Do You Need to Adjust Your Tire Pressure for Towing?

It's always good to check and make sure you have the optimal tire pressure.

Red 2020 Nissan TITAN XD Platinum Reserve attached to a white RV in a fieldNissan

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There are a lot of things to think about when hitching a trailer to your vehicle. Do you have the right size ball? Is the wiring hooked up properly? How heavy is the trailer, and is your vehicle rated to tow all that weight? With so many concerns in mind, it's easy to forget some of the more basic maintenance items, including setting the tire pressure. Here’s why you should make sure that task is on your pre-tow checklist.

Why Tow-Vehicle Tire Pressures Matter

The consequences of improperly inflated tires can be pretty dire. That's true with or without a trailer in tow, but it's especially important when loading a vehicle near its payload or towing capacity. An over- or underinflated tire on the tow vehicle could result in a blowout or the tire unseating itself, a scary enough occurrence with an unladen vehicle let alone with a heavy attachment wagging behind the bumper. Incorrect tire pressure can also cause unnecessary wear and additional rolling resistance (the friction between tire and road), reducing fuel economy.

How to Set Tire Pressures on a Tow Vehicle

When the vehicle manufacturer determined your rig's optimal tire pressure — the number is located on the driver's door jamb, if you've forgotten — it was with the maximum load in mind. So contrary to what (other) folks on the internet might tell you, you shouldn’t need to increase the pressure when loading up. Check your owner’s manual to be sure. One thing is certain: You shouldn’t deflate your tires to a lower-than-recommended figure when planning to tow.

Some things to remember when setting the pressure for any tire: Take the reading when the tire is cold — that is, after it has been sitting for a while, and not in the sun. You might notice a pressure number on the tire itself. That's not the recommended pressure but the absolute maximum. You should never inflate your tire beyond this number (and likely shouldn't even approach it).

Don't Forget About the Trailer Tires

As soon as you experience a death wobble vibration while driving, the safest thing to do is ease off of the accelerator and coast to a stop in a safe area. Keep your hands firmly on the wheel, avoid hitting the brakes, and maintain as straight a course as you can while this is happening.

To determine why your vehicle might have undergone a death wobble, it's a good idea to have your tires, your steering, and your suspension system inspected to look for any worn-out or damaged components, or to determine if its alignment is out of spec.

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David Gluckman
David Gluckman has over a decade of experience as a writer and editor for print and digital automotive publications. He can parallel park a school bus, has a spreadsheet listing every vehicle he’s ever tested, and once drove a Lincoln Town Car 63 mph in reverse. When David’s not searching for the perfect used car, you can find him sampling the latest gimmicky foodstuffs that America has to offer.