Properly inflated tires have many benefits including better gas mileage, improved handling, and a maximum tire lifespan. As you already know, it costs about $1.50 to use a public air compressor. But, it’s still possible to get free air for tires with these tips and tricks.
Maintaining properly inflated tires is also one of the secrets to getter better gas mileage, in addition to having the longest tire life possible.
Are Your Car Tires Underinflated?
You should check your tires at least once a month and not wait until the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) light illuminates on your dash.
The only problem is that the light doesn’t illuminate until the tire pressure drops 25% below the recommended tire pressure listed on the stick on the inside of your driver’s door. Most passenger car tires have a 35 PSI recommendation so the light won’t go on until the tire pressure drops below 26 pounds.
If you have a slow leak, your tire pressure could have been right above the 25% threshold for an extended period of time. Underinflated tires cause the edges to wear unevenly so you might have three good tires and one “half-bald” tire.
Most gas station air compressors also come with a free built-in air gauge, but you might prefer to use your own gauge so you can measure your tire pressure at any time. Using the same gauge for all your readings also ensures you have a consistent reading just in case the built-in gauge is broken or you don’t use the same compressor each time you need more air.
Where to Get Free for Your Tires
Finding free air isn’t as easy as it used to be a few years ago. For some reason, many gas stations now charge $1.50 or $2 to use their air pump. Many of these compressors now accept credit card payments as you might not have enough quarters in your cup holder to turn on the machine.
Although it’s harder to find free air for your tires, it’s still not impossible. Some state laws mandate free air for the general public while other companies offer free air for regular customers.
Whether you need to find free air in your hometown or while you’re on vacation, there are plenty of places to that don’t require quarters or a credit card to turn on the compressor.
1. Live in California or Connecticut
Gas stations California and Connecticut are required by law to provide free air to drivers. But, California gas stations can charge you if you’re not a paying customer, so make sure you fill up your car as well to avoid paying extra to use the station’s compressor too.
Some compressors might still require payment unless you go inside and ask the clerk to turn on the compressor for you. By law, the cashier is required to manually turn on the compressor when a customer asks in these two states.
2. Visit a Regional Gas Station or Grocery Store
Some regional gas station brands still offer free air. You can quickly find places that offer free air for tires near you at FreeAirPump.com.
A second option is to hop on your local Reddit thread. You can search by street address or zip code to quickly find free air stations in the United States and Canada. You’ll want to look at the pink-colored icons only as some of the green-colored icons are for bike tires only.
Regional brands are still more likely to offer free air. If you live near a Wawa gas station, their machines offer free air machines 24/7. Other gas stations require you to ask the cashier to turn the air compressor on in order to get free air.
Get Gas in the RV Lanes
Not every gas station offers this option, but some locations have designated fueling lanes for RVs and drivable campers that offer diesel and unleaded gasoline so they don’t have to use the same fuel lanes as the 18-wheelers.
Because these personal RVs are longer than the average passenger vehicle, they might not fit at the gas station’s regular air compressor that requires payment.
As a solution to this problem, the gas station might have a standalone hose in these fueling lanes just for RVs. If this lane is open and they offer the type of gas your car requires, use this pump and get free air in the process.
3. Get a Portable Air Compressor
If you like to follow the Boy Scouts creed, “Always Prepared,” you might consider leaving a portable air compressor in your car for the occasional fill-up for about $35.
While this suggestion requires a small initial investment, it can pay for itself after 18 uses if you need to pay $2 to use the air compressor at your local gas station.
You can plug the compressor into your car’s cigarette lighter and fill up all of your tires. This isn’t a commercial air compressor, so it can take about 90 seconds to replenish the air to 35 PSI when the low tire pressure warning light comes on.
If you have some free Amazon gift cards to use, buying your portable air compressor can truly be 100% free.
4. Check Your Car Trunk
Most new vehicles don’t come with a spare tire anymore. Instead, you might get a tire repair kit that includes a miniature pump and a slime kit that is designed to temporarily patch a leak so you have enough time to stop at the local tire repair shop.
If your vehicle still has a spare tire, check it periodically to make sure it has enough air just in case you end up having to call roadside assistance to replace your flat tire. If your spare doesn’t have enough air, roadside assistance will arrange for a tow and delay your travel plans further.
5. Ask Your Friend (Who Owns a Compressor)
Do you have a friend that owns an air compressor? Your friend can finally repay that favor he owes you by letting you put air in your tires. After all, what are friends for?
