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Approximately 11,000 car crashes each year are caused by tire failure, according to an estimate by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Underinflated tires are pinpointed as a major cause of failure, while properly inflated tires can yield a 3.3% increase in fuel economy -- and may just save your life.
Most new vehicles have a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) that warns if a tire dips under the recommended air pressure. If your car is older, however, you'll need to use an air gauge to check if you have the correct tire pressures. You'll be served well to check them regularly because your tires are the only part of your car that actually touch the ground.
I've assembled this handy list of Roadshow's favorite tire pressure gauges. These best tire pressure gauge recommendations are based on hands-on experience as well as user ratings at popular e-commerce sites. Keep reading afterward for some more details about the different types of tire pressure gauges and some helpful tips so you'll always be prepared when on the road.
This Jaco tire air pressure gauge is small enough to fit in your pocket or glove box. It can read up to 60 psi in 1 psi increments and is calibrated to the American National Standards Institute standard to be accurate within 1.5%. Heavy-duty brass components are wrapped in a rubber protective guard and the 2-inch glow-in-the-dark dial gauge is easy to read. Readings will stay on the analog dial until the pressure reset button is pressed, so you can release it from the valve stem and have a better look. If you need to deflate a bit, just leave the gauge attached and hold down that same button to have it act as a bleed valve for a slow release of air. The brass chuck can swivel 360 degrees, making it easy to use at any angle.
I know, it looks cheap and tiny but I have had this digital gauge for nigh on five years and it has never let me down. It measures from 5 to 150 psi in .5 psi increments and also reads in kPa and bar. I like the backlit screen and the ergonomic shape. It is battery-powered, but with the automatic shut-off the battery seems to last forever -- mine is still going strong. Plus this digital pressure gauge is small enough to be stored everywhere. For the Rebelle Rally I keep one in my pocket, one in the driver's door cubby and one in my tool bag just in case I lose one.
Ah, the classic Milton pencil air pressure gauge, made in the USA. This little guy can measure psi from 5 to 50 in 1-pound increments, or 40-350 kPa in 10-kPa increments. It's made of plated brass with a four-sided white nylon metering bar. There is a built-in deflator valve and a single-chuck head. The pressure-reading bar stays out until the user pushes it back in, so you can take the gauge off the valve stem for a better look at the numbers. Plus, it has a clip on it so you can put this stick gauge in your shirt pocket like the car nerd that you are.
Off-road folks will often want to let air out of their tires rapidly to gain more traction on the trail. This tire pressure gauge removes the valve core so you can quickly get back to having fun. Deflating 35-inch off-road tires down to 12 psi can take up to 20 minutes, but one Amazon reviewer says they accomplished the same task in six. The analog pressure gauge measures up to 60 psi in one psi increments and the brass/stainless deflator tool is corrosion resistant. Further, the bronze tube gauge itself is not affected by outside temperatures, humidity levels or altitude.
If you have a dual rear tire setup like on a heavy-duty truck or RV, you'll need a tire pressure gauge with a dual-head swivel chuck. I like this Exelair by Milton unit for its long reach and the 360-degree swivel on the chuck. Plus, it has an LED flashlight built-in so you can actually see what you're doing when searching for that inner tire valve stem. This gauge reads from 5 to 100 psi as well as kPa and bar on a backlit LED screen. The digital gauge will automatically shut off after 30 seconds and it comes with two AAA batteries.
You can use an air compressor to fill up your tires, and adding a Tire gauge to the air hose means you won't have to disconnect the air to check the pressure. This gauge is a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon in air tool parts and accessories. I like this digital tire pressure gauge because it's compatible with ¼-inch and ½-inch compressor outputs, has a locking chuck and comes with extras like a valve core tool and four valve caps. This gauge can measure from 0 to 250 psi and can also give readings in bar, kPa and kg/cm ^2 and there is a bleeder valve to let air out to remedy overinflated tires. The backlit LCD screen turns itself off after 20 seconds of inactivity to save on battery life.
This tire pressure gauge from Accutire gets the coveted Amazon Choice rating and does double duty as a tread depth gauge. Sure, you could just use the old penny trick, but this gauge can give you an exact tread depth from 0 to 19/32 inches and includes an easy to read green/yellow/red indicator so you know right away if your tires need replacing. The pressure gauge can read up to 99 psi and also takes readings in bar, kPa and kg/cm^2. It also features a large backlit LCD display and an auto-shut-off feature to save battery life.
Comparison of best tire pressure gauges
Properly inflated tires are absolutely essential for achieving optimal fuel economy and a smooth ride. Not enough air in the tires means that more energy is required to push those wheels around, resulting in poor fuel economy. However, inflate them too much and your ride quality suffers. It's also of note that improperly inflated tires could lead to a blowout, and nobody has time for that.
NHTSA recommends checking your tire pressure every month, even if your car has a tire pressure monitoring system. Many systems will not indicate a loss of pressure until it recognizes a severe loss of pressure and fallout of the acceptable pressure range. It says that tires can lose up to one psi each month, so it's important to monitor them on a regular basis for proper tire pressure.
Usually the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure is listed in pounds per square inch (psi) on a sticker in the driver's side door jamb. Most of the time all four tires run the same psi, but if your car has larger tires in the back, those will naturally take more air. Remember that as your tires move, the air heats up and expands, so it's always best to check to see if they have the correct tire pressure first thing in the morning when they are cold.
These days tire gauges take many different forms. Old-school car tire gauges are shaped like a pencil and have a metering shaft that pops out from the bottom, indicating air pressure. A pencil gauge can be a bit hard to read, as the numbers on the shaft are small and they aren't super-accurate but they are virtually indestructible and highly portable.
Dial gauges are usually small, featuring a face that is about two inches in diameter. Often the dial is backlit so you can easily read it at night. They may or may not feature a length of hose. Dial gauges are more accurate than pencil gauges, but they may not be happy being bounced around in a glove box.
Digital gauges are the most accurate and very easy to read. Most will display air pressure in psi, kPa (kilopascal) or bar (barometric or 100 kPa). Once the tire gauge is pressed on to the valve stem, the gauge can read the pressure in two or three seconds. Digital gauges rely on batteries, so you'll have to keep an eye on power levels.
In addition to a tire pressure gauge, you should also carry a few emergency items with you at all times. Roadshow recommends carrying a portable jump starter and a first-aid kit at the very least, but it's also a good idea to keep a portable air compressor in your trunk. With all that, you'll never need to call AAA again.
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