When it comes to summer driving, five minutes at the air pump could save you time and money. Keeping your tires inflated to the right pressure improves fuel economy and reduces the likelihood of breakdowns and even accidents.
A tire 25 percent below its recommended pressure is three times as likely to be involved in a crash, while a tire 25 percent high is twice as likely as a properly inflated tire, according to data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency.
“The air in your tires is what actually carries the weight of your car,” says Woody Rogers, product information specialist at online tire retailer the Tire Rack. “Proper inflation gives your tires the structural integrity to carry you safely from point A to B.”
Under-inflation puts too much pressure on the tire’s sidewalls. They look like they’re bulging outward.
“Tire wear increases, and so does fuel consumption, because it takes more energy to roll an under-inflated tire down the road,” Rogers says. Under-inflation also increases tire damage, creating weak spots that could fail later, even after the tires are back at the right pressure.
Over-inflated tires are trouble, too. The can cause blowouts on long drives, carrying heavy loads or in extremely hot temperatures. They also impair handling because over-inflation means less of the tire’s surface is in contact with the road than the manufacturer intended.
“You should never exceed the upper pressure limit specified on the tire,” Rogers says.
Tire pressure monitors have been required on all new vehicles in the U.S. since the 2008 model year. They alert the driver of low pressure, but you should still check your tires once a month. That’ll alert you to low pressure before it’s bad enough to set off the monitor and put you close to the tires, where you may notice wear or damage before either becomes a blowout that strands you on the highway.
Nissan added a wrinkle to its tire pressure monitor a couple of years ago. The horn beeps when you reach the correct pressure and beeps again as a warning if you exceed it by 5 pounds.
The correct pressure should be written on the tires’ sidewalls and a decal inside the driver’s door. You can buy a tire gauge for a few bucks at a gas station, auto parts store or drug store.
“Check your tire pressure every month, and before any long trip,” Rogers said.
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