Since your friend has most likely had a flat tire before, they probably already have a car tire chuck. If not, you can buy one online or your local auto parts store as a “thank you gift.” If you have an air compressor at home, this can also be one of the best investments you can make for your cars.
6. Visit Your Oil Change Location
You most likely have somebody else change your oil for you. Most oil change shops let you come back for free fluid top-offs and check your tire pressure at the same time. After all, these free services help you keep coming back in the future.
If you’re not sure if your current mechanic offers this service for free, just ask. Otherwise, you can always get your oil changed at one of these national brands in the future as they’re more likely to offer free air when you need it most:
- Pep Boys
- Jiffy Lube
If your oil change facility charges extra to get fluid and air top-offs between changes, you should probably skip the add-on and either find another place to get your oil changed or find a free place to get free air.
Even if there aren’t any free alternatives near you, you’ll probably be money ahead by paying for the cheaper oil change and paying for air when you need it, which shouldn’t be that often if your tires are in good shape.
7. Go to a Tire Shop
The tire shop that installed your tires should offer free air too. Discount Tire is a national brand that offers free air tire pressure checks whether or not you purchased your tires from there. Other tires might offer free air to non-customers too but it’s at the local discretion of the shop.
Visiting a tire shop offers the other added benefit of tire inspection to look for the source of the leak. You might have to pay about $20 for the tire to be patched, it’s still better than having to find a free air machine every week and causing your tires to wear out early.
8. Use a Bike Pump
If you ride bikes, you might already have a free air pump in your garage. When you only need to add a few pounds of air, a bike pump can add a few pounds of air but you’ll have to work for it. This is a free way to get air, but it’s not the most productive way unless you want to skip your gym workout today.
How Much Air Should Your Tires Have?
The easiest way to know how much air your tires should have is to look for the vehicle information sticker located on the driver’s door. It will show the recommended pressure readings for the front and rear tires. Most vehicles have the same recommendation for both sets, but it might be different if you have a special air-ride suspension.
You should try to keep your tires as close to the recommended pressure as possible so your tire tread wears evenly. Underinflation causes the edges of your tires to wear thin first and overinflation causes the middle tread pattern to wear prematurely. Either of these circumstances can require you to repair your tires sooner than expected and potentially compromise your vehicle’s safety.
For example, tires with low tread won’t handle as well in the snow or rain. Underinflated tires, even with good tread, can negatively affect your vehicle’s handling performance too. Even if the tire pressure sensor hasn’t illuminated, your steering might feel different than normal.
How Often Should You Put Air in Your Tires?
As a good reminder, you should put air in your tires every oil change. Depending on whether you use conventional or synthetic oil, that’s every 5,000 to 10,000 miles. Since your mechanic already has the tools in the repair bay, you should have him check your tire pressure for your other routine maintenance too; it only takes a few extra minutes.
Most tires usually lose one pound (PSI) of air pressure a month so as long as you drive your car on a regular basis, getting your tire pressure checked at each oil change is usually sufficient. But, you should still check your pressure at least once a month because spotting an underinflated tire isn’t always as easy as you think.
Your tire pressure is also more likely to be low in the cooler months because the air is denser. After your first cold snap, check your tires to see if they need more air.
Instead of waiting until the TPMS light comes on, put air into your tires as often as possible, even if you only need to add two or three pounds.
Tips for Checking Tire Pressure
Has it been awhile since you last checked your tire pressure and need a refresher? Here are a few tips to help you accurately determine how much air is in your tires.
- Check your tire pressure before you begin driving
- Press down firmly on the tire pressure gauge and hold for one second to get the most pressure
- Check each tire twice to ensure you get the same reading
Some people check their tire pressure each time they buy gas, even if it’s free gas! This is a good habit to get into, but you’ll get the most accurate reading if you check your tires in the driveway before you leave home or after your car sits at least three hours.
Setting aside time to check your tires while they’re still cold lets you get the reading based on the current ambient (outside) temperature. When you start driving, the tire rubber and the air inside heats up and causes the PSI reading to be higher; even higher than the manufacturer’s recommendation. For example, your tire pressure might be 35 PSI with a “cold” tire and 40 PSI when they are “warm” after only one mile of driving.
Even if you get free air from a gas station when you’re in town, you can still use the portable air pump you keep in your car to add the final pound or two that you don’t know you need until your tires are “cold” again.
Once you find a place to get free air for your tires, you might be able to get free air for life! Even if you have to invest in your own personal compressor, the cost savings by not having to pay $1.50 each time you need more air adds up quickly if you have a constant leak or multiple vehicles.