When driving, having the correct tire inflation pressure significantly affects the vehicle’s performance, fuel efficiency, and safety on the road.
However, it’s common for drivers to have under-inflated tires, which shortens the tires’ lifecycle and could cause the driver to lose control of the car. So, how dangerous are underinflated tires, and how can you identify the symptoms? Here’s what I discovered.
Are Under Inflated Tires Dangerous?
Under-inflated tires are dangerous to drive on because they cause the car to lose stability, negatively affecting handling, stopping, and cornering. When the pressure is too low, the tires will wear out on the outside edges of the tread, start overheating, eventually leading to a blowout or accident. Most passenger cars come with recommended PSI of 30 to 35.
Keep on reading for more information about the dangers of driving with under-inflated tires, symptoms of underinflation, and the recommended PSI!
What Does Under Inflated Tires Mean?
Under-inflated tires occur when the tire pressure is too low compared to the recommended pounds per square inch (PSI).
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report, tires under-inflated by 25% are three times more likely to cause car accidents than correctly inflated tires.
Any tire with pressure below the stated maximum inflation pressure on the sidewall could be considered underinflated.
While most of the underinflation occurs due to drivers not checking the tire pressure regularly, it could also be caused by changes in temperature; therefore, it’s advisable to factor in the summer highs and winter lows when maintaining your tires.
Is It Dangerous To Drive With Under Inflated Tires?
Having inadequate tire inflation can negatively affect your car’s performance, shorten the life of your car’s tires, or even cause a tire to fail.
Additionally, if your tires are under-inflated, they don’t respond as quickly as they would if they were adequately inflated; therefore, your car loses performance and some of the safety benefits provided by the tire manufacturer.
How does underinflation become dangerous? Here are some reasons.
Under Inflated Tires Affect Handling
NHTSA statistics show that tire-related crashes resulted in 612 motor vehicle-related fatalities in 2019; therefore, under-inflated tires can become fatal if not handled properly.
Once the tire has low pressure, the sidewalls will lose stability and bend more than they were designed to, which is not ideal during braking and cornering.
Furthermore, the tread has poor contact with the road causing the tire to be less stable and reduced traction.
When braking during an emergency, under-inflated tires don’t have the grip and required responsiveness which you need to avoid accidents.
If you are not constantly checking your tire pressure, a tire blowout can happen unexpectedly, especially when driving at high speeds on the highway.
Because they are more sudden, they can cause multiple car accidents, especially on a busy highway, depending on the force of a blowout.
What’s worse, you may be liable if your tire blowout causes car accidents with other motorists because you are solely responsible for your tires.
Tire blowouts occur when the overheating gets severe, causing a section of the tire’s rubber to separate from the fabric and steel that it’s built on.
In addition to putting you at risk, you also become a danger to other drivers on the road.
What Are The Symptoms Of Under Inflated Tires?
If your car tires are underinflated even by 6 PSI, it could lead to tire failure. While this is not low, it represents 20% of the tire’s recommended pressure. So how can you identify a tire that’s under-inflated? Here are the symptoms to look out for.
Loss of Shape
Underinflated tires will not maintain their original shape and will appear flatter than they should when they contact the road.
While tire pressure can’t be accurately determined through visual inspection, you can spot some differences in the tire appearance when you look at them in the morning or before a long trip.
Low inflation will cause the tire to deflate and bend when it rolls; therefore, you should always check for signs.
A tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) is designed with sensors to monitor the air pressure in the tires and alert the driver when something is wrong.
When the tire pressure drops, TPMS warns you with a dashboard symbol; therefore, you should check your tires with a pressure gauge which you can easily buy at $5.
Due to the high number of tire-related accidents due to blowouts, the NHTSA pushed for the enactment of the Tread Act, which made TPMS mandatory in the United States for every vehicle as of September 2007.
To avoid these warning lights, it’s better to schedule a monthly check on all your tires or use the pressure gauge to identify slow leaks early enough.
Once the TPMS light comes on, you need to drive to the closest gas station to refill all your tires to the recommended air pressure, and the light will go off once all the tires are properly inflated.
However, if the light stays on even after you’ve inflated the tires, it’s highly likely that your TPMS sensors are damaged and need to be replaced.
To replace this device, you can purchase one from sources such as Amazon, which provides different systems with unique features.
When you have low tire pressure, you’ll worsen your fuel economy because an under-inflated tire has a low resistance to rolling.
Since the tires are struggling to move, you’ll need more energy to drive, and your engine will have to work harder, using up too much fuel.
According to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, underinflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 PSI drop in pressure of all four tires.
Decreased Steering Abilities
Under-inflated tires make it hard to steer your car because of reduced grip when the tires contact the road surface. Therefore, if you find the car hard to navigate, check whether the tires have the right air pressure.
