Tire pressure gauge buying guide

Tire Guage

Getting started

Keeping your car tires properly inflated is an easy maintenance chore that’s vital to your safety. Under-inflated tires build up excess heat as you drive, which can result in tire failure. With too little air pressure, tires can also wear faster and unevenly, waste fuel, and negatively impact the vehicle’s braking and handling. To help maintain tires in top condition, use a tire-pressure gauge to check the pressure of your tires at least once a month and before starting on any long trip. For an accurate read, make sure the car has been parked for three or more hours before checking the tire pressure.

Tire-pressure gauges are available at auto-parts stores, big-box stores, and other retailers, as well as online. We have found in our testing that good gauges for consumers typically cost $5 to $15. Keep the tire-pressure gauge in a protective sleeve, as cleanliness will ensure its longevity and accuracy. If a gauge is old, worn, or dirty, or it has been dropped, it may not be reliable and you should get a new one. For the nominal cost, it is a wise investment.

How to choose

There are three types of tire-pressure gauges: stick, digital, and dial. Stick-type gauges, which somewhat resemble a ballpoint pen, are simple, compact, and affordable, but they are a little harder to read than most digital gauges.

Digital gauges have an electronic LCD display, like a pocket calculator, making them easier to read. They’re also more resistant to damage from dust and dirt. Some digital readouts light up, making them handy for checking pressure in low-light conditions. On the down side, however, digital gauges are a little bulkier than stick gauges and they require batteries. While batteries can last for years, depending on use, they will run down eventually and need replacement.

Dial gauges have an analog dial, resembling a clock face, with a simple needle to indicate the pressure. Some dial gauges have more features than pocket-sized gauges–including an extension hose, bleeder valve, dual-scale dial, and shock-resistant dial cover–but we have found that they aren’t necessarily more accurate. Most dial gauges are easy to read, but models with an extension hose take two hands to operate. They can also be bulky and typically cost more money, running from $20 to $50.

Buy a gauge with a wide-enough range that it can measure the pressure in a temporary spare, which is typically 60 psi. Many gauges have a span of 5 to 99 psi.

If you need to check pressure in a darkened area, consider a digital gauge with an illuminated display.

If you buy online to save money, check shipping charges to see if the purchase is still a bargain.

Latest test findings

Our most recent test of tire-pressure gauges looked at 14 models: eight digital, two stick-type, and four dial-type. Those gauges came from five brands: Accutire, Intercomp, Gorilla, Milton, and Slime. We tested them for accuracy, ease of use, and durability, and also checked to see how they were affected by ambient temperatures spanning a range from just above freezing to 113-118 degrees F. Here’s what we found:

  • Two digital Accutire gauges topped the Ratings, the MS-4400B ($10.99) and MS-4021B ($9.99). The heavy-duty dial-type Intercomp 360060 ($55.95) was also very good but is limited to 60 psi.
  • Two of three samples of the Slime model 20074 ($8.99), a digital gauge, proved inaccurate at room temperatures.
  • The Slime 20048 ($5.99), a dial type, was hard to read, inaccurate when cold, and lost accuracy permanently when dropped onto a concrete floor from a height of 30 inches.
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