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How To Use An Air Compressor At A Gas Station

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It may be that you notice, or feel when driving, that your car tires are a bit deflated and you need to add pressure to them. One of the easiest ways to add pressurized air to your car tires is by visiting your nearest gas station air pump.

In most cases, the gas stations will allow you to inflate your tires for a very small fee, sometimes it may even be free. But, one thing you need to know is, you will have to do this yourself, and so, here is a guide on how to go about filling your car tires with air using an air compressor at a gas station.

Table of Contents

Monitoring Your Vehicle’s Tire Pressure

The recommended time to check your tire pressures to see if they are at their ideal tire pressure is before you take your vehicle out every time. Of course, sometimes it may not be practical to do this as life gets in the way and it’s not so common for tires to deflate overnight, however, it is possible.

Your vehicle may remind you to check your tires when the tire pressure sensor light on your dashboard turns on, but this light may turn on later than the initial leak, and so, you will be driving on a deflated tire for a few days. Though this is no emergency, and even when your tire pressure indicator does turn on, do not be alarmed. This is nowhere near as bad as your oil light or the check engine light turning on, but you should still stop where convenient and take a look!

The thing with underinflated tires is, that they wear a lot faster than inflated tires and they may affect the handling of your vehicle. So, they’re not something you want to ignore for sure. The underinflation can be detrimental to your fuel efficiency, and on top of this, the underinflated tires are at a far higher risk of blowing out.

Why do car tires deflate? Well, when tires get cold, the cold air inside the tire shrinks and leads to a dip in tire pressure. You may even arrive at the situation where the tire is so underinflated that the pressure indicator is tripped off. This is when you must check your tires to see if they are good.

When checking, if there appear to be no leaks or similar problems then you can try driving for a few further minutes to let your tires warm up. If your tire pressure indicator does not turn off, then I believe it is time to head to your local gas station to bring the tire up to its correct pressure.

How to Use an Air Compressor at a Gas Station Guide

Now let’s dive into how to use one of those air compressors at a gas station to inflate your tires. First up I have this step-by-step summary table:

How to Use an Air Compressor at a Gas Station Step-by-Step Summary

  1. Locate the air compressor

    First of all, you need to locate the gas station air pump in the gas station.

  2. Park near the air compressor

    Park the car strategically in front of the gas station air pump so that you’re able to walk between the car and pump, and reach each tire with the air hose.

  3. Find your recommended tire pressure

    Look inside your vehicle’s door frame, fuel lid, glove compartment, or owner’s manual, and find your recommended tire pressure from the manufacturer.

  4. Check tire pressures

    Check the tire pressures of all the tires using a tire gauge or the air hose and note which tires need inflating.

  5. Inflate the deflated tires

    Use the air hose and pump to inflate the tires to their recommended tire pressure.

Now, let’s take a look at these steps in greater detail!

Locate the Air Compressor

After pulling into your nearest, or chosen, gas station the initial task is to locate the tire inflation air compressor pump. This isn’t difficult; it tends to be set far from the gas pumps and will typically be signposted as “air” or “free air,” so have a vigorous look around!

If you really struggle, pop into the gas station and ask a member of staff, sometimes they may be located around the back of the station so you may not spot it immediately.

Parking Vehicle Near the Air Compressor Pump

Once you have located the gas station air pumps, you can drive over and should park in such a way that you’re able to easily reach all your tires with the air pump hose. Park your car as close to the pump as viable while making sure that the front wheels and the rear wheels are all accessible from the pump, while not being too close to the pump that you can’t walk between your vehicle and the pump.

Every vehicle has a recommended tire pressure which will take into account the weight needed to safely carry your vehicle’s frame under maximum load. In most cases, these recommendations will be printed on your vehicle’s door frame when you open the door, in a trim tag inside the door jamb.

In other cases, you will find them specified in the fuel lid or the glove compartment cover. If you cannot find them at any of these places, you are guaranteed to find these numbers listed inside of the owner’s manual!

You should check for the recommended tire pressure and note if your front tires need to be at a different pressure to your rear tires, which is very common by the way. Don’t ignore this step and go off the pressure written on the tires, as the tires indicate the maximum tire pressure they can hold, which will be a lot more than what the car manufacturer recommends for driving.

Check Tire Pressures with Tire Gauge

This step may not be necessary at this stage for everyone, as you may have already checked the tire pressures, or you’re at a gas station where you set the tire pressure on the pump and then the pump will cut off as soon as the tire reaches your desired pressure. In that case, knowing your tire pressure is unnecessary, as the machine will do all the work for you.

As I said earlier, it’s a good habit to get into checking your tire pressures regularly, and it is best to do it after you have driven the car around for some time to allow the tires to warm up and return to their regular pressure. Typically, a tire that has warmed up from being driven around for a few hours will be around 2-3 PSI rating higher than a cold tire that hasn’t moved yet.

