Your tyres are the point of contact between your car and the road, instrumental in getting you from point A to point B. Yet many people don't pay as much attention to tyre maintenance as it deserves. A critical component of tyre maintenance is ensuring optimal tyre pressure.
What is Tyre Pressure?
The tyre is pumped with air, so that it attains a particular shape and level for rigidity, enabling it to make optimal contact with the road. The right pressure for each tyre varies depending on factors like its size, nature of use and the vehicle on which it is fitted.
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The same tyre may have a different optimal inflation when fitted on different vehicles. Your vehicle handbook specifies the correct tyre pressure for your vehicle's front and rear tyres. The information may also be available on your fuel tank cap and the inside of your right hand door.
The Significance of the Right Tyre Pressure
The right tyre pressure ensures optimal tyre contact with the road. So when the tyre is overinflated or underinflated, this contact is disturbed, causing problems with your driving quality, handling ability and most importantly compromising safety of driving.
The Impact of Under-inflated Tyres
When you are driving on under-inflated tyres, a greater portion of the tyre is in contact with the road. Because of this increased contact:
- The internal tyre components get heated up and turn soft, enhancing the chances of a blow out and compromising safety.
- The tyre drag increases, enhancing the rolling resistance. This increases fuel consumption. Studies have shown that underinflated tyres can increase the fuel consumption by up to five per cent. Increased fuel consumption is naturally associated with greater carbon dioxide emissions and environmental pollution.
- The tyre wear increases and chances of sidewall damage are high. As a result, tyre life reduces considerably. It has been observed that a 20 per cent reduction in tyre pressure reduces overall tyre life by 30 per cent.
The Impact of Over-inflated Tyres
This problem doesn't occur as commonly as under-inflated tyres. Over-inflated tyres, nonetheless, bring their own share of issues for your vehicle.
Overinflated tyres have less contact with the road surface. As a result:
- Tyre grip is low, affecting handling characteristics during cornering and braking. Performance under wet conditions is also compromised. Overall safety of driving comes down.
- The ride quality gets affected as overinflated tyres make for a bumpy ride.
- The central portion of the tyre that is more in contact with the road (than the edges) gets worn out faster, effectively reducing tyre life.
Incorrect tyre pressure (lower or higher than recommended) is the perfect recipe for reduced driving safety and increased financial expenditure. You can avoid both these situations by routine checks of tyre pressure and ensuring that tyres are at their optimal pressure.
Checking Tyre Pressure
You can check the tyre pressure using an air pressure gauge. Place the round end of the gauge on the tyre's valve stem. Make sure to push it down well to create a good seal so that the reading is accurate. The gauge will tell you the pressure, usually in psi (pounds per square inch).
Different varieties of pressure gauges are available for checking the tyre pressure. When done, compare the reading with your vehicle handbook.
To add air, you need to use an air compressor (available at all fuel stations). If the tyre is overinflated, simply let excess air out, by pressing the valve stem with the opposite (non-rounded) end of the gauge. Recheck the tyre pressure, replace the tyre valve cap, and you're done!
Congratulations. You have:
- Just made your car safer for yourself and others on the road.
- Saved money on fuel bills and tyre replacement costs.
- Contributed your bit towards the environment.
- Check tyre pressure at least once a month, if not, then once every two weeks.
- Don't forget to check the pressure of your spare tyre.
- A pressure check is a must before a long road trip. Also check if there are specific pressure levels to be maintained because, in such a case, you will be carrying a higher than normal load in the vehicle (family members, luggage etc).
- It's recommended to check tyre pressure under cold conditions (when the car has not been in use for 1-3 hours). When the tyres are hot due to usage, the pressure may be inflated, giving an inaccurate reading on the pressure gauge.
This article is provided Azzam Sheikh on behalf of National Tyres and Autocare, the UK's leading Fast Fit provider for Tyres and Automobile parts.