Having your tires at the right pressure can make such a big difference for your car’s handling and fuel mileage, so knowing how to use an air compressor to air up a tire is such a handy skill to have for any car owner.
It’s not just cars, either air compressors are convenient to have around in case you have to air up the tires on your ATV, on your kid’s bike, or even If you are just helping out a fellow motorist on the side of the road.
The good thing about portable air compressors nowadays is that they can do a lot given how small they have gotten, so you can use them to power your other automotive tools as well.
Why Proper Tire Inflation Saves You Money
Keeping your tires at the proper pressure has a lot of benefits for your vehicle and your wallet, perhaps enough to justify your choice to invest in an air compressor even more.
When your tires are at their ideal pressure, your vehicle simply handles a lot better. That means a more comfortable ride for you and your family, and accurate control of your vehicle at all times.
Tires that are properly aired up have the ideal surface area to grip the road, which also gives you traction that you can depend on.
What happens when your tires are underinflated? They slump into the ground, which increases the area of contact with the road unnecessarily. The steering starts to feel sluggish, and your car’s fuel mileage suffers.
Even worse, the tires begin to carry the weight of the car on its shoulders, which wears them out prematurely. That means even more money spent on repairing or replacing your tires.
Some vehicle owners can be overzealous when inflating their tires, though, or they simply have a tire pressure gauge that is giving them an incorrect reading.
However, which way that overinflated tires happen, the results are not that good for the tire and the car.
Tires that are overinflated tend to bulge at the center, which decreases the surface area in contact with the road.
This not only affects the handling of your car, but it also makes the tires less suitable for one of the jobs they need to do cushioning the bumps and shocks before they make their way to the vehicle’s suspension.
The result is a bumpy ride that can contribute to premature wear on your suspension.
And then there is also the issue of your tires unevenly wearing out in the middle, too, which can lead to costly tire replacements down the road.
1. First, Find the Recommended Pressure for Your Car
The most obvious indicator that you need to air up at least one of your tires is when the tire light pops up on the dashboard, of course.
That said, it’s still a good precaution to check on your tire pressure every once in a while, especially before going on a long drive.
There are a few things you need to keep in mind, though, so that you can get an accurate reading as possible.
First, you must know how to read the tire pressure and interpret it the way the car manufacturers intended.
Most car manufacturers list the recommended tire pressure with the assumption that the tires are “cold”, that is, checked right in the garage before you have driven your car.
Some carmakers, however, may specify a “warm” tire pressure recommendation, which you can only get when you measure the tire pressure after having driven your car for several hours.
A “cold” tire that has not yet left the garage will typically have a pressure reading that’s 2 to 3 pounds per square inches (PSI) lower than one that has spent a few hours being driven on the road.
In any case, it’s best to check how the car manufacturer intends for you to read your tire pressure.
This information may be on the tire pressure placards that are often attached to the bottom of the driver’s side door jamb after you open the door.
You may also find a similar label in your glove compartment door, or inside the fuel cover lid. You will certainly find this information written in your owner’s manual, so always keep a copy in your car at all times.
Take note that some cars may have different recommended tire pressures for the front wheels and the back wheels.
Also note that when you are looking for the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle, you are looking for the recommendations from the carmaker not the tire manufacturer.
You will also find PSI ratings on the tires itself. Usually, these would indicate the maximum pressure that the tire can hold, which will most likely exceed the pressure needed to support your vehicle’s maximum loaded weight.
Once you find the recommended tire pressure for your car, it’s time to measure your tires with your tire pressure gauge.
2. Measure Your Tire Pressures
If you drive your car a lot, then it’s always a good idea to invest in a good quality tire pressure gauge.
Some of the newer vehicles on the road today may come with their tire pressure monitoring system that can automatically notify you or the driver when a tire is underinflated.
Even if your car has one, it’s still a good idea to have a quality gauge in your glove compartment.
There are several types of tire pressure gauges that you may find, and they range from extremely simple stick gauges which have graduated plastic tabs that pop out at a certain level that you have to read to digital gauges that you can read off of at a glance.
Even the most expensive of tire gauges will not cost you more than 12 to 15 dollars, and these will probably outlast even your car.
When you measure the pressure of your tires, it’s best to stick to one gauge. Different gauges may give you slightly different readings, and relying on one gauge will help you get more consistent results.
First, unscrew the tire valve cap and put it somewhere safe, like your pocket. Then press the pressure gauge against the lip of the tire valve.
If you hear a hissing noise, or you can feel air leaking around the pressure gauge, then you need to press the gauge harder against the tire valve to make a better seal.
Once the hissing stops, wait for the gauge dial or readout to stabilize, and take note of your reading.
If the tire is at the right pressure, you can screw back the tire valve cap so you can skip that one.
Once you have made a note of which tires need to be aired up, it’s time to use the air compressor.
3. Air Up Your Underinflated Tires With the Air Compressor
First, you will need to turn on the air compressor so that it can begin to accumulate its supply of compressed air.
If you have an electric air compressor, first plug it into the outlet or attach the battery, whichever applies to your unit.
Place the air compressor near the flat tires, and attach the air hose to it.
Check if your nozzle or coupler (the part that goes into the tire valve stem) has a safety switch, then activate it if it has one.
Attach the nozzle to the tire valve stem and wait for the tire to fill up. Most portable air compressors with inflator nozzles will have their gauges that indicate the current tire pressure.
If you have a smaller air compressor, then you may find that filling up a flat tire may take some time that’s normal.
Keep filling the tire until you have the correct pressure, but pay attention that you don’t overinflate the tire.
Detach the nozzle and air hose once you are done filling up that tire. To confirm that you were able to air the tire up to the recommended pressure, you can take a second reading at this point.
If you have enough air, then you can move on to the next flat tire to repeat the process.
Sometimes, though, you may find that you have accidentally overinflated your tire.
First, check with your tire gauge to confirm that you have indeed put in too much air. Once you were able to double-check that the tire is overinflated, then take your tire gauge out.
Some tire gauges will come with a flat stick you can use to press down on the valve stem pin.
Push this stick against the pin until you can feel the air being bled out of the tire.
Keep pushing until you feel you have released enough air, then check again with your tire gauge to confirm that you have lowered the tire pressure to the recommended level.
If your tire gauge does not come with a tire bleeding tool or attachment, you can also use a screwdriver or the tip of your car keys to press down on the tire valve pin.
Once the tire is at the right pressure, don’t forget to put the stem cap back on the tire valve.