Car maintenance is an inconvenient but essential part of every driver's life. With gas prices more than double what they were a decade ago driving is a much more expensive part of everyday life. Now, more and more drivers are looking for easy ways to reduce gasoline consumption and spending. One place to start saving money is with your tires. Your tires are the only part of your vehicle coming in contact with the ground, so they can be the building blocks for cutting gasoline costs.
Why maintain tire pressure?
Proper tire pressure is crucial to vehicle safety, as incorrect tire pressure can compromise braking, cornering and stability. When a tire is overinflated, less of the tire touches the ground, which affects traction and increases stopping distances. On an underinflated tire, too much of the tire touches the ground, increasing friction with the road that hurts gas mileage and increases tire wear. Keep in mind that tires lose pressure over time and air pressure also changes with outside temperature. Air compresses in colder temperatures, and the air in your tires is no different. For every 10 degree drop in outside air temperature, tire pressure can drop about 1 pound per square inch (PSI).
The result of improperly inflated tires is extra spending at the pump. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an improperly inflated tire hurts gas mileage by as much as 4 percent, costing the average driver approximately 13 cents per gallon of gasoline. If you drive 10,000 miles per year and get 20 miles per gallon, that's $65 per year back in your pocket.
New tires can make all the difference
The two main reasons to change your tires are for weather and wear. Most states have laws requiring tires to be replaced once they have less than 2/32" of tread depth. Most modern tires have "wear bars" installed in the tire, which will become visible as the tire wears down. An easy way to check your tires' tread depth is to use a coin. Place a penny with Lincoln's head facing down into a tread groove. If part of the head is always covered, you have more than 2/32" of tread depth remaining. When choosing tire size, it is best to consult your dealer or trustworthy mechanic.
Another type of tire to consider is winter tires. These are specifically designed to perform in low temperatures, ice, slush and snow, giving drivers improved accelerating, turning and braking in these conditions. If you live in a region with cold and snowy winters, it is a worthwhile investment to own a set of snow tires, even if you have all-wheel drive. However, these tires are made of a softer rubber than all-season tires and will wear out quickly if used year-round. Additionally, the increased tread depth of these tires hurts gas mileage, so it's best to only use winter tires in season.
What's the correct tire pressure?
Every tire is different, and your front and rear tires might even require different air pressure. Most drivers know that tire pressure is listed on the outside of a tire. However, this is the maximum allowable tire pressure, not the ideal pressure. Most vehicles list the tire pressure requirements on the driver's side door post or in the owner's manual.
How often should tires be checked?
Check your tire pressure seasonally, after any particularly sudden drop in temperature and before going on a long drive. Get your tires checked anytime you take your car in for service, as garages will have pressure gauges that are much more accurate than the pencil-style gauge you may have in your glove box. Most garages will do this for free. Be sure to check all four tires, as air pressure does not necessarily decrease evenly across tires. It is important to check pressure when your tires are cold, meaning they have not been driven on for at least three hours. If you are checking air at a gas station or garage, try to drive less than a mile.
Now that you know how to maximize fuel efficiency with well-maintained tires, you can also look into driving habits that can result in even more energy savings!