We’ve all heard the benefits of keeping tires inflated to the recommended PSI (pound-force per square inch). Proper tire PSI improves fuel efficiency. It reduces wear and extends the life of the tires. It can even help with steering and improve safety.
But farm life can be busy, and checking the air pressure in tires isn’t always top of mind. If your tire pressure gauge isn’t handy, or if your tire inflator/air compressor is off in a garage on the other side of the farm, it’s tempting to just give the tires a push and say to yourself, “Yeah, they feel like they’ve got enough air.”
After all, if a tire never goes flat, surely its PSI level isn’t a big concern?
PSI Is Paramount
That’s a nice thought, but it’s not true. Tires can leak meaningful amounts of air over time, reducing the PSI to the point where performance is hindered, fuel efficiency is reduced, and—yikes—blowouts become more likely.
Let me give you an example. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, I tow a two-wheeled cart behind my garden tractor and use it for all sorts of projects. It hauls water in a 35-gallon leg tank to my orchard. It carries branches and garden debris to a brush pile. It transports tools and equipment for fence repair projects.
And, a few times of year, I use it move brand-new hay bales from fields to my hay barn. This is by far the heaviest-duty job the tractor tackles, but it handles the task with aplomb, so long as the tires on both tractor and cart are properly inflated.
So before I started stuffing the cart to full capacity with heavy hay bales, I decided to check the PSI ratings in all the tires. I knew the garden tractor needed air in at least one of the front tires (it has a slow leak). I figured the cart tires would need to be topped off as well.
Indeed, I was correct. The front tires of the mower could be inflated to a maximum of 14 PSI, but the tire pressure gauge barely registered a reading. Clearly the pressure was too low. And while the cart tires support a maximum of 60 PSI, they were down to 9 PSI—less than one-sixth of their maximum. Even accounting for the fact that the maximum PSI doesn’t always match the recommended PSI (which is usually lower, and you shouldn’t confuse the two), the tires were obviously underinflated.
I should emphasize at this point that my tractor tires receive frequent attention, and the cart tires had been properly inflated before hay season the previous year. It’s not like either piece of equipment had sat around for years, slowly losing air from the tires. To the contrary, in relatively short order the tire pressure for both had slipped well below where it needed to be.
If you’re wondering how these tires could lose so much air in such short order, here’s the other part of the puzzle: using an air compressor, I only had to inflate each tire for a handful of seconds apiece to bring them back up into the recommended PSI range. Small tires don’t hold much air, and adding or removing a little can sharply change the PSI.
The takeaway? Don’t assume the tires on your farm machines are properly inflated just because you checked them “a while back.” Keep a tire pressure gauge handy and make a habit of checking tires before tackling any serious work. You may find tires need to be inflated more often than you realized.