Morgan Pritchett
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How to Fill Your Car’s Tires and Check Their Pressure

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filling tires with air checking pressure

Although you may not think of the tires when purchasing a new vehicle, these components are vital in keeping you safe as you drive. If your car’s tires are under- or overinflated, you could end up with some serious damage to the vehicle or even end up in a life-threatening situation. Here are some tips on checking and filling your car’s tire pressure so you can stay safe year-round.


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Buy your own tire pressure gauge

Before you take on any task, you have to make sure that you have the right tools. In this case, that means you’ll need a tire pressure gauge. These handy little gadgets can be found in auto parts stores, such as AutoZone or NAPA, and even at most local grocery stores. You can go with a digital version that requires batteries or an analog option, which is usually cheaper.

Check for the recommended tire pressure

Tire pressure is kind of like Goldilocks finding that perfect bowl of porridge — you want it to be just right for optimal fuel economy. Look in your car’s manual or on the driver side door jamb for the recommended tire pressure (measure in PSI, pounds per square inch) of your vehicle’s tires. Keeping your tires in this range will help prevent any blowouts in the future or early tire wear.

Check each tire’s pressure

Be sure to check the pressure of your car’s tires when they are cold (not directly after driving) since that’s normally when they have the lowest pressure. It typically takes about half an hour for them to cool down after they’ve been active. Unscrew the valve cap of the tire and press the tire gauge evenly into the valve stem. If you press it down at an angle, you could let air out or get an incorrect reading. The number on the gauge is your current tire pressure. Replace the valve cap, write down the number, and repeat this process on the other three tires.

pencil style air pressure gauge valve tire pressure measure
This is what an analog tire pressure gauge looks like
Photo: The News Wheel

Find an air pump nearby

Many gas stations have air pump stations that you can use for free or for a low cost. There are even websites that help you find free air if you’re strapped for cash. If you don’t feel like traveling or it might seem unsafe to do so because of your tires’ current status, opt for a home air pump. Many online retailers sell a variety of tire inflators, ranging from $30 to $80 or more. Read up on some reviews and find the option that works best for you.

Fill and adjust the tire pressure

Now it’s time to get down and dirty. Park your car as close to the air pump as possible so the nozzle can reach around your car to all tires. It’s best to line up the machine with the middle of your car so you can still open your door and there is an even distance to each side of the vehicle.

Pro tip: If you’re using a coin-operated machine, it’s easier to remove the valve caps on each tire before filling up so you’re not fumbling to get them off before time runs out.

To fill up your car’s tires, follow similar steps you took to check the pressure of each tire: Place the nozzle of the hose on the open valve and press down to add air. Some machines allow you to set the limit and will alert you when your tire has reached that PSI. But if the machine you’re using doesn’t do this, you’ll need to take breaks to manually check the pressure of each tire. If you add too much air, simply press down on the needle inside the valve stem for a couple of seconds to let some air out.


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Finishing up

Before heading back home or to your next destination, don’t forget to put the valve caps back on each tire! Most automakers suggest checking tire pressure once per month or before heading out on a road trip. But if the weather changes significantly, you’ll want to check it every couple of weeks, as the fluctuation in temperature can drastically change a tire’s PSI.