Unusual Noise When Driving
While car tires produce some normal sounds depending on the size and tread, there are some situations when your vehicle could become abnormally loud.
One such instance is when the tires are under-inflated, which causes the outside and inside edges to wear out more than the central part.
You’ll notice the flapping sound becomes loud when driving because the tire flattens, adding pressure to the outer edges; hence the noise will be louder when the air goes between the tread and the tire. To stop these noises, you have to check the air pressure in all your tires.
Increased Stopping Time
If your tires are under-inflated, you’ll find it more challenging to bring your car to a halt when you apply breaks because the low pressure affects the grip and performance.
What’s Is Worse Between Over Inflated or Under Inflated Tires?
According to some automotive specialists, under-inflated tires are much worse and dangerous than over-inflated ones because of safety issues. While both cause significant problems to the car owner, they differ in some ways.
First, the tire wear-out is different because the over inflated tires wear out at the center, the under-inflated ones wear out more around the edges.
If you fit your car with over-inflated tires, they tend to be very stiff, causing them to lose traction on the road and decreasing the tire’s footprint.
Additionally, because of the stiffness, the over-inflated tires give a bumpy, noisy ride and may not react as expected to road hazards such as potholes.
On the other hand, under-inflated tires will have increased friction which causes the tire to overheat and eventually blowout.
To avoid both of these issues, you should stick to the recommended air pressure and ensure that the checks are done regularly.
Can You Feel If Your Tires Are Under Inflated?
While most drivers say that you can’t tell whether your tires are under-inflated by just looking at them, you can sometimes feel it when driving. If your tires have low pressure, you can tell by how the car feels when handling it on the road.
For instance, it might become much harder to steer the car, or the steering wheel might start shaking, a clear indication that something is wrong.
However, in some cases, drivers can drive using under-inflated tires without realizing it, especially if the road doesn’t require a lot of maneuvering and braking, which means they don’t notice any changes when handling the vehicle.
This situation becomes risky if a car uses a route with bad roads or poor weather, making it hard to control the car.
Therefore, it’s still better to measure the air pressure on all your tires and get an actual reading to avoid making errors through guesswork.
What Is The Ideal PSI For My Tires?
How do you find the ideal tire pressure for your car? This is a dilemma for most car owners, especially first-time buyers.
Luckily the tire manufacturers provide this information for the car owner, which you’ll mostly find on a sticker inside the driver’s door.
However, if you don’t find the recommended air pressure printed there, you can check under the hood, on the glove box, or the owner’s manual.
Manufacturers recommend the PSI (pounds per square inch) for different tires after carrying out various tests to determine the suitability; therefore, as the owner, it’s advisable to pay attention to the set PSI for the safety and longevity of your car.
For most vehicles, the recommended PSI is between 30 to 35; however, this will vary depending on the vehicle type.
The label with the specific PSI indicates the air pressure for the front, rear and spare tires; hence it’s critical that you stick to these guidelines to avoid tire problems.
How Can You Get The Accurate PSI?
Although it’s a straightforward process, you should consider some key things if you want to get an accurate PSI reading. Here are some tips.
Check Tire Pressure When Tires Are Cold
As tire pressure changes depending on the temperatures, it’s advisable to check your tires when they are cold.
According to my research, tires gain or lose one PSI for every 10-degree change in temperature, which means if the temperatures suddenly drop 30 degrees, your tires could lose 3 PSI in one night, increasing the chances of a flat tire.
Re-check Air Pressure Regularly
Your tires pressure will be affected by outside temperatures; therefore, it’s better to check your PSI every few weeks, especially if you notice a change in the tire performance.
To make this easier, you can purchase a pressure gauge to help you measure the reading every morning or before a long journey.
Additionally, you can take your car to a mechanic for professional assessment at least once every month. This way, you can avoid tire issues and drive safely.
What To Do With Under Inflated Tires
Once you notice that your tire pressure is too low, you need to note the difference between the recommended PSI and what you just measured. The difference is what you’ll need to add at the service station to ensure you have the appropriate pounds.
You should also ensure that you are dealing with professional mechanics who can advise you on the best ways to take care of your tires and whether they need replacements.
To find out more, you can also see our posts on how long do run flat tires last, how long will tires last with bad alignment, and how common are flat tires.
Maintaining the right air pressure in your tires is critical for your safety and other road users, as well as the longevity of your tires.
While every tire has a different tire pressure, it’s essential to always use the recommended tire pressure if you want your tires to last.
Under-inflated tires can be dangerous on the road because they affect car handling, stability, and performance, increasing the risk of tire-related car accidents.