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The weather this winter has been nothing if not variable. Last week it was below zero. Today it’s 60 degrees. Next week, we’re expected to get snow.

While rapid season shifting certainly keeps things interesting, it’s important to understand how highly fluctuating weather conditions such as these can impact your safety on the road. In today’s post, we examine one critical—but commonly overlooked—step that any winter driver should take to protect themselves behind the wheel.

Low tire pressure

When the temperature drops, air contracts. For every 10 degrees colder it gets, your tires lose an average of two pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI). Therefore, if weather plummets 40 degrees in two days, you could suddenly find yourself driving in precarious conditions.

How tire pressure affects safety

When you don’t have enough air in your tires, the center of your tire contracts inward—creating a concave, bowed-in shape. You’re left with only the edge of your wheels to drive on. This limits your control over your vehicle in a number of ways:

  • Impaired turning: Driving on the edge of your tires makes you far less steady when executing turns.
  • Impaired braking: When only a fraction of your tire’s surface area is involved in braking, it makes it far less reliable.
  • Impaired traction: Without the treads from the center of your tires in play, traversing slushy or icy roads can be especially tricky.

Checking your tire pressure

If your car was built on or after 2007, it has an automatic sensor installed, which will alert you if your tire pressure gets too low. Cars built before this date are not required to have such a sensor. Therefore, if you drive an older car during the winter—or anytime when weather conditions are highly variable—it’s important to check your tire pressure every day.

Your owner’s manual will tell you the recommended PSI range for your vehicle’s tires. If you fall below this level, take your car to a service station right away to add more air.

Low tire pressure may seem like an insignificant factor, but it can have serious—even deadly—consequences in winter driving. In addition, if you get into an accident with tires that are too low, it could affect your insurance coverage. It’s important to regularly monitor your tire pressure to keep yourself—and others on the road—safe.