Curious if it’s fine to drive with an illuminated low tire pressure light?
Low tire pressure can feel like a minor issue when you need to drop kids at school or get to work. However, driving with underinflated tires is risky beyond certain limits.
Still, you may wonder: How long can you drive with low tire pressure in an emergency?
We’ll explore driving with low tire pressure, the risks involved, and how to keep yourself safe.
This Article Contains:
- How Long Can You Drive with Low Tire Pressure?
- 4 Worrying Consequences of Driving with Low Tire Pressure
- 6 Typical Causes of Low Tire Pressure
- How to Check and Fix Low Tire Pressure
- 3 FAQs about Low Tire Pressure
How Long Can You Drive with Low Tire Pressure?
How long you can drive with an underinflated tire depends on its pressure.
If the tire pressure is between 20 to 30 psi (pound per square inch), you could drive to a gas station or mechanic under 50 miles (80 km) away. Ensure you maintain a speed under 50 miles (80 km) per hour.
However, you should avoid driving if your tire pressure is under 20 psi. Driving without proper tire pressure can lead to a tire blowout at high speeds.
Similarly, avoid driving with low tire pressure if:
- You can’t fill air and a tire looks visibly lower or feels softer than the others.
- There’s rain, snow, or icy roads. The low traction can lead to accidents. Limit your speed to 20 miles (32 km) per hour in emergencies.
- You need to pass through highways. High speeds and hard surfaces will wear your tire out faster.
Note: If you can’t fill air and don’t have a spare tire, it’s best to call a mobile mechanic for a tire service.
Now, let’s explore the risks of low tire pressure.
4 Worrying Consequences of Driving with Low Tire Pressure
Here’s why driving with low tire pressure (below the recommended pressure) is dangerous:
1. Loss of Control
Underinflated tires lose grip at high speeds, leading to skidding.
Plus, while cornering or braking, the sidewalls of the underinflated tires flex more, decreasing tire stability. This can decrease steering responsiveness and lengthen braking distance.
2. Hastened Tire Wear
An underinflated tire has more surface in contact with the road, which increases friction and wears it out faster. So, the more you drive with low tire pressure, the faster you’ll face tire failure and need a new tire.
Note: Overinflated tires can also hasten tire wear.
3. Tire Blowout
The increased friction can overheat and damage your tires, eventually causing tread separation (where your tire’s outer layer comes off) or a tire blowout. This could lead to life-threatening overturns or collisions.
Similarly, an overinflated tire is also at risk of tire blowout, especially in hot conditions.
4. Reduced Gas Mileage (Fuel Economy)
Since friction creates resistance to rolling, your engine works harder to run your vehicle. This means your vehicle burns more fuel to run, reducing fuel efficiency. In fact, there’s a 0.2% drop in gas mileage for every 1 psi (pound per square inch) drop in air pressure.
But what causes the pressure loss?
6 Typical Causes of Low Tire Pressure
You may experience low tire air pressure or see a lit Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) warning light due to:
- Tire punctures: Nails, glass, or similar objects can puncture a tire, causing pressure loss and eventual tire failure.
- Tire damage and wear: Tires lose their capacity to hold air pressure over time due to wear and dry rotting.
- Damaged wheel rims: Rims are tightly fit on tires to form a seal and prevent air leakage. If the rim is damaged, your tire could slowly lose air pressure.
- Temperature drops: Tire pressure drops at low temperatures since air contracts in cold weather. There’s a 1 psi drop in tire pressure for every 10°F drop in temperature.
- High altitudes: Tire air pressure also drops at higher altitudes. So, frequently check your tire pressure level when driving in high-altitude regions.
- TPMS malfunction: A faulty Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) could trigger the low tire pressure light when it’s actually normal.
Let’s see how to confirm low pressure.
How to Check and Fix Low Tire Pressure
Typically, the low tire pressure light activates when the TPMS detects the pressure is 25% above or below the recommended level. The recommended tire pressure is usually between 32 to 40 psi, depending on the vehicle manufacturer.
The system detects pressure via either the tire assembly sensors or the Anti-lock Braking System’s (ABS) wheel speed sensors.
However, you can also check the pressure on regular tires by:
- Using a tire gauge (tire pressure gauge): Remove the tire valve stem cap and attach the tire gauge until it displays a steady pressure level.
- Pressing each tire’s sidewall: The sidewall (area around the rim — not the tread) should feel firm. If it’s soft, you could have an underinflated or flat tire.
If low, you could inflate to the recommended tire pressure level at a gas station or by using a portable tire inflator. Check for your vehicle’s correct tire pressure on the sticker affixed to the driver’s door before filling air.
Alternatively, you could replace the tire with a spare tire.
Still worried about your tire pressure?
Let’s clear the air.
3 FAQs about Low Tire Pressure
Here are answers to questions you may have about low tire pressure:
1. What Is Too Low Tire Pressure?
Pressure below 20 psi (essentially a flat tire) is too low for regular tires.
Driving with too low pressure is dangerous since it can cause accelerated air loss, tire damage, brake damage, or accidents. That’s why you need regular tire maintenance, which includes tire rotation, reviewing tire tread depth, and fixing tire pressure.
Note: Overinflated tires (above 10% of the recommended pressure) are just as dangerous as underinflated tires.
2. How Do You Reset a Tire Pressure Light?
Usually, you should only reset the tire pressure light after inflating or replacing a tire.
You can follow these steps to reset the TPMS light:
- Turn the ignition on.
- Press and hold the TPMS reset button (usually located under the dashboard or in the glove compartment).
- Release the button.
- Turn the ignition off.
- Start your vehicle to see if the TPMS light is off. If it’s on, check your owner’s manual or consult a mechanic for further assistance.
Note: Some vehicles may have a different method to reset the TPMS light. To be sure, check your owner’s manual before resetting the light.
3. Do You Need New Tire Pressure Sensors for New Tires?
No, you don’t always need new sensors for new tires. You can attach the old tire pressure sensors if they’re fine — their battery usually lasts about 10 years.
However, this also depends on your Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). A direct TPMS uses wheel assembly sensors, while an indirect TPMS uses the ABS’s wheel speed sensors to monitor tire pressure.
You won’t need tire pressure sensors if your car has an indirect TPMS.
Avoid Low Tire Pressure with AutoNation Mobile Service
Driving with a low tire pressure level can increase wear, reduce fuel economy, and damage your brakes. Plus, losing control of your vehicle can endanger your and others’ safety. So, it’s best to maintain the correct tire pressure and promptly resolve low pressure issues.
Suspect a low tire?
Let the experts at AutoNation Mobile Service check it out. We’ll help you resolve any auto repair and tire maintenance issues from your driveway.
Contact us for reliable tire service and a 12-month, 12,000-mile warranty on auto repair parts.