Why Do My Tires Lose Pressure in Cold Weather?

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

For this answer, let’s take a trip down memory lane to science class: Air expands when it is heated and contracts when it is cooled. As the air temperature drops outside, so does the air pressure in your tires. Why is this important? Maintaining proper tire inflation is essential for several reasons; chief among them are safety and fuel economy.  

Related: How Do I Find the Correct Tire Pressure for My Car?

According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, underinflated tires can lead to tire failure. Low tire pressure results in added tire stress and irregular wear, which the agency cautions could lead to a loss of control and accidents. And looks are deceiving. “A tire can lose up to half of its air pressure and not appear to be flat,” the Rubber Manufacturers Association said in a statement.

AAA recommends checking tire inflation pressure more frequently during the fall and winter as the cold temps tend to fluctuate. The agency estimates that tire pressure typically drops by approximately 1 to 2 pounds per square inch for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit. AAA also reminds that motorists check all four tires at the same time and don’t forget the spare tire. 

It’s best to check tire pressure when the tires are cold, meaning they haven’t been used for a while. As you drive, friction between the tires and the road generates heat, increasing both the temperature and thus the tire’s air pressure. Make sure to check pressure levels in the morning after the car has sat overnight or at least three hours after it was last driven.

If your tires are underinflated, you’ll likely get a reminder from a warning light on the dash and/or warning sound. Your car’s tire pressure monitoring system, required on all new cars in the U.S. since the 2008 model year, can determine real-time tire pressure and raise an alarm if it falls below the manufacturer’s recommended level. More advanced systems can also provide real-time tire pressure readouts, typically in either the instrument panel or in a vehicle’s infotainment system. 

Proper tire inflation can also affect your fuel economy because underinflated tires have higher rolling resistance, which reduces fuel economy, says the Rubber Manufacturers Association. Riding on properly inflated tires should also improve your vehicles’ ride and handling as the tires have a larger footprint and more surface area when they are properly inflated versus  underinflated.   

What Should Tire Pressure Be in Cold Weather?

Where can you find your vehicles’ recommended tire pressure levels? They live in your owner’s manual or on a sticker typically located on the driver-side doorjamb. Underinflation can happen regardless of the season, so it pays to check your tires year-round and keep them properly inflated.

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