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CarSmart Tip: Checking Your Tires

By Terri Trespicio

  • Protect your family by checking your tire pressure regularly. Here's how.

    Whether you're driving your own car, a friend's or family member's car or a rental, there's a quick check that can make a big difference in your safety—tire pressure. It's easy to make it part of your regular auto-safety routine.

    "Underinflated tires are one of the leading causes of crashes," says Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. "It's critical that you check tire pressure regularly so that you don't put yourself at a greater risk."

    Here's why: When a tire is underinflated, tread wears more quickly and unevenly. You also risk overheating the tire, which can cause it to fail. "This might mean a flat or a blowout, which, at highway speeds, can cause you to lose control of the car and swerve into another lane, another vehicle or off the road altogether," Jasny says. You can also improve your gas mileage by 3.3 percent by keeping your tires properly inflated.

    Follow these tips when checking your tires:

    1. Look for the sticker. Inside the driver's-side door there should be a sticker with the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle (if it's not there, check the owner's manual).
    2. Check it before you drive. The most accurate readings happen when the tire is cold — meaning it hasn't been driven on for three hours.
    3. Get a good tire pressure gauge. Some newer cars have an in-dash tire pressure monitoring system. If your vehicle doesn't have this feature, or you want the security of a backup, keep a good pressure gauge in your car. When you unscrew the valve cap on the tire, hold the nozzle firmly and squarely on the valve. Hold it straight — tilting the gauge will affect the reading. And make sure your valves have caps. It's a good idea to store a few extra caps along with your gauge.
    4. Check your tires once a month. And always check them before taking off on a long trip. Even though colder weather will reduce tire pressure and warmer weather will increase it, you should still inflate or deflate only to the recommended pressure.