How Low Can Your Tire Pressure Go?

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There is no all-encompassing standardization for what constitutes a “normal” measurement of PSI or pounds per square inch for tire pressure. For most standard-issue tires, a PSI that reads between 32 and 35 when tires are cold is recommended, but you will have to verify this with your particular automaker.
Tire pressure can be somewhat of an afterthought when it comes to the daily care and maintenance of your car. The early signs of low tire pressure can also be quite subtle, not necessarily something that the average driver would consider problematic. 
The consequences of driving with low tires, however, far outweigh the cost of the few minutes it takes to regularly monitor your tire pressure.
The experts at leading
car insurance
and brokerage app
have put together this guide for understanding when tire pressure is too low, the risks of driving with low tire pressure, and how to integrate tire pressure moderation into your car’s health and maintenance routine. 
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What tire pressure is too low?

For standard-issue tires, anything under 20 PSI is considered
a flat tire
, but technically any amount under the automaker’s recommended PSI is “low.” 
With regular monitoring, it’s easy to catch your PSI when it’s just a few pounds below the recommended weight and safely get to your nearest fill station, but you should never drive any further than you have to on a flat tire. If you are already insured, check with your car insurance to see if some form of
roadside assistance
is offered with your current policy. 
Key Takeaway: Your recommended tire pressure will depend on guidelines as created by your auto manufacturer, but anything under 20 PSI is too low to drive. Call for roadside assistance to fill or replace your flat tire. 

The risks of driving with low tire pressure.

Low tire pressure worsens fuel economy, tire wear, and safety. When tire pressure is too low, the surface area of the tire that comes in contact with the road increases, creating friction, premature wear, and tread separation. The potential outcomes of driving on these tires include: 
  • A
    blow out
    or flat tire, which you yourself will likely be responsible for paying in full, regardless of your car insurance policy
  • A puncture, to which your softer tire will be more susceptible
  • Damage from potholes and debris. Much like driving with low tires, you’re also at increased risk of experiencing a blowout, and even more so in hot weather, or while driving long distances. 
  • Decreased fuel economy. While not as imminent of an issue as the other risks, over time it really starts to add up! For every 1 PSI drop in pressure, your gas mileage suffers by about 0.2%.
Key Takeaway: Your car is designed to perform at optimum levels based on the manufacturer’s recommendations, which is why you should monitor your vehicle’s tire pressure frequently to make sure it is never too high or too low. 

What are the signs of low tire pressure?

Many of the subtle signs of low tire pressure—including poor handling and longer break times—may go unnoticed by the average driver on a day-to-day basis.  Here are some things to look for:
  • Increased stopping distance and poor handling. Both of these conditions can be worsened in the case of inclement weather, putting you and anyone else on the road at serious risk 
  • Incorrectly repaired or recurrent
    . Check your PSI frequently if you drive over heavily damaged roads or through zones with construction or other debris.
  • Cold weather. For every ten-degree drop in temperature, tires can lose about a pound in pressure. 
Overall, your tires will just progressively lose air over time. On average, the PSI decreases by about one pound per month. If you haven’t driven in a few weeks, or live in an area that experiences prolonged periods of cold weather, you should be checking your tire pressure at least once a month for optimal performance and safety. 

How to check your tire pressure

Checking your own tire pressure is as easy as acquiring a handheld tire pressure gauge from any auto parts store. Many gas stations also come equipped with air pumps including tire pressure gauges, but a portable handheld gauge can be kept in your car, providing you with an accurate reading no matter where you are. 
To use the gauge, simply remove the valve cap on your tire and press the gauge into the stem until you get a reading. 
Additionally, many cars come equipped with Tire Pressure Management Systems (TPMS) that will automatically monitor your tire pressure for you. However, the warning light will only turn on when the tire’s pressure is already 25 percent below recommended PSI. 

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Assuming that you’re driving a passenger vehicle with a recommended PSI of 30-25, at 28 PSI your tire pressure is not considered alarmingly low. It would still be a good idea to stop by your nearest fill station and air your tires back up. At this level of tire pressure, you are at increased risk for the potential issues that come with low tire pressure including poor handling and lower fuel economy.
With the same considerations as above, 26 PSI is not necessarily immediately dangerous, but you should air your tires up when you can. With each pound per square inch that drops below the recommended pressure, your risk increases while your fuel economy decreases.

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