what should tire pressure be in winter?

does your vehicle's tire pressure change in winter? here's what you need to know about tire pressure when the temperature drops in the winter!

tire pressure winter

you know how important it is to maintain proper tire pressures if you want to be safe on the road, but what happens when winter hits? what should tire pressure be in winter and should you alter the measurement? many people don’t realize that tire pressures should be different if the temperatures are colder. 

in this guide, we look at what happens to tires in the winter. not only will we give you some practical advice on where to set the tire pressure, but we also give you valuable tips on keeping the tires running their best. 

what should tire pressure be in winter?

if you check the owner’s manual, it will tell you where to set the tires for winter conditions. in most cases, the measurement is 3-5 psi higher than when operating in the summer or warmer months. therefore, if your tires are supposed to be inflated to 30-33 psi, you would put them at 33-38 psi during winter. 

this added pressure allows you to navigate snow-covered roads easier. as the tire pressures get lower, you are more likely to hydroplane or get stuck. you could easily lose control of the vehicle.

additionally, when you have the right amount of tire pressure, the drive is more reliable. underinflated tires lead to a lack of fuel economy, increased tread wear and strained performance. 

read more: how to find the correct tire pressure for your car (4 steps)

what does cold weather do to tire pressure?

during winter, the pressure decreases by about one psi for every 10 degrees that the temperature goes down. as the weather continues to get colder, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the inflation. 

is the lack of pressure due to it escaping in the cold months? no, instead, the air inside the tire starts to condense as the temperatures drop. 

if your vehicle is equipped with a tpms, you won’t have to monitor the tires so closely. these sensors should alert you if the air pressures become too low. 

dangers of low tire pressure

1. increased stopping time

the brakes work in conjunction with the tires to stop a vehicle before it collides with something else. when the tires are underinflated, it becomes harder to get the vehicle stopped.

the less air that is in the tires, the more likely they are going to skid, especially on wet roads. plus, braking time gets dramatically worse as the pressures decrease. 

2. drop in fuel economy

whenever the car isn’t running at optimal levels, you can expect a drop in fuel economy. with underinflated tires, the engine is working harder to turn the tires.

the u.s. department of energy estimates that there’s a 0.2% drop in fuel economy for every one psi lower that the tires are. that equates to a lot of money you could be throwing away. 

3. poor handling

the tires are the only part of the car making contact with the pavement. they are essential to how the car handles and maneuvers.

as the tire becomes underinflated, the sidewalls start to flex more, especially when braking or cornering. this condition causes the tread to become flexible, providing less stability and traction. as you steer, there will be less control.

if you are trying to avoid an accident, you might lose the ability to stop it. the loss of tire pressure keeps you from getting the grip and responsiveness needed in emergency situations. 

4. shorter tire lifespan

as the tires become underinflated, there will be more wear to the tread. the longer you leave them underinflated, the worst the condition gets.

over time, the tread becomes so worn that you have no choice but to purchase new tires. by keeping them inflated, rotated and balanced, you could have extended the life of the tires much longer. 

related: is it dangerous to drive with low tire pressure? (& what to do)

tips on checking/adjusting tire pressure

1. check when tires are cold

you should never check the tire pressures after going for a drive. the tires are warm and the reading won’t be accurate.

instead, you want to check the tire pressure before you head out in the morning. if you must do it after driving, give the tires an hour to cool down. 

2. match factory recommendations

you should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for proper tire inflation. you can also find this information on the driver’s side door jamb. 

it will specify how much air pressure is needed in cold tires. aside from this, you might add a few psi for colder months. 

3. use high-quality tools

your auto maintenance jobs are only as good as the tools you use. while the gas station air machine is great in a pinch, we recommend having your own tools at home.

you want to purchase a durable and reliable tire pressure gauge to start. with this handy gauge, you can check the tire’s pressures anywhere and anytime. you should also have a highly-rated air compressor for filling up the tires. 

read more: how to use a gas station air pump & properly inflate your tires

4. check/adjust frequently

it’s important that you check the tire pressures at least once a month when the weather is mild. as it gets colder out, you will want to double-check it. 

when you are ready to check tire pressures, you want to put the valve stem in a safe location. you don’t want to lose it while you are working on your tires. 

put your gauge on the stem and press it down firmly. you might briefly hear a hissing sound, but this should stop as you trap the air. your tire gauge will show the reading based on psi. 

you want to match this with the manufacturer’s recommendation. if the air pressure is too high, you need to push on the valve until a small amount of air escapes. check the pressures again to confirm it’s accurate. if the pressure is too low, hook up your air compressor to the valve stem and fill it up. double check the pressure and put the valve stem cap back in place.