As you know, having good tires on your vehicle that are in great shape can keep you safer on the road, increase fuel efficiency, and much more.
However, you may be like many drivers and find yourself driving around with low tire pressure.
Can you, or should you, drive with low tire pressure? Here’s what you need to know.
You should not let your tires drop below 20 PSI and continue driving. Any lower than 20 PSI and you are technically driving on a flat tire, which increases your chances of a blowout and reduces your ability to safely handle your vehicle.
Since your vehicle’s tires are going to lose pressure even under the best of circumstances, it is important to know how low your tire pressure can be and still allow you to safely drive your vehicle.
If your vehicle has standard passenger tires, which more than 90 percent of all vehicles on the road today do, most experts we know agree that your tire pressure cannot be any lower than 20 pounds per square inch when you are driving.
Should your tire pressure go lower than 20 pounds per square inch, technically this means you are then driving on what is considered to be a flat tire.
If you try to do this for an extended period of time in terms of miles driven, or if you are on a highway driving at higher speeds, you are greatly increasing the risk of a blowout, which will likely lead to a devastating accident.
Along with the potential of a blowout, a tire that has very low tire pressure is also less capable of having the traction needed to grip the road as it should.
Because of this, your vehicle will be harder to handle and probably be slower in responding when you need to make turns, especially sharp turns.
This can also result in an accident, especially if you find yourself in an emergency situation.
Since most of today’s standard passenger tires have recommendations from the manufacturer of having 35 pounds per square inch of air in your tires, you can see just how much of a drop it is from 35 psi to 20 psi.
Roughly, it is close to a 50 percent reduction in the amount of air in your tires, which is a big deal.
To give yourself peace of mind behind the wheel and keep you and others safe, it is always best to check your tire pressure at least once per month and top off accordingly.
What is Considered Low Tire Pressure?
As we just noted, tires that only have 20 pounds of air per square inch are considered to be so low that they technically are flat tires.
Technically, any time a tire has a psi level that is lower than that recommended by the manufacturer, it is considered to be low tire pressure.
However, most auto experts agree with our assessment that when a tire has an amount of air in it that is at least 10 percent lower than the manufacturer’s recommended psi, this falls into the category of low tire pressure.
Unfortunately, most drivers today don’t think this way. Since most newer vehicles are now equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems, drivers tend to rely on these systems to alert them as to when their tire pressure is too low.
However, if you are doing this, you are actually putting yourself at much greater risk when you are on the road.
Should your tire pressure monitoring system alert you that your tire pressure is too low, this means your tire pressure is already at least 25 percent lower than the manufacturer’s recommended levels, not the 10 percent that most experts consider to be too low.
If you do the math, this means that if your tires should have 35 pounds of air per square inch and they are already running a deficit of 25 percent less air, this means they probably only have about 26 pounds of air per square inch in them when your vehicle’s monitoring system sends you an alert.
Does Low Tire Pressure Mean That You Have a Flat Tire?
When you have low tire pressure, this does not necessarily mean you are driving on a flat tire.
However, it could mean you may soon have a flat tire if you do not address the problem.
While you could have low tire pressure simply due to your tires losing air in a normal manner over time, it could also indicate you may have a tire that has a leak or is damaged in some other manner.
Should your tire pressure go as low as 20 pounds per square inch, you are then considered to be driving on a flat tire.
When this occurs, you should get additional air in your tire as quickly as possible to eliminate the risk of a blowout.
If you add air to a tire that has very low pressure and it loses that air quickly within only a few days or sooner, this means you’ve got a damaged tire that needs to be repaired or replaced.
Dangers of Driving with Low Tire Pressure
When you are driving your vehicle and have tires with very low tire pressure, you are putting yourself at risk in multiple ways.
The most serious danger of driving with low tire pressure is experiencing a blowout.
When your tire pressure is very low, this allows far too much of your tire’s surface to actually touch the road at any given time.
When this happens, increased friction is the result.
As the tire friction increases, this results in your tire getting hotter and hotter, ultimately causing it to overheat. When it does, the tire tread can then begin to separate, leading to a blowout.
Another danger of driving with low tire pressure is having a vehicle that will not handle as well when on the road. As tires have less and less air pressure, they are less able to grip the road as they normally would.
Thus, when you need to make turns or come to a sudden stop, your vehicle may not respond as well as you would expect.
Finally, driving tires that have low tire pressure will cause the tread on your tires to wear out much quicker, and to also wear out unevenly as you drive.
This can not only lead to your car not handling as well as you need it to, but it will also have you spending more money on a new set of tires earlier than you would have actually needed them.
Let’s face it, putting air in your tires now and then for free is a much better deal than spending hundreds of dollars on a new set of tires.
Why Your Tire Pressure Might be Low
When you do have low tire pressure, there can be many different reasons for this problem.
The most common is the fact that you just have not kept up with putting air in your tires on a regular basis.
This usually means checking your tire pressure monthly and topping off the air in your tires as needed.
If you do this, chances are you will have few if any problems with low tire pressure.
Having tires that are damaged or have developed a leak may also be a reason for low tire pressure.
For example, your tire could have a cut in it or be punctured if you ran over glass, nails, or other sharp objects. Even if your tire has only a small hole in it, this can lead to a gradual loss of tire pressure that will ultimately make it more dangerous for you to continue driving on the tire.
Tires on your vehicle can also lose pressure when the temperature outside starts to drop significantly.
In fact, you can expect your tires to lose one pound of air for every 10 degree drop in the outside temperature.
Thus, if your tires are already a bit low on air and the outside temperature goes from 50 degrees to 20 degrees, your tires will probably lose an additional three pounds of air per square inch in a short period of time.
What To Do When Your Tire Pressure Light Comes On
When your vehicle’s tire pressure light comes on, the one thing you should never do is ignore it and assume everything is fine.
As you know from earlier, your vehicle’s tire pressure monitoring system will only come on once your tire pressure is at least 25 percent less than the amount recommended by the manufacturer.
When the tire pressure light does come on, your first thought should be to get your vehicle to the nearest gas station, rest stop, or another facility that has an air pump you can use.
Once there, check your tire pressure and fill up with as much air as is needed.
Also, be sure to check each of your tires, rather than just the one that the monitoring system indicated is low on air. If you don’t, you may fill up one tire and get back on the road, only to have your tire pressure monitoring system come back on and indicate another tire is low on air.
How to Drive Safely with Low Tire Pressure
When you do experience low tire pressure with one or more of your vehicle’s tires, it is important that you realize you will need to change how you drive at that moment in order to stay safe on the road.
Should you have very low tire pressure, you should begin by making sure you only drive a very short distance. Ideally, this should be no more than 20 miles at most.
Next, try to remove any cargo from your vehicle that may be weighing it down an excessive amount, since the added weight will put more strain on the tires and increase the chances of a blowout.
Also, be sure to drive well below the speed limit that is specified on the roads you are on, since this will also keep your tires cooler and lessen the risk of tread separation and a blowout.
Finally, if your tire pressure is so low that you are technically considered to be driving on a flat tire, it is recommended that you put on your emergency flashers to alert other drivers to your problem.
Since maintaining proper tire pressure is one of the easiest things you can do in terms of vehicle maintenance, we suggest you get in the habit of checking your tire pressure each month.
By doing so, you’ll keep your tires in great shape, avoid a potential blowout, and gain a great deal of peace of mind.