Tire pressure in cold weather
Roadway Questions | Roadway Tips

What Should My Tire Pressure Be In Cold Weather?

I remember my first winter in Maine. One cold morning I went outside to go somewhere and one of my tires was flat and I couldn’t figure out why. Little did I know how the cold affects my tire air pressure.

Ideally, the tire air pressure in cold weather should be between 30 and 35 PSI.  However, like almost everything automotive there are manufacturer spec’s that need to followed. So make sure that you check your individual make and model.

What Should My Tire Pressure be in Cold Weather?

Cold weather brings all kinds of challenges to drivers, even when it isn’t dumping mounds of snow on our roads or freezing rain into black ice.

Theremomter showing freezing temperatature

Truth be told, tire pressure dips caused by lower temperatures can be just as much of a headache and hassle to deal with than winter weather. Sometimes these pressure dips are even more challenging to deal with, usually because we don’t notice them until it’s too late.

Obviously, it’s always important to pay close attention to the only things on your vehicle that are supposed to be in constant contact with the road. Your wheels get you where you’re trying to go safely – or at least that’s the idea, anyway!

In this quick guide, we dig a little deeper into what tire pressures should be when the mercury starts to drop.

You’ll know when your tires are too low, when your tires are too high, and what you need to do to fix either of those two issues by the time you are done with the inside info below.

Let’s get right into it!

What Is The Ideal Tire Pressure For A Car?

air pressure guage

Every car and every tire manufacturer is going to have a recommended tire pressure (PSI) that they suggest as a general rule for all-season driving.

On top of that, though, they will also have a PSI figure for winter driving you’ll want to have a look at, too. As I mentioned, each of these numbers is unique across the board depending on vehicle brand and tire manufacturer, the overwhelming majority are going to fall somewhere between the 30 PSI to 35 PSI measurement.

This level of pressure provides just the right amount of traction and control without making your tires too hard, beating up on the suspension system but also not gripping the road the way the rubber was designed to. It also avoids tires that are too low, sloppy, and difficult to control or steer when you start to slide around.

If you really want to know the ideal tire pressure for your car, truck, or SUV during winter conditions bust out the owners manual and have a quick read. You’ll also find information printed directly on the tires themselves or on a sticker inside of your driver or passenger door jam.

Is It Better To Have Lower Tire Pressure In The Winter?

Well, this one is a little tricky to answer.

On the one hand, lower tire pressure (10 or 15 PSI lower than normal) can definitely help you navigate snowy roads – especially when a lot of the white stuff as accumulated before plow has run through.

On the other hand, though, as soon as those roads are restored to even halfway decent condition with a bit of plowing and sanding that significantly lower pressure is going to be a huge hindrance.

Sure, lower pressures are going to expand the amount of rubber you have in contact with the ground. This spreads the weight of your vehicle out across more snow when it has been piling up. That’s great for back roads that don’t get plowed that much and driveways that haven’t been shoveled.

You know, things like that.

But that lower pressure is also going to make it almost impossible to steer consistently or accurately as soon as you hit well-maintained roads. All that extra rubber is going to cause your tires to handle very poorly – and that’s not even the worst of your concerns.

Underinflation can lead to tires overheating. It doesn’t take all that much for your tires to significantly overheat, either, and then you run the risk of explosion or popping while you are headed down the road in the middle of a winter storm.

Situationally, lower tire pressure can work in a pinch.

For the most part, though, you want to try and stick to between 30 PSI and 35 PSI as much as possible.

Do Car Tires Lose Pressure In Cold Weather?

Dropping temperatures are always going to cause air to become denser, lowering tire pressure, and causing issues across the board if you’re not carefully watching your PSI numbers.

A lot of people find themselves caught by surprise in just how much cold weather can drop the tire pressure in their wheels. Temperature drops of 10°F can account for one PSI in the decreased pressure pretty consistently, and it doesn’t take all that long for those temperature drops to cause even more leakage to occur.

It’s not a bad idea to schedule quick checkups with your tires throughout the winter. Once a month usually guarantees all of your tires are properly inflated throughout the cold weather seasons.

How To Lower Tire Pressure

Tire Air Pressure Release tool
Tire Pressure Release on back of Air Pressure Tool

If you do need to lower your tire pressure (because you’ve over-inflated or because you need a bit of extra grip across snowy or slippery surfaces) it’s important to know how to lower your tire pressure.

The easiest way to do that is to get your hands on a pressure release tool. You can get these for about a dollar that any department store, automotive supply store, hardware store, or gas station.

They look like little silver or chrome pens with a ball on the end that can be plugged directly into your tire’s air valve. One side checks the pressure of that air valve while the other side releases its pressure.

Keep one in your glove box at all times and you’ll be able to lower pressure as necessary and check what the PSI of your tires are at any time you like.

Is Low Tire Pressure Normal In Cold Weather?

Absolutely!

As we highlighted above, it’s pretty normal for tire pressures to drop about one PSI with every 10°F drop in overall air temperature.

Depending on factors like height above sea level and other atmospheric pressure issues you might lose more or less your pressure them that. But as a general rule the colder it gets the more deflated your tires are going to get.

Final Thoughts…

Wintertime can be tricky for your car. But with a little bit of knowledge and preparation, you can avoid getting a flat tire, even during the coldest winter months. Just remember to check the tire pressure regularly, especially when temperatures are fluctuating rapidly.

Keep in mind, we are not talking about spare tires here. Some spare tires have different requirements than your normal drive tires and donut spare tires are a different animal altogether.

References

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