February 15, 2016
February is traditionally one of the coldest months in Maryland, which usually means snow and sharp temperature fluctuations. It could be raining in the morning and freezing cold at night. Meanwhile, when the temperature drops, so does the air pressure inside your tires. Sometimes it drops so low that the warning indicator light comes on. If this happens, don’t panic and use these tips offered by our Maryland auto repair pros here at Hillmuth.
Why Tire Air Pressure is Important
The air pressure indicates the amount of air in your tires, which in turn determines how firm your tires are. Over-inflated tires are too firm and reduce the tire contact with the road. This means the tires will be less flexible and more easily damaged when running over potholes and similar road imperfections. There are some benefits to over-inflated tires, such as more precise turning ability and better fuel efficiency, but in the long run the cons outweigh the pros.
Under-inflated tires, on the other hand, are not firm enough, and therefore are flatter than desired. Their contact area is larger, which often leads to a drop in fuel economy (up to 5%) and internal tire overheating. A flatter tire is also more likely to wear on the outer edges, where it wouldn’t suffer much wear and tear under optimal inflation.
Both types of tire inflation issues tend to shorten the tire’s lifespan.
Why Tires Lose Pressure in Winter
Warm air expands and cold air contracts and becomes denser, which causes slight pressure fluctuations inside a tire. Air pressure inside the tires changes about 2% (1-2 psi) with every 10 degrees in outdoor temperature change. When the temperatures stay warm on a sunny day and then rapidly drops overnight, this may trigger the “check air pressure” light in the morning when you start your car. Don’t panic—this doesn’t necessarily mean that your tires are leaking air—most likely it’s just internal fluctuations.
Check Your Tire Pressure
It’s a good idea to check your tire pressure at least monthly in winter, even before the warning light comes on. The pressure is checked with a tire pressure gauge, and the test must be performed on cold tires. If you don’t know how to check the pressure or interpret the results, feel free to stop by one of our 4 Maryland auto repair centers. One of our mechanics will be happy to give you a hand!
Adjust the Air Pressure
When you get the readings from all 4 tires, look at your owner’s manual for the recommended operating pressure for your tires. Don’t rely on the numbers you see on the tire itself—this is the maximum air pressure, not the recommended one. You will need to use an air pump (available at most gas stations) to adjust the pressure in your tires. Once the pressure stabilizes, the warning light should disappear from your dashboard. Along with checking your tire tread, this is about the most basic auto maintenance you should be doing on a regular basis.
Keep an Eye on it
If the warning light keeps coming back on soon after you seem to have fixed the problem, you may have a more serious issue. It’s possible that one of your tires was damaged or has failed, causing the air to escape. First, identify and examine the tire in question, looking for any signs of physical damage, such as tears or stuck nails. If the tire looks intact, you could be dealing with a leaking valve stem—the small mechanism that lets you put air inside the tire. Air can also escape at the wheel rim where corrosion or physical impact could have damaged the seal.
If you need more help figuring out your tire pressure problem or otherwise maintaining your tires, feel free to give us a call! We will be happy to see you in one of our auto repair shops in Clarksville, Columbia, Gaithersburg or Glenwood!