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Cold Temperature Tire Pressures

Cold Temperature Tire Pressures

Why adjusting tire pressures for winter temperatures is more than just hot air

Author: FleetLogik/Sunday, October 16, 2022/Categories: Featured, Resources

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Many cars and trucks today are equipped  with a tire pressure monitoring system or TPMS to warn drivers of under-inflated tires.  When one or more tires drops below a pre-set recommended pressure a dash light will illuminate.  The light can also be triggered by a bad sensor or system malfunctions. While a TPMS light coming on can be an early warning ahead of an emergency, there's no replacement for physically checking your tires with a gauge and adding air when needed.


Cold Winter Weather and Tire Pressure Monitor Systems

In cold weather areas TPMS problems may appear with the onset of winter.  If the tires of a vehicle were filled to specification when the ambient temperature was 80 degrees, and nothing was done as the winter rolled in and the outside temperatures dropped to below freezing, that alone could account for a 5 PSI reduction in tire pressure.

If you’re experiencing an issue where the TPMS light comes on in the morning, but it goes off later in the day, or the tire pressure looks fine with a gauge after you’ve been driving a while, cold temperatures may be playing a factor.    

When you drive a car, friction causes the tires to heat up, which also causes the air inside the tires to heat up. This is one of the reasons that manufacturers recommend filling tires when they are cold, instead of when they are hot from being driven. So there’s a very real chance that your tires could be under specification in the morning, and then appear fine later in the day when a mechanic checks them. 

The idea of putting “fall air” or “spring air” in tires may seem like a joke, but accounting for pressure swings due to the ambient temperature as the seasons change can head off issues with tire pressure monitor lights.  Check and adjust tire pressure “cold” before driving.

TPMS light is on, now what?  

Each tire has a wireless pressure sensor inside it. Each sensor transmits data to the computer, and the computer turns on the TPMS light if any of the sensors show a pressure value that is higher or lower than the safe operating range.

While the best response to a TPMS light coming on is to check the tire pressure with a manual gauge, the behavior of the light can actually mean different conditions.

Comes on and stays on

What it means: The air pressure is low in at least one tire.

What you should do: Check the tire pressure with a manual gauge as soon as you can.

Can you still drive: While you can drive with the TPMS light on, it is best to check the tires as soon as safely possible.  One or more of your tires may be very low on air pressure. Your vehicle may not handle like you expect it to, and driving on a flat tire can damage it.

Illuminates and then turns off after driving or movement

What it Means: The tire pressure is at least one tire is probably very close to the minimum or maximum rated inflation. As the air contracts, due to cold weather, or heats up, the sensor is triggered.

What you should do: Check the tire pressure and adjust it.

Can you still drive: The air pressure is probably close to where it should be, so it's usually safe to drive. Keep in mind that the vehicle may not handle the way you expect it to.

Flashes each time you start the engine and then stays on

What it Means: Your TPMS has probably malfunctioned and you can't count on it.

What you should do: Take your car to a qualified technician as soon as you can. Check your tire pressure manually in the meantime.

Can you still drive: If you check the air pressure in your tires, and it's fine, then you are safe to drive. Just don't count on the TPMS to warn you of a problem.

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