Knowing how to put air in your vehicle's tires is something every driver should know. Unfortunately, depending on where or when you had driver's education, and whether or not you hang out with gearheads, this basic bit of regular vehicle maintenance may have escaped you.
Fear not: Proper tire inflation is not a difficult process at all. You just need your owner's manual, a tire pressure gauge, and an air pump to add air to your tires in a jiffy.
We'll walk you through the process, and then you'll be able to practice yourself. Before long, you'll be a tire-inflating expert yourself!
Step 1: Check Tire Pressure
Before you inflate the tires, you need to know how much air they need, if any.
The recommended tire pressure is usually posted on a sticker inside the driver's side door, which will read in PSI, or Pounds per Square Inch. Your car's tires are made of rubber or a rubber compound, which can't hold up the weight of your vehicle, its cargo, and occupants on its own.
The inflation pressure not only helps distribute weight over the lumps and bumps in the road, but keeps your car steady during stops, acceleration, corners, and more. Having proper pressure in each tire allows the rest of the parts of your vehicle, including the wheels, shocks, and brakes, do their job the way safely. Under-inflated tires can lead to a blowout and poor fuel economy, so check your tire pressure at least once a month to make sure you're at the recommended PSI.
Many modern vehicles have a tire pressure monitoring system, which will automatically send an alert when a tire is running low. Not all of these systems are created equally, though, and they may not provide you with an exact reading on how much air needs to be added.
Enter the tire pressure gauge. These handy tools generally cost a few dollars at a gas station or auto parts store, and are a handy thing to keep in the glove box.
To check your tire air pressure, find the valve stem of your tire. It should look like a rubber or metal protrusion on the inside rim. Unscrew the valve stem cap and make sure you put it in a safe place. Leaving the tire valve cap off will allow your tire to release air, and basically creates a slow leak situation.
Press the open end of your tire pressure gauge against the open valve, and listen for the whoosh of air out of the tire. The air pressure escaping will move the dial or graduated extension piece. Check the number displayed.
Step 2: Put Air in Tires
If you're new to this process, you're likely using a compressed air machine at a gas station. Some folks have an air compressor at home, which is also fine.
Press the valve on the air hose to the valve stem on your tire. You'll know it's doing its job when you don't hear air whooshing out. Add a small amount of air, then recheck the reading on your tire pressure gauge.
It is possible that the air machine at the gas station has a built-in gauge. That can be super helpful, but bear in mind that it might not be an accurate reading. Those hoses are used all day, every day, so a little wear and tear might impact their figures. Always double check your work with your own tire pressure gauge.
Inflate the front tires and the rear tires, as well as the spare tire. You don't want to get caught with a flat tire only to have a flat spare tire, too.
If you put too much air in the tire, give it a second. Some inflators have a release valve, and the knob on the back of your tire pressure gauge can help release some extra air, if needed. With a little practice, you'll get a feel for how much to add at a time to avoid under-inflation or over-inflation.
Step 3: Replace the Valve Stem Caps and Have a Nice Day!
Seriously, that's it. Once you've made sure that all of your tires are inflated to the recommended PSI, you just need to screw the plastic caps on all the valve stems (you did keep them safe, right?) and head off.
Inflating your car's tires is one of the easiest DIY car maintenance activities out there. It involves a lot of bending over and keeping track of small pieces, but as long as you have a safe place and a few basic tools, it'll be over in no time.
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