October 22, 2012

Mile Miser Monday: Check Your Tire Pressure

Have you seen this warning sign on your dashboard? Mine turned on the other day, setting off a round of speculation on what it might mean. It looked like a warning of the presence of onions in the car that could cause the driver's eyes to fill with tears, dangerously reducing the view of the road.

Actually, it's the Low Tire Pressure warning light. In my car, there is a sensor embedded in the ABS braking system that monitors how the tires vibrate as I'm driving around. The sensor is calibrated at the recommended tire pressure. If the pressure in the tires is much lower than the recommendation, it will give a "mushier" ride with different vibration characteristics. When those characteristics are different enough from the calibration, the warning light comes on.

While it's comfortable not to have to feel every pebble on the road, it's not a good idea to drive with under-inflated tires. The contact area with the road surface is larger, so the friction is larger. This does no favours to your fuel efficiency.

Especially if your car is outfitted with those plus-sized tires that are so ubiquitous now, you really need to keep an eye on tire pressure. Tires that are shaped like onion rings, with their reduced side walls, are much more prone to under-inflation trouble than regular tires shaped like donuts: it's much easier to end up driving on the rims, say, when you hit a pothole.

So do a visual check on your tires once a week. Carry a pressure gauge in the glove compartment and check your tire pressure once a month. If you need more air in the tires, most gas stations offer compressed air for a dollar. Or you can buy a valve adapter so you can pump up your tires with your bike pump. You save the dollar, and you get some good exercise. You do have a bike pump, right?


Low tire pressure icon by Hydrargyrum via Wikimedia Commons.


  1. that is definitely good to know! I leave most of the car stuff to my husband, but i know when a light turns on, it means something! now if i ever see that light, i'll know what it means.

  2. There's a luxury! _My_ husband leaves all the car stuff to _me_. (Flip side: I get to make all the decisions :-) )


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