Tyre pressure for cars: What are the correct pressures for your car?

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Disclaimer: This information is general in nature only. While Budget Direct has endeavoured to ensure the information we’ve relied on is accurate and current, we do not guarantee it. Budget Direct accepts no liability for this information.

What is tyre pressure and why is it important?

With all the different things we have to think about these days, our car’s tyre pressure probably doesn’t make it anywhere near the top of the list – but it should. Tyres are literally ‘where the rubber meets the road’ and looking after them is incredibly important. They support the car’s weight and distribute it evenly, and their ability to do that is dependent on the air we put in them and how diligently we monitor its pressure.

Driving with too little (or too much) air pressure in tyres can affect ride comfort, cornering ability, grip during braking, general handling and directional stability. Having incorrect tyre pressure isn’t just inefficient – it can also be a serious safety risk, especially at higher speeds.

Every vehicle has a specified tyre pressure recommended by the car and tyre manufacturer. To get the lowdown on your vehicle’s official tyre pressure recommendations, check your vehicle owner’s handbook, the fuel filler flap or the placard located inside the driver’s door. Pressure is typically measured in PSI (pounds per square inch). In some vehicles, recommended pressures for front and rear tyres may be different.

In certain situations (driving in sand, towing a trailer or carrying extra weight), you may need to change your tyre pressure from its normal levels. If your vehicle handbook or other car documentation doesn’t cover these circumstances, check with a professional for advice. As a rule, your best bet is to always stick to manufacturer’s recommendations.

Dangers of over-inflated tyres

When a tyre contains too much air, there’s a smaller area of contact with the road. This creates loss of traction and uneven wear. Over-inflated tyres can affect handling (especially when cornering at speed), braking, tyre noise and ride comfort. A stiff, over-inflated tyre on a wet, slipper road is particularly dangerous, since braking ability can be severely reduced. Over-inflated tyres create a harsher ride, increased risk of blowouts and a higher likelihood of skidding.

Over-inflated tyres tend to wear out prematurely around the centre of the tyre. By contrast, under-inflated tyres suffer excessive wear along their outer edges and side walls. There are plenty of YouTube videos that dramatically show the hazards of inflating car tyres too much – or too little.

  • Less surface area of tyre connecting with the road
  • Can affect brake efficiency
  • Can lead to uneven tread wear (centre)

Dangers of under-inflated tyres

An under-inflated tyre leaves a larger contact area with the road, which increases rolling resistance and therefore uses more fuel. In addition, steering response and stability when turning can be affected. Under-inflated tyres get ‘used up’ more quickly because of irregular wear and the extra heat from increased friction. In extreme cases, there’s even a danger that the tyre might dislodge from the rim during cornering.

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Cruising around on low-pressure tyres forces your engine to work harder and leaves your tyres more susceptible to damage. Not enough air makes them weaker and more prone to punctures.

  • Can affect brake efficiency
  • Can lead to uneven tread wear (edge)
  • Can increase rolling resistance

What is the correct tyre pressure?

Firstly, remember that your car’s specified tyre pressure always refers to a cold tyre; you should always check pressures when tyres are cold. Checking a tyre when it’s warm and has been driven for a long while can lead to a false reading. When that just-checked tyre finally cools down, you may be left with under-inflation that’s below the minimum.

There are a few different ways to check what the correct tyre pressure for your car should be. There should be a sticker displayed on your car’s body, usually on the driver’s side door which details the recommended cold tyre inflation pressure for your vehicle. Otherwise, there is this handy online tyre pressure tool which will help you determine the correct tyre pressure for your vehicle.

Ideally, you should check tyre pressure (and adjust as needed) every two weeks. If you leave it longer than a month, you’re asking for trouble. This is especially important if you’re heading off on a long road trip or a holiday where you’re carting extra weight. Whenever you check the tyres, don’t forget about the spare; it’s a crucial piece of your car’s safety gear – not an afterthought. It’s also a good idea to check pressures again soon after inflation to make sure each tyre is still holding onto its air.

Checking tyre pressure isn’t just about keeping on top of punctures. Air is also lost gradually through a natural process called permeation (air lost through a solid substance). The weather can make a difference too – a 10-degree change in outdoor temperature can change tyre pressure by one PSI, so tyres may need topping up during a cold spell.

Your local car accessories retailer can sell you the tools (portable pressure gauge, air compressor, etc.) to check and inflate tyres at home, but most people just pop into the local petrol station and use the handy tyre inflation machine provided. The process is quite simple:

  • Remove the little dust cap from the tyre valve
  • Attach the lead from the machine to the valve to check the pressure reading
  • Set the digital machine to the PSI level you require
  • The pump will then automatically fill your tyre to the requested pressure
  • When the correct pressure is reached, remove the clasp from the valve
  • Replace the dust cap on your tyre’s valve
  • Complete this procedure for each tyre, including the spare
  • Take this opportunity to check the overall wear and tread on each tyre, too

Why should you check your tyre pressure when it’s cold?

Checking Tyre Pressures

It is recommended that you check and inflate your tyre pressure when the tyres are cold. Tyres are considered cold if they have been parked for at least 3 hours or have only been driven a short distance at slow to moderate speeds. Checking your tyres when they are cold is important because driving on tyres generates heat, which can increase the tyre pressure temporarily giving you a false pressure reading. The best time you can check your tyre pressure is in the morning as even the heat of the day and direct and prolonged sunlight can heat up tyres.

Tyre pressure monitoring systems (TPMS)

Many new vehicles sold in Australia now come with factory-installed TPMS warning systems, which trigger a dashboard warning light when tyre pressure gets too low. There are two basic varieties:

  1. Direct System – When tyre pressure drops below a certain point, wireless sensors within each wheel directly measure tyre pressure and then transmit this data to a receiver unit. These systems are good at detecting a fast leak and provide an immediate warning, giving drivers sufficient time to slow down and stop safely before a tyre becomes seriously flat.

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  2. Indirect System – This system measures wheel rotation by using the car’s ABS braking sensors. Essentially, it determines that deflation is present when it detects that a single wheel is spinning faster than the others. Although less expensive than the direct system, it’s also more prone to inaccuracies.

These tyre monitoring systems are certainly a handy feature in newer cars but they don’t negate the need to keep tabs on your tyre pressure through regular on-the-ground checks.

Keep your tyres happy

Checking tyre pressure is one of those not-so-thrilling things that we tend to put on the back burner – but in some cases, our lives may depend on having tyres at just the right pressure at just the right moment. The best way to keep on top of your tyre pressure is to make checking it a regular habit. Do it whenever you fill up with petrol and between fill-ups as much as needed. If necessary, put a reminder in your diary or smartphone so you don’t keep putting it off.

A quality car tyre with plenty of tread and the right amount of air pressure is a beautiful thing. All it needs is a little attention to keep you rolling along the road safely and comfortably. So… when was the last time you checked your tyres?

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About Researcher
Audu Ezekiel is fueled by his passion for understanding the nuances of cross-cultural advertising. He considers himself a ‘forever student,’ eager to both build on his academic foundations in content writing and stay in tune with the latest digital marketing strategies through continued coursework and professional development.
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