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Why Car Tires Deflate in the Winter: Mechanic Insight

If you notice the u-shaped dashboard light with an exclamation point illuminate, you know it is time for a tire pressure refill. Most drivers find that this light is most active during the colder months. So why do tires deflate in the winter? How can you keep your tires protected from cold weather? The mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire are here with insight. 

Winter Air Compression and Tire Pressure

The reason your tires deflate in the winter is the same reason doctors tell you to put ice on an injury—cold temperatures cause contraction. Let’s take a closer look at the science:

  • Warmer molecules move faster. These fast-moving molecules spread further apart and take up extra space.
  • Colder molecules move slower and stay closer together—taking up less space as they contract.

For injuries, this is why ice can help reduce swelling. For your tires, however, it means that the air is no longer supplying the same amount of pressure. As your tire air compresses, it can leave your vehicle vulnerable on the road. 

Impacts and Risks of Low Tire Pressure

What happens when you ignore that dashboard light and drive with low tire pressure? It could put your vehicle, your tires, and your safety at risk. Here are some of the issues you can expect from driving with low tire pressure:

  • Worsened Vehicle Handling: Your tires play a vital role in helping your vehicle start, stop, and steer. Low tire pressure can reduce the responsiveness of your vehicle handling—impacting your safety on the road. 
  • Increased Tread Wear: Low tire pressure causes more of your tire tread to be exposed on the road—causing increased and uneven wear. 
  • Worsened Fuel Efficiency: Have you ever ridden a bike with low tire pressure? If so, you will understand that low tire pressure causes your vehicle to work much harder. This can cause a sharp increase in fuel consumption—making you pay more at the pump.

What to Do When Your Low Tire Pressure Light Comes On

Can I drive with low tire pressure? When your low tire pressure light comes on, there is no need to panic. You do not want to drive for extended lengths of time with low tire pressure, but you should be fine to drive to work or school—as long as you plan to get your tires inflated soon thereafter. You can even score a free tire pressure refill at a local mechanic shop. 

If your tire pressure is low for reasons other than the cold weather, you may require additional services:

  • If your low tire pressure is caused by a nail in your tire or another puncture, it will need a simple patching service. 
  • If your tire is struggling to maintain tire pressure due to sidewall issues, old age, or other signs of decline, you will need new tires. 

How Much Should I Refill My Tire Pressure?

Many drivers assume that the information about tire pressure (PSI) is found in the tire’s DOT number. While some tires contain printed information about pressure, this is not always the case. Even so, there are easier ways to find out how much you should refill your tire pressure. 

The most straightforward way is to check your tire information panel for details about your desired PSI. This insight can be found inside your driver’s side door frame. Simply open your door, turn around to face the rear of the car, and look along the metal frame for a sticker with tire information. It will tell you the ideal pressure for your tires. You can also often find this information in your owner’s manual. 

Picture of a tire information sticker in a car

Tire Pressure Refills and Tire Services: Chapel Hill Tire

If the cold weather is keeping your tires down, the local mechanics at Chapel Hill Tire are here for you. We offer complimentary refill services, among other conveniences designed to help the Triangle Drive Happy. Chapel Hill Tire has 9 locations across Raleigh, Apex, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Durham. We also proudly serve nearby communities, including Wake Forest, Pittsboro, Cary, and beyond. You can make your appointment here online or give us a call to get started today!

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