Cold Weather and Tire Pressure
From corrosive road salt to slick roads, winter creates many challenges for drivers. Another one to add to the list? Tire pressure tips caused by lower temperatures.
Your tires require a certain amount of air pressure measured in pounds per square inch (psi) to work properly. The recommended psi is usually listed on a sticker in the jamb of the driver’s side door and/or in your owner’s manual.

Many newer cars are equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).  Newer models of cars typically flash a warning light that looks like an exclamation point between two parentheses when your tires are underinflated. If your car doesn’t have this technology, you can check your tires’ pressure yourself with a digital tire gauge. (Worth noting: Digital tire gauges require batteries. Some cheaper digital gauges go through batteries more often and are not as accurate as analog gauges. Analog gauges do not need batteries.)

Pressure drops more common in winter
If it seems your tire pressure warning light is going off more during the winter, it’s probably not your imagination. That’s because air contracts when it’s cold, causing tire pressure to drop between one and two pounds for every 10-degree decrease in temperature. This means that your tires could be 5 to 10 psi lower than required on a 24-degree day than they are on a 74-degree day.

If you haven’t tended to your tires since summer, you may have noticed that your warning light went off on the first cold day of the season.

While you can rely on your car’s warning lights to know when it’s time to inflate your tires, it’s better to take your own monthly reading of your tires’ pressure, especially if your car is not equipped with a TPMS.. A warning light usually only goes off once the tire pressure reaches a certain threshold—meaning your tires could be underinflated well before the warning light came on.

Why tire pressure matters
Underinflated tires wear more quickly and more unevenly. This makes them more susceptible to damage and wear and tear. Both handling and braking are compromised when there’s not enough air in the tires. As if that’s not enough, underinflated tires are also a drag on your fuel efficiency.

Where to get air
If you find out that your tires need air, you can either inflate them with your own portable air compressor or use an air compressor at a gas station. Be sure to use your own tire pressure gauge to measure tire pressure rather than relying on the gas station air compressor gauge which can be inaccurate. Take the time to carefully read the instructions if it’s your first time—or ask the gas station attendant for help. Many gas stations have free air and are automatic – you just set the intended psi. It may not be the most fun part of owning a car, but it really is one of the most important.
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