in slightly different ways.

The most common, and generally least expensive, is the pencil gauge. It usually has a metal or plastic body, a bubble at one end that contains a deep-set chuck and a pressure release nipple on the other side. Pressure is indicated by a bar that comes out the other end.

You use a pencil gauge by placing the chuck on the tire valve. When you place the chuck end over the pressure release valve, air pressure inside the tire will force the indicator bar out. How far it projects depends on the pressure inside the tire. If the pressure is higher than it's supposed to be, release some of the air in the tire with the pressure relief valve, then check the pressure again.

A dial gauge is used in the same manner as a pencil gauge, and the part that goes on the tire valve is essentially identical. The pressure is indicated on a dial, rather than on a bar that extends from the gauge. On a digital gauge, the reading appears on a digital readout.

When buying a tire pressure gauge, ask the salesperson if you can check several gauges. Try the gauges on a tire (any tire will do, it doesn't have to be on your vehicle). Eliminate any that isn't consistent with the others.

You can check all four tires on your vehicle in minutes, and it will be time well spent. It beats having to change a flat or seriously underinflated tire.


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