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Practical Sustainability: Check Your Tire Pressure – Save the Planet and Keep Yourself Safer on Snowy Roads

Image courtesy of dan at

Image courtesy of dan at

A blizzard of historic proportions is expected to hit the northeast this week.  If you’re filling your gas tank in preparation for the storm, consider checking your tire pressure while you’re at the gas station.  Most of us know that a car whose tires are properly inflated will handle better under less-than-ideal road conditions.  But did you know that underinflated tires also represent a significant environmental problem?

According to the US Department of Energy, “you can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3% by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3% for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.”  Gas prices may be low this winter, but who wouldn’t want to save up to 6 cents per gallon just by keeping their tires properly inflated?

A report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that more than 25% of cars and a third of light trucks in the US suffer from underinflated tires of 8psi or more below the manufacturer’s recommended level.  According to Experian Automotive, there were just under 250 million cars and light trucks on the road in 2013.  So we’re talking about tens of millions of cars whose tires are underinflated.

Doing a little “back of the envelope” math, suppose 10 million vehicle owners (representing about 15% of the cars whose tires are underinflated) bring their tire pressure up to recommended levels.  If those owners drive an average of 15,000 miles per year and get 20 mpg, they could save a whopping 250 million gallons of gas annually.  Stated differently (and using my favorite EPA equivalency calculator), that’s akin to eliminating 2.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or the amount of CO2 emissions by the electricity use of over 300,000 homes. 

So, when you head to the pump to fill up your gas tank, consider filling up your tires as well.  Now that’s what I call Practical Sustainability!

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