You will need a tire pressure gauge of some sort, whether that is the pencil type where the plastic shoots out to indicate the tire pressure of a digital tire gauge. The latter provides a far more accurate reading and is certainly worth the small investment.

To measure the tire pressure, unscrew the air valve cap on the tire and put it in your pocket so you do not lose it. Now, press the end of the tire gauge to the tire air valve stem to get your reading. If you are able to hear air leaking out when you press the tire gauge then you are not pressing hard enough – equally, this is how you release air pressure if you have too much. If you hear the hissing of the air leak, press the tire gauge into the air valve stem harder until the hissing comes to an end.

You can now read off the indicator of your tire gauge which will typically be in PSI (pounds per square inch). Now compare the readings of your vehicle’s tires with the recommended ones you noted earlier. If any tires are not underinflated then you can screw the air valve cap back on and focus on the underinflated tires. Now you know which tires need inflating.

Inflate Tires Using Air Compressor Pump

Now it’s time to add money into the gas station pump (if necessary) and put some air into your deflated tires! If you’re paying, only press the button to start when you’re ready and know which tires you’re inflating as you will have a limited time to use the pump before needing to add more money. Some gas stations may turn the compressor on for free if you’re already buying gas or something else if you ask nicely!

You should press the air hose into the valve stem of your deflated tires one by one and slowly add air. Just like when checking the tire pressure, if you hear a hissing sound then air is leaking out from the tire and you need to press the air hose harder until you have a better seal and the hissing stops.

It’s important that you are careful and do not overfill your tires and put too much air in them if the machine doesn’t shut off automatically. Some gas station compressors will you to set the desired PSI rating and either automatically shut off or beep when they reach the pressure. If you do accidentally overfill your tire, then you can bleed air out by not pressing hard enough on the tire’s valve stem, or using a thin tool to press on the thin metal pin in the center of the valve.

When bleeding the air out of an overinflated tire, press down on the metal pin until you are able to feel the air shooting out from the valve. Once you’re able to feel that you have bled out enough air simply lift the thin tool from the metal pin to let the valve close. You may want to check the tire with your pump gauge to ensure it is at the correct pressure.

I would recommend using your own tire gauge rather than one from the gas station pump, as these will typically become damaged or poorly calibrated, so they may not offer an accurate result. After inflating all the necessary tires, you can screw the tire valve caps on securely and return the air compressor pump hose back to its station.

Advantages of Using an Air Compressor at a Gas Station

The great advantage of being able to use air compressors at gas stations compared to car shops or garages is that it saves a lot of time and money. Not everyone has an air compressor lying around, and if they don’t it’s lucky that gas stations are practically available on every corner and the majority of them have gas station air pumps.

Most stations will allow you to fill the air for free or at a very small cost. Some areas will require you to buy gas in order to use the air compressor for free. But, the real benefit is being able to fill both the petrol tank and tires in one go.

Many car owners will often neglect to pay the right attention to car tires. When in fact, if you are to keep on top of things and consistently ensure that your tires have the right air pressure by using an air compressor at a gas station, you can ensure that the tires have better tire performance and improve your vehicle’s fuel efficiency. This will also provide more stable and precise steering while allowing you to safely drive in bad weather conditions.

For additional reading relating to air compressors and filling tires, please read the following articles!

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How do you use an air compressor at a gas station?

First of all, you need to locate the air pump in the gas station and then park the car strategically in front of the air compressor pump so that you’re able to walk between the car and pump while reaching each tire with the air hose. Look inside your vehicle’s door frame, fuel lid, glove compartment, or owner’s manual, and find your recommended tire pressure from the manufacturer. Check the tire pressures of all the tires using a tire gauge or the air hose and note which tires need inflating. Finally use the air hose and pump to inflate the tires to their recommended tire pressures.

How do I pump air into my tires at a gas station?

After locating the air pump at the gas station, and parking in front of it, unscrew the caps on your tire valve stems and attach the pump hose to inflate the tires to the recommended tire pressures specified by the car manufacturer.

How do you check air pressure at a gas station?

The easiest way to check the air pressure at a gas station is to remove the valve stem cap from the tire and place the air hose on the tire. This should provide you with a reading on the pump as to what the PSI level of the tire is. If the pump isn’t capable of doing this, then you should use a tire gauge to read the air pressure of your tire.

If you have any questions regarding how to use an air compressor at a gas station, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

By Aidan Weeks

A passionate Mechanical Engineer with endless enthusiasm for fluid power - building off the back of over 18 years of high quality contribution and discussion stimulated by Bill Wade here at About Air Compressors. With both practical and theoretical experience in pneumatics and hydraulics, I'm putting my knowledge to work - and working my grey-matter through my research, assistance and publishing work here at About Air Compressors. Feel free to reach out any time! P.S. A HUGE shout out to Doug who really offers such great value to all visitors to About Air Compressors - once again, feeling like I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS by getting to work alongside such a great community

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