How to Correctly Inflate Tires at a Gas Station

Did you know that most people never give the tires on their cars a second thought until the warning light comes on the dash, or they have a blowout? 

Oh yes, or until someone passes you, pointing at your tire and saying something you can’t hear. That was the method before the low- pressure warning lights were invented. 

This isn’t a good thing because your car, SUV, or truck depends so much on those forgotten tires. 

You may think that the low-pressure warning light is sufficient, and while it is a great feature, these devices do malfunction. 

Did you know that a tire that is low on air, even just a few pounds, makes the tire much more susceptible to a blow-out? 

Tires that kept at their normal pressure will improve fuel mileage and maximize the wear you get from your tires. If you have looked at tire prices lately, you will undoubtedly want to make those tires last as soon as possible. 

If you are lucky enough to have an air compressor, you can inflate your tires at home. You can find instructions for doing this at home here and our recommendations for air compressors to do this in this article.

The problem is that most people don’t have home compressors. This means you will need to use the closest gas station you can find to add air to the tire. 

Adding Air to Your Tires

Let’s assume you have your tire pressure gauge in the vehicle with you when you notice that the low tire pressure warning light has come on. 

If you have an older model, there is only one light for all 4 tires, so you will need to check each one. 

If the car is parked, you should check the air pressure in each tire using your gauge. 

If you don’t know what air pressure your car’s tires should be set at, you can check the owner’s manual, or you can look at the label that should be on the inside of the driver’s door or the door jamb. 

There should be a listing for the front and rear tires. Some car models will use the same air pressure in all four tires, while a few will have different air pressure amounts for the front and rear tires. 

Let’s say that the driver’s door jamb tag says each tire should have 35 pounds of pressure, but your gauge says that there are only 30 pounds in each tire. This means that you need to add 5 pounds of pressure for each tire.  

Drive to the gas station and park your vehicle near the air compressor/dispenser. Park close enough so that you can reach all four tires if necessary. 

Remove the cap from the valve stem and put it in a pocket or on top of the tire so you don’t lose it. 

When you drive your vehicle, the air in the tires heats up, causing the tire pressure to increase. If the light on the dash has gone out, you can ignore that. Your tires are still 5 pounds low on air pressure. The air pressure in tires is always taken when the tires are cold. 

Pull the air hose near the tire you want to add air to first. Press the nozzle against the valve stem and read what the gauge says. 

It doesn’t really matter if the gauge says your tires have 40 pounds or 30 pounds, you know that you need to add 5 pounds. 

Pull the handle in small short bursts of air. You won’t need much. 

Release the handle and check the gauge again. You can use your own if you don’t want to look at the gas station gauge. 

If you’ve added too much air, you can use your gauge or the back of the gas station gauge to press on the small metal stick you will see inside the valve stem. Air goes out much faster than it goes in, so just a small short burst. 

Check the air pressure again. If you have successfully added 5 pounds, you are ready to move on to the next tire. Replace the valve stem cap before you forget, then repeat with the other tires. 

A Handy Item to Keep with You

Even if you’ve never had to add air to your tire before, chances are that you have heard that gas station air pressure gauges are notoriously inaccurate. 

Unfortunately, this is true. While some are off just one pound, others have been known to be off as much as 6 pounds! 

When every pound (or lack of it) matters, how can you accurately add air to your car’s tires?

The trick is to keep a tire pressure gauge with you. These are small enough to fit in a purse, backpack, or briefcase, and they can be kept in a glove box or center console. 

Most tire pressure gauges can also be a bit off, but digital tire pressure gauges tend to be the most accurate. 

Most tire pressure gauges are inexpensive items and even a good digital one, such as the Accutire MS-4021B is only about $11. 

For an exceedingly small investment, you can save possibly hundreds of dollars in wasted gas and premature tire wear, not to mention tons of inconvenience. 

A Pain in the … Rear Bumper

The first few times you do this, it seems like a giant pain in the rear. 

It gets easier as you become accustomed to how these items work. 

This pain in the behind is worth all the effort. Most times, you will find that you only need to add air once, perhaps twice a year. 

The temperature has a lot to do with tire pressure, so check out this article regarding adding air to your tires in very cold weather. 

If you find that you are adding air often (more than once every 3 or 4 months), have the tire(s) and rim inspected for damage. Even a small screw can cause the tire to leak air very slowly over some time. 

Nothing feels as good as being able to maintain and do work, even if it’s minor work, on your own ride!


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