As Taylor Swift sang, “the devil’s in the details.” You might not think a simple thing like tire pressure is crucial to your vehicle’s operation, but it is.
Maintaining the correct air pressure across all tires enables even distribution of weight. Doing this gives you the most stability and ensures uniform tire degradation. With one or more tires unevenly worn, underinflated, or overinflated, there can be a significant decrease in performance during important actions, like when attempting to corner or stop your vehicle.
In a critical moment, such as when someone suddenly pulls out in front of you, your car’s performance might mean the difference between life and death. Underinflated tires cause your engine to work harder, which translates into additional wear and tear and increased fuel consumption. Your tires could also blow, causing an accident.
- BEST OVERALL: Tire Pressure Gauge Heavy Duty by Vondior
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Rhino USA Heavy Duty Tire Pressure Gauge
- BEST DIGITAL GAUGE: AstroAI Digital Tire Pressure Gauge
- BEST STICK GAUGE: Milton (S-921) Single Chuck Tire Pressure Gauge
- BEST WITH TIRE INFLATOR: Makita DMP180ZX 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Inflator
- BEST WITH EMERGENCY TOOLS: AmazonBasics Tire Pressure Gauge with Emergency Tools
Types of Tire Pressure Gauges
Shoppers will find three standard types of pressure gauges: stick/pencil, analog/dial, and digital. The latter two can also attach to pneumatic hoses for inflating tires without detaching the gauge. But, since they require you to have a pneumatic/compressor system at your disposal, they aren’t included in this article.
The stick/pencil-type gauge is a traditional, old-school device that has been around for decades. It’s an analog tool made of a metal outer shell attached to a chuck and an inner measuring rod made of plastic or metal.
When pressure is applied through the chuck valve, the inner rod extends according to the pounds per square inch (psi). Whatever length the rod extends to before it meets the outer shell will indicate the tire’s pressure. It’s basic and straightforward, which is why it has endured so long.
A dial or analog gauge has a clocklike face with a needle that points to the correct psi. Some are small and compact, and others have features like dual-scale dials or extension hoses. When attaching the gauge valve to the tire, the needle should rise quickly to the correct pressure and stay there until you hit the reset button, which releases the captured air.
In general, these types of gauges are easier to read than stick versions. They are simple to use and reasonably compact, but tend to be a little pricer than stick gauges.
Like a digital watch or calculator, a digital gauge has an LCD that relays the pressure reading. Digital gauges are usually the most accurate of all versions and can read pressure to ⅒
of a psi. The displays are brightly lit, which comes in handy for low-light situations.
The downside to digital models is that they tend to be a little more expensive and depend on batteries to operate. If you’re not someone who regularly checks the batteries in your electronic devices, this could be a problem. Low batteries also can cause faulty readings.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Tire Pressure Gauge
There are several factors to keep in mind when choosing the best tire pressure gauge, including storage, since it’s important to keep the gauge somewhere easily accessible. Price is another consideration. But the most vital considerations should focus on suitability, so make certain the pressure gauge has the right features for your specific needs and vehicle type. Someone commuting to work in a busy city daily has different needs than a retired driver who enjoys using his heavy pickup for off-road excursions.
Size and Weight
It’s generally better to keep your gauge somewhere other than your glove box, since cold temperatures can affect its function. However, if you plan to keep one there, a compact, light gauge is an ideal choice. Gauges can vary dramatically in size and weight, ranging from 0.01 ounces to 5.5 ounces, with digital gauges being the lightest.
Depending on vehicle size and weight class, the valve on the tire might differ from vehicle to vehicle. Of the three major tire valve types, the two most common are tubeless rubber snap-ins. These are used on standard-sized cars, minivans, and light-duty trailers. High-pressure tubeless snap-ins are used on medium- to heavy-duty trucks. The third valve type is a high-pressure metal clamp-in valve used in vehicles that might exceed 130 mph speeds with tire pressure as much as 200 psi. Gauges that clamp onto the valve directly are recommended for this type of valve.
Check valve location on the tires and determine how difficult it is to reach the valve. You could need an extension hose if the valve is in an awkward space. Keep in mind that an extension hose requires two hands to operate.
