The Cold Facts About Tire Pressure

It is always alarming to see one of the gazillion warning lights on your dashboard illuminate. If you drive a newer vehicle that has an integrated Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) you may find you’ve been recently haunted by the light shown on the right. Seeing the TPMS light more often in winter is not uncommon, but it is also not something you should ignore.

First, it is important to understand how your TPMS works. The system use sensors technology to alert drivers when tire pressure in one of the tires goes below a predetermined level. When tire pressure in one or more of your drops, the light comes on.

Since air pressure decreases in frigid temperatures, drivers tend to see the TPMS light illuminate. According to tire experts, air pressure in a tire goes down 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature change. While you need not necessarily be surprised if  you see the TPMS light come on during cold spells, you should be sure to manually check the air pressure of your tires.

It is very important to check the pressure of your tires when it is cold outside and to keep tires inflated to the proper levels. Reasons include:

  • Low tire pressure can make a vehicle handle poorly
  • Tires tend to wear out much faster when they are not  properly inflated
  • Under inflated tires tend to overheat, which could lead to a blowout
  • Low tire pressure reduces gas mileage and costs you money

Check the pressure of your tires monthly. In order to obtain the most accurate pressure level, wait until tires have cooled – about 30 minutes after parking.

Buying a Tire Pressure Gauge

Tire GaugesDear Tracy,

I would like to purchase a quality tire gauge to make sure my tire pressure is always at the right level. Can you provide me with any advice for selecting the right type of tire pressure gauge?

-Robyn M.

Dear Robyn,

A quality tire gauge is a great investment! Improperly inflated tires can lead to a host of issues including handling and traction problems, premature tread wear and poor gas mileage. Many folks believe that if their tires look fine, they are fine. That’s not always the case. By the time a tire looks underinflated, tire pressure is extremely low. It is important to do something  before it gets to that point, so monitoring pressure with your own quality gauge is a great way to do that.

There are three types of pressure gauges that are available:

  • Stick gauges – Ball-point pen sized, these gauges are compact and affordable, but can be somewhat difficult to read
  • Digital gauges – These gauges usually have an easy-to read display, but they require batteries and are a bit bulkier
  • Dial gauges – The clock-type faces on these gauges are easy to read, but some models are harder to use and more expensive

When considering the three types of options, think about what features are important to you. If you want to save money, look for a simple stick gauge. If you don’t want to spend a fortune, but want something that is easy to read, the digital gauge is the model for you. If you want something close to what race car drivers use, go for the dial gauge. Whatever model you decide on, don’t necessarily go for the cheapest – go for quality. Ask a sales person about the brands, or if you are shopping online – read reviews. You should be able to find a quality gauge for $5 to $20.

Remember: To maintain the optimal tire condition, check the pressure of your tires at least once a month and before starting on any long trip. For the most accurate reading, check pressure in the morning, when temperatures are cool, and make sure the car has been parked for three or more hours.