One of the simplest but most frequent and necessary parts of maintenance that you'll have to do with your car is filling the tires with air. In particular if you live in a region of the world in which temperatures fluctuate considerably from summer to winter, you'll probably have to do this a few times per year. The pressure in your tires is greatly affected by temperature and when it gets colder the pressure is going to decrease but as it gets hotter the pressure will increase. As well, depending on the way you drive your car, you may have to inflate your tires more or less frequently as well.
Keeping your tires at the right air pressure is important for ensuring a smooth and even ride. Over-inflated tires make for a much harder to control vehicle that can seem much bumpier than it should. On the other hand, under-inflated tires cause excessive wear and tear and will wear out much sooner as a result. Keeping your tires inflated to where they need to be can save you a lot of headaches in the long run. So, the question is, how exactly do you get air in those tires in the first place.
If you're new to owning a car, or new to do any kind of maintenance yourself, you may have hit this roadblock. A lot of people take for granted that this is something you need to do and they can make you feel a little foolish for even asking because people who have been doing this for years act like it's second nature. But the fact is, everyone has to learn at some point in time, right? No one is born knowing how to care for a car so there's no harm reading a guide like this to figure out what to do.
Filling Your Tires with Air the Right Way
Getting air in your car tires is only intimidating the first time. Once you have tried it out and got it done, you'll realize that it's pretty easy to do and will only take a moment the next time it needs to be done. You can either do this at a gas station as almost every gas station has at least one air pump for use, or you can buy portable pumps that you can keep at home in the garage that can do the job for you as well. Both of them work essentially the same way.
Step 1: The first thing you want to do is make sure you have your own tire pressure gauge. You can find these at every auto parts store in town, as well as at places like Walmart and others. You can get one on sites like Amazon as well. These are about the size of a pen and can cost around $5 for a simple one, and maybe as much as $20 or $30 if you get a fancy digital one. The most common type, pencil types, have a sliding extension that pops at the bottom when you attach it to your tire that will show the pressure. There is also a dial type that fits on the same way but has a gauge with a needle on it that will show you the pressure. Either one is fine.
You need to use a pressure gauge to actually measure the pressure in your tires. Each tire has a little valve stem sticking out of it that will have a cap over top of it. Just like a bicycle tire. When you unscrew the cap, it reveals the air valve underneath. You push the pressure gauge into the air valve and hold it there. You'll hear the hiss of air for a moment and the pressure gauge will give you a reading of the air pressure in the tire. Give it a second or two and then pull the gauge away to read the pressure that it says. This is important every time you put air in your tires because you need to know how much you have before you add anymore.
Step 2: Once you know how much air is in your tires, compare that to how much air is supposed to be in your tires. Your pressure recommendation is likely between 30 and 35 PSI, give or take. Check the sticker inside your door frame or your owner's manual to find out for sure. If you drive a truck or a large vehicle, you probably need a higher air pressure in your tires. Whatever the case, the difference between your actual pressure and the recommended pressure is what we're dealing with here.
Step 3: Knowing the difference between what your pressure is and what it should be puts you in a position to know how much air goes in your tires now. You can now use your own air compressor at home or use the air pump that is available at a gas station. If you're at a gas station, make sure you park directly in front of the pump so that you're able to easily access all four tires. Gas station pumps will require you to pay about a dollar before it will turn on.
Step 4: The air pump should be fairly loud once it's turned on and ready to go. The end of the hose will have a nozzle similar to your air pressure gauge that actually has a gauge attached to it and a handle which will turn on the air. The pressure gauge at gas stations are notoriously unreliable, so don't worry too much about what it says on that gauge if you have your own tire pressure gauge. Press the nozzle into the air valve the same way that you pushed the pressure gauge into it. Once it is securely in place you can depress the trigger and start filling your tire with air. You should not hear any air leaking out as you do this. If you do hear the hiss of air coming out, that means you don't have the pump securely in place and it is not filling your tire.
