Getting a flat tire is usually an unexpected, inconvenient experience, but it is also a fairly common one. No car owner is immune from this experience, and most drivers will endure this at some point in their years of driving.
Maintaining correct tire pressure is the first line of defense against finding yourself stranded with a flat tire. It is essential for the lifespan and performance of your tires, and although there are many other ways you could get a flat tire, at least if you do this right, you will know it wasn’t your fault.
It’s easy to check your tire pressure at a filling station, of course, but it’s even easier if you can do it yourself, whenever necessary, without the hassle of driving anywhere. If you own an air compressor, or if you’re thinking of getting one, then checking your tires, or inflating them after a flat, is as easy as 1, 2, 3… Quite literally.
Read on to learn how to use an air compressor to inflate your tires, and maintain perfect tire pressure at all times.
Know Your Tires
The air pressure requirements of tires vary greatly between vehicle types and tire types. It is also affected by the load of the vehicle, and the weather.
An air compressor can be used for many different types of tires, so you may find you have more than one use for one in your home. They can inflate tires on cars, bicycles, motorbikes, tractors, trailers, and even certain mowers.
What this means is that you will need to know the requirements of the specific tires you want to inflate, before you get started with your air compressor.
Be sure to read the owner’s manual of the vehicle in question, to ensure you know what pressure the tires on that vehicle should be inflated to, and if the front and back tires should be the same, or different.
In cars and other larger vehicles, you may find the recommended air pressure printed on a sticker inside the driver’s side door. You should never use the “per square inch” (PSI) number on the wall of the tire, as this is the maximum pressure the tire can withstand, not the optimal pressure for best performance and safety. It can, however, be used to decide which type of air compressor to buy for your vehicle.
The most common tire pressure requirements are 30 PSI in summer, and 35 PSI in winter, but these are not correct for every vehicle, so be sure to find out about your specific one.
Remember that the colder it gets, the higher you may need to inflate your tires, so if you live in an extremely cold area, be sure to find out the correct tire pressure for your vehicle at the temperatures you are experiencing.
- Having your tires too hard will lower performance and handling, and can be very dangerous for the driver and passengers.
- Having your tires too soft will increase friction on the tires, causing them to heat up more, increase fuel consumption, and increase wear on your tires by around 10%.
It is best to inflate your tires when they are cold, and your car hasn’t been driven in the last 30 minutes, at least. Hot tires tend to show higher pressure on the tire gauge than is realistic (because the hot air expands), and you will not get an accurate reading.
How to Inflate Your Tires with an Air Compressor
1. Prepare the Tire
Each tire on your vehicle should have a stem cap on the valve stem. Remove the stem cap, and put it somewhere safe, so that you can return it when you are done. It may be best to do this only after you have set up the air compressor so that you don’t lose any air before you are ready to inflate the tire.
2. Set Up the Compressor
Situate your air compressor as near to the tire you want to work with as possible. You don’t want to have to move a vehicle when it has a flat or very low tire. Attach the hose to the compressor, and the quick coupler, or tire chuck, to the end. This will allow you to push air into the valve stem. If the nozzle has a safety position, activate it now.
Most air compressors are electric, so be sure there is a power source nearby, and check that the outlet has the correct voltage for your machine. Connect the compressor, secure the hose to the tire’s valve stem, and turn on the machine. You will hear the motor start, and the compressor will fill with air.
3. Fill Up the Tire
Inflating a very flat tire could take some time, and is, in any case, best done slowly. This way, you will avoid overinflating the tire. Some compressors will have a gauge, which you can use for guidance, and some inflators can be set to switch themselves off when the tire reaches the desired PSI.
The most accurate inflators tend to be digital. Note that you should never leave a machine unattended while it is inflating a tire, even if it is set to switch itself off. Overinflating the tire could lead to serious damage.
If you are working with a thinner tire, like a motorbike tire, you may need an adaptor for the tire chuck. You should also remember that, if your bike has one thin and one thick tire, they will have different pressure requirements. Be sure to fill motorbike tires very slowly, as they can easily explode if overinflated.
Assuming that you do not have a digital or automatic inflator, keep a close eye on the tire pressure, and switch off the air compressor as soon as the desired pressure is reached. If you find that you have added too much air, simply push down on the tire gauge to release some pressure.
When the pressure is correct, remove the hose, and replace the stem cap. It is normal to hear air hissing out when removing the hose, so do not be alarmed.
Related: Putting Air In Your Tires At A Gas Station: The Complete Guide
What To Do If Your Tires Have Very Low Pressure
If you find yourself in a situation where you have tires with low pressure, and no way to inflate them at hand, you will have to drive your vehicle at least a short distance to reach the nearest filling station. In this instance, be sure to:
- Drive the shortest distance possible
- Drive very slowly, to prevent damage and wear to your tires
- Carry as little in your vehicle as possible – unload any heavy load you may be carrying
- Inflate your tires to the recommended PSI as quickly as possible
Now you know how to inflate your tires with an air compressor, here are a few common errors that keep people from doing this job themselves, or having optimally cared-for tires:
- Unless it is completely unavoidable, never drive your vehicle with underinflated tires, or with a flat.
- Maintain consistent performance by keeping your tires at the correct PSI at all times (check your tire pressure at least once a month).
- Never leave a running air compressor unattended.
- Always use the manufacturer-recommended settings, unless advised otherwise by a professional.
- Ensure all your equipment is compatible – this includes your air compressor, valves, the power outlet, and tires.