Most gauges have a range of 1 to 90 psi, but this can vary. Some stick versions only have a range of 5 to 50 psi, which is not enough to check the higher pressure spare that comes with most vehicles (typically 60 psi), but is sufficient for the installed tires. Digital gauges often have much wider ranges of 1 to 150 psi and can frequently give metric measurements as well, such as kPa, 1 kgf/cm2, and bars. These units all measure the same thing, and simply depend on where you drive and where the vehicle and tires were manufactured. Note: 1 psi equals 6.895 kilopascals (kPa), while1 kgf/cm2 (kilogram-force per square cm) equals 98.0665 kPa, and 1 bar equals 100 kPa.
With standard-size vehicles like sedans and minivans, a gauge that can read up to 60 psi will likely be sufficient. For larger vehicles, like heavy-duty trucks or RVs, you often need a higher-range gauge. Having a broad range gauge is good, but depending on how small the measurement etchings are, as with stick gauges, you might struggle to get an accurate reading.
Most gauges have an accuracy of plus or minus 1 psi and are sufficient for most car drivers today. Only digital gauges can display greater accuracy to a plus or minus 0.1 or 0.2 psi.
It’s important to check your new gauge for consistent accuracy when you first unbox it. To do so, simply check the pressure on your tire 10 times in a row. If the reading varies significantly from test to test, instead of showing a constant reading all 10 times, return it for a different model.
Built-In Air Compressor/Inflator
When purchasing a gauge, a nice feature to have included is a built-in compressor/inflator. On average, while more expensive than a simple pressure gauge, it can be a big time-saver if you need to pump up an underinflated tire. Make sure you choose a compressor that reaches the required psi for your tires.
Since a compressor/inflator is much bigger and bulkier than a basic gauge, storage is a factor to keep in mind. Additional factors to consider include a power source for the unit and whether it will plug into the car’s 12-volt jack or features a cordless battery. Cordless versions are optimal if you have other tools that use the same batteries and consistently keep charged packs.
Quick, reliable readings are essential features, but don’t overlook an easy-to-read display, especially in low-light conditions. Digital options include LED, light-up, or backlit displays that will work in the dark. Many analog dials also feature glow-in-the-dark displays that work almost as well as their digital counterpart, without the need for batteries.
Dropping a gauge too often can result in damage, and a protective case can help guard the device for the long haul. Ergonomic grips can help reduce damage from dropping by enabling a firm hold, even while wearing winter gloves or with sweaty palms in the hot sun.
The ability to determine whether your tires are properly inflated is a basic requirement for all gauges. However, many manufacturers also offer a few emergency tools to sweeten the deal. These can include 360-degree swivel chucks, lifetime warranties, various measurements, and even auto-shutoff for some digital models.
Many gauges also feature built-in bleeder valves to let off excess pressure in case of overinflated tires, eliminating the need to detach the unit while you deflate it. Some devices are tricked out with built-in emergency tools, including flashlights, seat belt cutters, safety hammers, and lights.
Our Top Picks
Keeping in mind the criteria above, here is a list of recommendations to help you choose the best tire pressure gauge for your vehicles. The picks consider price, performance, extra features, and overall design.
The Vondior Tire Pressure Gauge (0-60 psi) is a heavy-duty, single-function tool that’s easy and straightforward to use. The gauge measures less than 1.3-inch by 2-inch by 5-inch , so it can fit in the palm of your hand. The protective rubber casing is ergonomic for comfort and offers protection against drop damage. A glow-in-the-dark dial helps the owner see in low-light situations without having to rely on battery power. Additional features include a bleeder valve for reducing overinflation and a swivel chuck for 360-degree connections to reach valves in various positions. For the price, it’s a solid deal that should work for most drivers’ needs.
Ranging up to 75 psi and versatile enough for most vehicle types on the market, the Rhino USA Heavy Duty Tire Pressure Gauge is a versatile tool for an affordable price. With its glow-in-the-dark dial, you can see pressure even in low-light scenarios. Composed of solid, high-grade metals, this analog device requires no batteries. The rubber, ergonomic grip gives adequate protection from damage and makes the gauge easier to handle during inclement weather. Round it off with a 360-degree swivel chuck and a “no-leak” braided air hose, and you’ve got plenty of useful features in an analog package. The 2-inch dial size and attached hose take up more storage space in a glove compartment than a stick or pencil gauge, but make this gauge easier to hold and see.