Step 5: Depending on how low your tires are on air right now it could take a few minutes of continuous pumping to get them filled to the correct pressure. If you were only one or two PSI low, it could be a fairly quick process that lasts under a minute. Keep checking the pressure as you fill to know where you're at and add or remove air as necessary.
Step 6: Repeat this process for every tire on your car. Remember, the pressure in your tires is often going to be uneven from one tire to the next. You may have 28 PSI in one tire and 26 PSI in another tire. That means you'll need to add more air to some and less to others. That's why checking your pressure frequently is important.
Step 7: Once you’ve finished putting air in your tires to the correct pressure, make sure you put the cap back on the valve stem and then you'll be good to go again. That's all there is to getting air in your tires.
How Do You Know How Much Air to Put in Your Tires?
Figuring out how much air that you need in your tires it's not too difficult a task. In fact, the recommended tire pressure is often listed on a sticker that you can find inside your driver's door. Take a look inside the door frame around where it locks. If you don't have a sticker that tells you the pressure that you should have in your tires then you can always check your owner's manual because it will definitely be listed in there. If for some reason you don't have your owner's manual, then all you need to do is Google the make and model of your car. For the most part if you drive a passenger car the recommended PSI in your tires is probably going to be between 32 and 35. Keep in mind that's a cold reading.
If you measure the pressure in your tires when they're warm, which is to say you've been driving for a while, the friction from the road is going to generate heat which will increase not just the temperature but the pressure in your tires. You may have noticed if your display console automatically tells you the pressure in your tires that the pressure will go up the longer you've been driving or if it's a really hot day. That's the reason why.
One thing to remember is that the pressure listed on the side of your tires if you are leaning over looking at them is not the pressure to which you should inflate the tire. That's the maximum pressure that your tire can hold. You never want to inflate the tire to that pressure because it's much higher than a practical amount.
What Happens if You Overfill Your Tires?
Generally speaking, it's not too much of a problem if you accidentally overfill your tires a little bit. There is a limit to how much air your tires can hold of course, and if you force the issue for a long time you could actually cause a tire to explode. So, it does take a bit of common sense and observation skills to realize that you are having too much air.
Air pumps at gas stations and the ones you use at home have pressure gauges on them that you need to pay attention to. Even if the pressure gauges at gas stations aren't one hundred percent reliable it will give you a ballpark idea of the amount of air that you put in your tire. So, if the tire is supposed to have 31 PSI inside and the gauge reads 33 PSI, you're not doing too badly, and you should be able to safely remove the extra air without any problems.
Letting air out of a tire is an easy job. The nozzle that you used to fill the air in your tire has a tiny little pin in the centre of it. If you depress that little pin with your fingernail, you'll hear air hissing out. That's really all you need to do. Depending on how overfilled your tires are you just need to depress that little pin for a few seconds and then check the pressure again. It should only take a moment to get down to what you need if you weren't super overfilled.
Just remember that the important thing to do is keep a close eye on how much you are filling and keep an eye on that pressure gauge. Like we said, it's very unlikely that you can fill a tire so much that it will explode, but it's not impossible either. It has happened in the past, and it will probably happen to someone again. Just do your best to make sure that it's not happening to you.
If you overfill your tires and don't let some of the air out, you're going to end up having a bit of a bouncier ride and it's going to be harder to handle your vehicle. On the other hand, if your tires are underinflated then they're going to wear out much quicker than tires which are properly inflated. That's why keeping them exactly where they should be is what you want to do.
The Bottom Line
Putting air in your tires is one of the simpler tasks you can do to help maintain your vehicle. Once you got the hang of it, it will be pretty much second nature and the kind of thing that you want to do on a regular basis. Your tires lose about 1 PSI per month depending on how you drive and where you live. So, once a month when you are just about to head out for the day it's a good idea to check the pressure before you start driving when the tires are cold and see where they're at. Once you know what your pressure is at, you'll know whether or not you need to get it refilled. It’s always a good idea to keep it in that range between 30 PSI and 35 PSI, depending on the requirements for your specific model. Don't let your tires go too low for too long, and if they get too high make sure you bleed off a little extra air to keep them where they need to be.