Can I Ignore My Low Tire Pressure Light?

Is it Safe to Ignore a Low Tire Pressure Light?

Many Northern Californians may have noticed that the low tire pressure indicator in their vehicle came on in the past couple of weeks.  Temperatures in our region dipped quite low, resulting in pressure loss in countless tires throughout the area.  If you drive by Les Schwab or America’s Tire Company, the long lines will let you know that the issue is widespread.  So is it safe to ignore your low tire pressure light?  The answer is no.  Driving with low tire pressure can be dangerous.  

Why Does Cold Weather Cause Low Tire Pressure?

Forgive us for the lazy scientific explanation, but when the temperature drops, air molecules move more slowly and huddle together.  When the temperature rises, those molecules move faster and further away from each other.  This concept can be visualized by setting a basketball outside and observing it at various times of the day.  In the morning, when the air is cold, you will notice the ball feels deflated.  Then as the temperature rises during the day, the ball will seem to have re-inflated.  This is the same thing that happens to your tires.

Tires can gain or lose 1-2 pounds of PSI for every 10-degree change in temperature.  Because our temperatures recently dropped significantly, we could be losing enough PSI to make for dangerous driving.  Assuming the temperature rises and that your tires have no leaks, they should inflate as the day warms up – but your reduced tire pressure should not be ignored.

The Dangers of Ignoring the Light

Ignoring your tire pressure indicator can lead to:

  • An increase in the amount of time required to stop.  When tires are underinflated, braking time increases, and it is easier to skid on wet pavement.  As car accident lawyers, we know that that the inability to safely stop in time can result in a rear-end collision.
  • Reduced fuel economy. The U.S. Department of Energy notes that for every 1 PSI drop, gas mileage is lowered around 0.2%.
  • Reduced tire lifespan. Underinflation makes tires more prone to damage and can decrease their lifespan.  No one wants to have to buy more tires, more often.

Even a minimal decrease in pressure – one that is difficult to detect with the naked eye – can have an impact on your vehicle.  And even when temperatures remain consistent, your tires can lose pressure. Accordingly, a good recommendation is to check your tire pressure each time you fill up at the gas station, especially if your dash light pops on.

How to Check the Pressure in Your Tires

  • Know your tire’s recommended PSI.  This information can usually be located on a sticker that is attached to the edge of your car door or near the fuel hatch.  It can also be found in your vehicle’s owner manual.  The recommended tire pressure usually is between 30-35 PSI. 
  • Check the tires before you start driving.  This will give the most accurate reading.
  • Use a tire pressure gauge.  These can be purchased for a few bucks at most big-box retailers. The pencil-style gauges with a pop-up reader are the cheapest.  You can also choose to spend a bit more for a user-friendly digital tire pressure gauge.  Unscrew the screw cap on your tire’s rim and follow the instructions that came with the gauge to get a reading.  Don’t forget to replace the valve stem caps when you are done assessing the pressure.
  • If the pressure is low, find a nearby air pump.  Or visit one of the major national tire chains, who will usually fill your tires for free.  It is highly likely that you will need to inflate your tires at least once during the winter.

Watch the YouTube video below that walks the viewer through the tire inflation process:

Personal Injury Lawyer in Rocklin

Thank you for reading our discussion of the question: Can I Ignore My Low Tire Pressure Light?  I’m Ed Smith, and I have been a personal injury lawyer in Rocklin, California, for more than 38 years.  If you have suffered injuries resulting from another driver’s negligence and are interested in receiving free and friendly legal advice, call our injury lawyers at (916) 921-6400.  If you are calling from outside of 916, dial (800) 404-5400.

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