Pulling up to the gas station or breaking out the air compressor at home, a common question crosses many drivers’ minds – do I need to turn my car off before adding air to the tires? Proper tire inflation is essential for performance and safety, but is shutting off the engine necessary for this basic maintenance task? Getting the right PSI enhances handling, fuel economy, and tread life.
This article will cover whether turning your car off is required and provide a step-by-step guide for monitoring and achieving proper tire inflation.
Why Proper Tire Inflation Matters
Keeping your tires inflated to the proper PSI (pounds per square inch) is critical for performance, fuel economy, and safety. Underinflated tires can:
- Wear out faster
- Reduce gas mileage
- Affect handling and braking
- Be more prone to blowouts
Overinflated tires also come with risks like:
- Uneven treadwear
- Reduced grip
- Harsher ride quality
Refer to your owner’s manual or driver’s side door jamb for the correct tire pressure for your vehicle. Tires may need inflated anywhere from 25-45 PSI depending on the vehicle. Maintaining this pressure keeps tires in their optimal shape for contact with the road.
Do You Have To Turn Off The Car?
When it comes time to add air to your tires, many people wonder if they need to turn their car off first. The short answer is – no, you do not HAVE to turn your car off.
Adding air to your tires does not directly impact your engine or require any power from the vehicle. So leaving the car running is not going to cause any immediate issues or damage.
However, there are some best practices to keep in mind:
Monitoring The Process
When inflating your own tires at home, it is highly recommended to turn your car off. This allows you to carefully monitor the filling process and tire pressure. Driving while simultaneously adding air is not possible.
Having the engine off also allows you to avoid overinflating. Check tire pressure frequently with a gauge during the process.
Cooling Components Down
Turning your car off gives the engine, tires, and brakes an opportunity to cool down a bit first. Hot tires may not read an accurate pressure. And very high temps can lead to overinflation.
Leaving the car running burns extra fuel while you sit and wait for the tires to fill. Turning it off conserves gas and is more economical.
Adding air to the tires requires your full attention to get tire pressure right. Sitting in the driver seat makes it hard to focus on the filling process. Turning the car off allows you to totally focus on proper inflation.
While not required, turning your car off makes the process smoother. Follow these steps for properly adding air:
Park On A Level Surface
Park on a flat, level area when checking tire pressure. This allows for the most accurate reading.
Remove The Valve Stem Cap
Locate the valve stem on each tire – this is the short, tube-like piece near the hubcap rim. Unscrew and remove the valve stem cap. This exposes the valve core.
Check Existing Pressure
Firmly press an accurate tire pressure gauge onto the valve stem core. Note the existing PSI and compare to recommended pressure.
Attach Air Line
If tires are underinflated, attach the hose line from an air compressor or gas station pump firmly over the valve stem core.
Fill To Proper PSI
Monitor the pressure gauge while slowly filling the tire. Stop once you reach the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended PSI.
Reinstall The Valve Stem Cap
When finished, reinstall the valve stem cap and tighten firmly by hand. This protects the valve core from dirt and debris entering.
Repeat With Remaining Tires
Check and fill any remaining tires that need air. Maintain even pressure across all tires.
How often should I check tire pressure?
Experts recommend checking tire pressure at least once a month and before any long trip. Checking every 2-4 weeks is ideal.
How do I know which PSI to inflate to?
Consult your owner’s manual or sticker inside the driver’s side door jamb. This lists the proper cold inflation PSI for front and rear tires.
What if I overinflate a tire?
Carefully release air by gently pressing the metal stem in the valve core with a tire gauge until it reaches the proper PSI.
How do I add air to a tire without a gauge?
It’s not recommended. Guessing can lead to over or underinflation. Invest in an inexpensive tire pressure gauge.
Can I add air when tires are hot?
It’s best to add air when tires are cold for the most accurate reading. Hot tires may read higher pressure than reality.
What if I underinflate?
If a tire ends up underinflated, add more air until reaching the recommended PSI. Underinflation can lead to blowouts.
Is it bad to put too much air in a tire?
Yes, overinflation can reduce traction, handling, tread life, and lead to uneven wear. Stick to the recommended PSI.
The Bottom Line
While turning your engine off during inflation is not an absolute must, it allows you to carefully focus on achieving accurate tire pressure. Investing in a quality tire gauge and checking PSI monthly makes maintaining proper inflation easy.
Stick to the recommendations in your owner’s manual for optimal tire health and safety. Don’t overlook this basic maintenance step. Properly inflated tires save money on fuel costs, enhance handling and braking, extend tread life, and give you confidence out on the road.