Sustainability: Pressure point


With Tax Day behind us, many people may be looking for a way to recoup some of the lost revenue they recently sent to the IRS. And as AAA reminds me, it is a good time to once again check the air pressure in my tires.

This may seem like a trivial matter, but this is a simple action that can lead to a large savings over the course of a year, an average of $432 per year according to a 2005 study at Carnegie Mellon University. At that time of their study, gasoline was around $3 per gallon.

Considering that gas prices are currently hovering around $3.80 per gallon, that would up these savings to $547 per year or more, as the Department of Energy expects gas prices to rise to more than $4 per gallon throughout the summer. And these benefits don’t include the savings from extending the life of your tires.

The benefits of maintaining proper air pressure don’t stop at economic savings. Proper air pressure provides environmental and social benefits. Both over-inflated and under-inflated tires can directly lead to safety issues while driving. It is like the story of the three bears; you want your tire pressure to be just right.

Over-inflated tires do not maintain good contact with the ground and will affect your stopping distance (something we have to consider on our densely congested highways), while under-inflated tires cause the tire to wear quickly or overheat, which could lead to a blowout and a serious accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, properly inflated tires could prevent more than 100 deaths and over 8,000 injuries per year.

Environmentally, over- and under-inflated tires use more gasoline to go the same distance as properly inflated tires. The burning of gasoline releases carbon dioxide, or CO2, into the atmosphere and contributes to global climate change by emitting approximately 20 pounds. of CO2 per gallon. This is the equivalent of throwing about 1 pound of garbage out your window for every mile you drive. So the extra 144 gallons of gas you waste by having improperly inflated tires releases 2,880 pounds of CO2 (that is almost a ton and a half). So if only 350 people who currently have improperly inflated tires were to change their behavior, we could reduce the regions CO2 emissions by more than 1 million pounds.

Unfortunately, the days of cheap energy for transportation are behind us, so finding ways to conserve gasoline and other materials are gaining credence. So check your owner’s manual today, or check with the manufacturer online, and find out what the proper tire pressure is for your car to begin conserving resources, driving more safely and saving money.

Joseph Reznik teaches sustainability at the Community College of Allegheny County’s main campus. You can reach him at



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