It’s important to keep your car's tires properly inflated to get the optimum performance, safety, and tread life. Without the proper pressure, tires can wear faster and unevenly, waste fuel, and hurt the vehicle’s handling.

Monitoring your tires is a simple task you should do once a month. It's especially important to check tire pressure in the fall and winter because tire pressure often falls off in cooler weather. Underinflated tires build up excess heat as you drive, which can lead to tire failure. 

Consumer Reports recently tested six handheld tire pressure gauges and found that accuracy can vary and that you definitely get what you pay for.

We tested the gauges for accuracy at room temperature, and in hot and cold extremes that are typical of what a gauge might undergo while stashed away in the glove compartment. We also assessed gauge durability by checking each one's accuracy after a fall from a tabletop and assessed how easy it was to use each model. 

Our ratings of stick, dial, and digital tire pressure gauges now cover 17 models from a range of manufacturers, including Accutire, Auto Meter, Gorilla Automotive, Intercomp, McLintech, Slim, Tekton, TireTek, and Victor.

Picking the Best Tire Pressure Gauge

Victor 00876-8, Intercomp 360060, and Accutire MS-4021B tire pressure gauges
Victor 00876-8, Intercomp 360060, and Accutire MS-4021B tire pressure gauges

Each of the different types of tire pressure gauge has its benefits. The key is to choose one you are comfortable using and find easy to read.

Stick gauges (above left) can be hard to read and finicky to use, our testers found. Among the stick gauges, the Victor 00876-8, about $4, stood out for accuracy, durability, and price. These are the cheapest type, at an average price of just under $5. 

Dial gauges (middle) ranged in performance in our tests. Some of the cheaper gauges were dinged for poor accuracy, ease of use, or durability. The Intercomp 360060, $55, is a standout model. Dial gauges cost around $22, on average.

Digital gauges (right) are generally very accurate and easy to read, our testers found, particularly those models with an illuminated display to read in dim light—such as in the shadow of a car. The Accutire MS-4021B, $10, and Accutire MS-4400B, $11, top our ratings. Digital gauges cost about $12, on average. 

Tips for Checking Tire Pressure

  • Check tire pressure when the tires have been cooled to the ambient temperature, typically after sitting parked for 3 hours or more. Why? Pressure in tires goes up as the tires warm up in normal service. 
  • Set air pressure based on the tire information placard, typically found on the driver’s doorjamb, and not to the maximum pressure indicated on the tire’s sidewall.
  • Check the inflation pressure of your spare tire.
  • Remember that a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) isn’t a maintenance reminder, but a system to alert you that one or more tires is significantly low on air pressure and needs immediate attention. Just because the TPMS warning light isn’t illuminated, don’t assume your tire pressure has been set correctly.
  • Store the tire pressure gauge in a secure, clean, accessible spot. Dirt and grime can affect the scale slide on a stick gauge, and battery life is a concern for digital gauges. Keep a tire pressure gauge in the glove compartment of every car you own.