The AstroAI Digital Tire Pressure Gauge has a sleek design and simple, one-button digital operation. Along with a wide psi range, the gauge has an LCD-lit screen that works in various lighting scenarios. A handy lighted nozzle helps vehicle owners see the tire valve much easier, and the ergonomic grip fits snugly in your hand. The digital gauge can switch between four different measurements (4-150 psi; 0-10 bar; 0-10 kgf/cm²; or 0-1000 kPa) and can be used with bicycle tires as well. This compact gauge is easy to store in a glove box.
Although the built-in light helps find valves, the narrow nozzle might be challenging to reach some tire valves. Keep a supply of two backup AAA batteries handy, as the display features a battery capacity measurement to let you know when it’s time to change them out.
The Milton S-921 Single Chuck Tire Pressure Gauge is simplicity in a sleek and useful tool. The compact design has been around for decades. The gauge works well in cold weather and is nearly foolproof to use, which makes up for its lack of fancy features. Stick-type gauges cost less than other tire gauge types. The measurements come in psi and kPa. The display doesn’t light up, but this stick gauge is so easy to use that it takes little time to get a reading. It also takes up little space in your car, measuring only 8.1 by 1.2 by 1.1 Inches, so it can travel with you. This gauge is made with machine parts in the USA.
With its lightweight, compact, barbell design, the Makita DMP180ZX 18V LXT Cordless Inflator is handy to cart around. The pressure gauge display is backlit and conveniently shuts off as soon as you reach the preset desired pressure. A built-in LED light on the front of the inflator illuminates the work area. Furthermore, those who own other Makita tools can use the battery they have for the inflator without having to purchase a seperate one. After measuring pressure, add air to a tire quickly with this portable inflator that measures 4 by 10.6 by 7.2 inches and weighs less than 3 pounds. Although the combined unit costs more than a pressure gauge alone, you can top off an underinflated tire on the go.
The multi-tasking AmazonBasics Digital Tire Pressure Gauge includes an LED safety light, a seat belt cutter, a safety hammer, and a flashlight. The pressure range is 3 to 150 psi with an accuracy rate of plus or minus 1 psi. It also contains ABS and stainless steel, a step up from many other digital gauges, most of which are plastic. Measuring 6.5 inches by 2.6 inches by 1 inch, the gauge and tool run on a single AAA battery. It’s not powerful, but its digital display is easy to read, making it a handy tool for measuring tire pressure and keeping near a driver for in-vehicle emergencies.
Tips for Using a Tire Pressure Gauge
Start with finding out your vehicle’s optimal psi by checking the driver’s side door for a sticker that lists the information. Don’t go by the recommendation on the tire if you can avoid it. Next, remove the caps from the valve stems on your tires, and press the gauge nozzle tightly to the tire valve’s tip. Some air escaping the tire is normal, but it shouldn’t be excessive. There should only be a brief second or two of hissing. Read the gauge according to your individual tool’s operating instructions, then switch it off or reset it when finished. Inflate the tire or release some air according to what you find. After inflation, replace the caps on the tire valves.
- Store the gauge in its proper protective case, since dirt or debris in the nozzle can damage the seal.
- Remember tire pressure drops as the temperature gets colder, so an average pressure of 30 psi in warm weather will read at 25 psi when it’s near freezing outside.
- Not all tires on your vehicle will necessarily have the same pressure needs.
- Don’t forget to check the spare.
FAQs About Your New Tire Pressure Gauge
When considering a new device or wondering if you’ve got the best tire pressure gauge for your vehicle, look over the answers to these commonly asked questions below.
Q. Are tire pressure gauges accurate?
Most analog gauges are accurate to plus or minus 1 psi, and digital ones are plus or minus 0.01 psi. Check a new gauge for consistency.
Q. How do I use a tire pressure gauge?
Reset the gauge to zero. Press the nozzle/chuck firmly against the tire valve and hold for a second or two, and you should see the reading right away.
Q. How often should I check my tire pressure?
On average, your tires lose about 1 psi per month. As a rule, it’s a good idea to check the pressure at least once a month, especially during the fall and winter months. And remember to check your spare.
Q. How do I know if my tires are properly inflated?
Check the inside of your driver’s door for a sticker that should recommend the optimal pressure for each of the tires.