I'm a mid-Atlantic tinkerer and writer on many topics. I do-it-myself whenever I can, and write about the experience.
Paying for air, something that's everywhere and free, is annoying. Here is how you can find free air for your tires. Also here are plenty of tips on how to set your tire pressure for the best performance of your tires and your car.
Get Free Air at Sheetz, Valero, Royal Farms, and Other Convenience Stores
Not all convenience stores have reverted to charging for air. Some convenience stores in my region still offer free air. I patronize these places for gas and air whenever possible.
Caution: Not every Royal Farms store offers free air
Some Royal Farms stores serve as convenience stores only; they do not provide auto services such as gas, tire pressure pump, and vacuum cleaner. I learned this after traveling to several stores looking for free air and did not find it.
Free Air for Your Tires When You Use Your Rewards Card
Yet another way to inflate your tires for free is to find a convenience store with a pump that you can activate with a rewards card. A good example is Rutters. To get your rewards card, go to the counter in the store and ask for a Rutters Rewards Card. It's completely free. You don't have to accumulate points or credits before you can get free air.
The Rutters Reward Card offers another bonus: cents off per gallon of gas!
Get Free Air at Older Air Pressure Pumps
Remember when you could pull up to an air pressure pump that had a brass pressure gauge built into the end of the hose? Once you pressed the gauge onto your tire valve, a small ruler popped out of the gauge so you could visually read the pressure.
If the pressure was low, you activated the pump by pressing a button on the gauge. If the pressure was too high, you let air out of your tires by pressing the valve stem.
There are a few of these older air pumps out there in some communities near me. Most have converted to pumps with digital displays offering free air as illustrated in the photos above, or "fee air," for which you pay 50 cents, a dollar, a dollar and a half, or perhaps more.
Remember, though, that these older pumps don't have the newer digital display with the most accurate tire pressure.
Find Free Air Using a Smartphone App
How do I find places offering free air? One way is to use your smartphone. Go to the website FreeAirPump.com. Enter your address or zip code. Up pops a map showing places around you where you can get air for free. Click on any gas pump logo ton the map to reveal the name of the store and its location.
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The example below shows a map for the Pittsburgh area. Places shown are user-provided, so the map is only as accurate as the user-supplied data. You can submit your own additional places for inclusion in the data.
Depending on where you are located and whether there are user-supplied free air places nearby, you may have to drive several miles to find free air. Now you have to make a decisioon: "Do I drive several miles for free air and burn gas riding around, or do I pull up to the nearest fee-for-air pump?"
Why Do Many Store Operators Now Charge for Air?
For many operators, it's a simple matter of money. Air for your tires is another product or service they can offer for a fee.
Another reason is the ease and convenience of installing and maintaining an air pressure pump. Manufacturers of these pumps will install and maintain them at their expense while retaining a portion of the fee charged for use of the pump.
Paying for air annoys many customers, however.
So, many store operators see an advantage to offering free air—the goodwill of their customers and the likelihood that these customers with patronize their store and buy other products.
What Does It Mean When You See a Tire Pressure Warning Light?
Newer cars have an automatic tire pressure sensor in each tire. It's part of your car's Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). The valve where you inflate your tire is attached to a sensor inside the tire chamber. When the pressure in the chamber drops to about 25% below the manufacturer's recommended "cold" pressure, the sensor sends out a radio signal which in turn activates the tire pressure warning light on your dashboard.
You get the warning light even if just one of your tire pressure sensors is activated. The warning light tells you that at least one of your tires has "low," but it doesn't tell you which tire that is. So you should check the pressure in all your tires.
If you want to know more about your particular car's Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), study your owner's manual.
Maintain Proper Air Pressure in Your Tires for Best Auto Performance
If you're like me, you don't like to pay for air to inflate your tires. That's what this article is all about. But first, we need to understand what tire pressure is best for the performance of your tires and fuel economy of your car.
Newer cars have tire pressure sensors located in each tire. You get a warning on your dash when the pressure in one or more of your tires is "low." In my older car, I keep a pencil-shaped tire pressure gauge in my glove box to periodically check each tire. Or you can get a fancy backlit handheld electronic gauge.
For the best gas mileage, the longest tire wear, and the best overall performance for your car, use the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure. It's given in your owner's manual and on a sticker on the door column.
Keep in mind, however, that this recommended pressure is for "cold" conditions—that is, before you start driving in the morning. As the outside temperature increases during the day, and as your flexible tires roll along the road surface creating friction, the temperature inside the tire chamber increases and causes the air pressure to increase. Afternoon tire pressure, after you have been driving a lot, can be as much as 6 pounds more than the "cold" pressure in the morning before driving.
What this means is that if you are checking your tire pressure in the afternoon and it's several pounds higher than the manufacturer's recommendation, and you deflate the pressure to that number, you'll be under-inflating your tire. We must take this into account when we check the pressure.
If you want to learn more about this important subject, see "Tire Tech: Air Pressure, Temperature Fluctuations."
Free Air Pressure Checks at Many Auto Service Centers
Bring your car into Pep Boys for a free tire pressure check
Pep Boys offers this free service as do many other auto service centers. They will inflate your tires to the recommended pressure for free, too. Other examples include Pep Boys, Jiffy Lube, Firestone, and Goodyear.
You may drive around a bit to find the place and you may have to wait a few minutes for the service. You also have to trust that the technician will inflate your tires to the correct air pressure.
Get Free Air by Using Your Own Battery-Powered 18-Volt Tire Inflator
I keep the above Ryobi inflator in my trunk at all times. It's always convenient to check my air and inflate to the best pressure. A great feature of this tool is that it is powerful and the required battery can be used with other great Ryobi power tools. You do need a Ryobi 18-volt rechargeable lithium battery and a matching recharger.
Most folks do not remember to check the air pressure in their spare tire when they check the four mounted tires. I know from personal experience. A family member had a flat tire recently and when a good Samaritan stopped to help, they found that her spare tire was also flat. A lot of grief would have been saved if the spare tire had been checked and was ready to go.
Another thing. Some folks may not have even looked to see if they have a spare tire. So open your trunk, find your spare tire and be sure to check its pressure along with the others.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.