Pressure drop, oh pressure, pressure’s gonna drop on you
And when it drops, you’re gonna feel it
You’ve been doing it wrong wrong wrong
Despite we are not sure that Toots and the Maytals were actually talking about tire pressure when they wrote “Pressure Drop” in 1969, we decided to use this song as our official anthem for tire inflation pressure. The bottom line is that you will know you have been doing something wrong when you realize the pressure drops in your tires, as eventually, it is something you are going to feel. Sadly, in a best-case scenario, your tires will be under-performing, and they will be worn out and unsafe in the worst.
Even when tire pressure might seem meaningless, it does have a significant effect on your car’s safety and performance. One of the easiest ways to keep your tires in a good condition is to check their pressure once a month, so you prevent uneven tire pressure. Besides, it can also help you save money in the long run as your tires wear evenly. How do you like that?
Is Tire Pressure Really Important?
Across the tire’s tread pattern, proper air pressure helps to distribute the weight of a vehicle evenly, in order to have the best stability. Both under and over-inflated tires decrease the stability, affecting stopping, cornering, and handling as a consequence, including uneven wear of the tires as well. Under-inflated tire wear can be identified on the outside edges of the tread, while over-inflated tire wear can be seen down the middle of the tread. Either way, an incorrect inflation pressure leads to uneven wear and tires wearing out faster, which means you will have to spend some money. Not good, right?
Dangers of Under- and Over-inflated Tires
Not only will you have an extra expense, but also your safety will be at risk due to how tire pressure affects handling when tires are not correctly inflated. When cornering and stopping, an under-inflated tire will “flex” more and will not respond as fast as they normally would. Hence, you lose safety and performance benefits built into the tire by the manufacturer. On the other hand, high tire pressure can reduce tires traction because their shape is modified by excessive air pressure, also decreasing the tire’s footprint on the road. As the tire is less flexible, it will not react as expected to potholes or other road hazards, which represents an important danger of over-inflated tires. Besides, it is possible they give you an annoying noise, which is not nice either. Don’t forget the possibility of needing to replace your tires due to improper inflation.
When Tires are Cold, Check Their Pressure Routinely
As a recommendation, your tire pressure should be checked every month, and also whenever you plan to hit the road for a long drive. You will get the most accurate reading when your tires are cold because driving, air temperature, and even the sunlight on your tires generate heat, which can temporarily increase their pressure.
Just in case a visual tire pressure check has crossed your mind, we must tell you that this will only make you waste your time. It is nearly impossible to tell if a tire is under or over-inflated by just looking at it. Use a tire gauge and adjust the air pressure if needed. You can find this information in the owner’s manual or the vehicle tire placard, which is usually on the driver’s side door jamb. The tire information placard will offer you important information like proper inflation pressure, tire size, load and speed rating, etc.
Special Cases: Different Scenarios for Your Tires Pressure
After reading the possible consequences of under or over-inflated tires, you probably have some questions as “How do I know if my tire pressure is appropriate under different circumstances? What is the best tire pressure for racing?”. Here are some suggestions you can follow when you are driving on an unconventional road:
Many off-roaders will decrease their tire pressure (“air down”) to keep more of the tire’s footprint gripping the ground when traveling over mud, deep sand, or rough terrain. Since their tires will now be less responsive while steering and stopping, they also lower their speed. However, tires can also be damaged or the bead of the tire could even roll right off the rim when too much air was let out. It is important that off-roaders remember to air up before they hit the road back again.
For those super-extreme off-roaders who love navigating over tall ledges, steep rocks, and other ultra-rough terrains, decreasing tire pressure to even single digits can make their tires soft and pliable, so they can adapt to the shape of rocks. This will improve traction and help smooth out those intensely rough rides.
Autocross and Road Racing
When it comes to racing and tire pressure possible consequences, the first question that comes to mind is: What is the best tire pressure for racing? It is important to mention that the goal is to maximize the footprint of the tire on the ground. As tires get hot when racing, their pressure increases. To get the best performance, racers constantly measure “hot pressure” right after a test run and then adjust the pressure up or down. As autocross races are shorter, hot pressure is not much of a big deal; however, racers must consider other factors like air and track surface temperature. You may also need to consider if you need to prepare your tires before racing on any track. To achieve the fastest lap times possible, constant tweaking, measuring, re-adjusting, and checking is necessary. So, before you ask yourself again “what is the best tire pressure for racing?” you should consider that it is not as easy as what you have to do once a month for an ordinary ride.
Studies mention that those who sing “Pressure Drop” have a 90% chance of enjoying the task, while those who wear a shiny vest at the same time increase chances up to 100%.