Getting Air Into Tires In Extreme Cold

We have some brutally cold winter days where I now live. Last winter, I was running errands when I noticed a low tire. I went to four different c-stores to find that their air pumps were not working, and I had to have the car towed to a garage to avoid damage to the tire.

I see lots and lots and lots of information about the right psi for tires in winter. My question is far more basic.

What are your tips on where to go or what methods or equipment to use in order to put air your tires in extreme cold?

Do I need to buy something to keep in the garage?

What about while on the road?

Where I grew up, we had no such concerns, but I do not want a repeat of last winter. That sucked.


I guess you could buy one of the small 12 volt air pumps and keep it the car . But most tire stores will air the tires for free ( I always give the person a dollar so they can buy a soft drink ) . I also have a set schedule to check tires . Also the tire store always air to the number on the vehicle plate winter or summer at least in my case.

This is a simple problem with a simple solution!

You can buy portable pumps that plug into your cigarette lighter. I would suggest a decent one of these but I bought one for $6 at Harbor Freight once. That one is tiny and the whole thing isn’t even as big as a soda can but it does work. Any auto parts store will sell these. Wal-Mart and similar will sell these in the auto section. Of course there are several grades of these at Harbor Freight as well and some of them look a lot better than the one I got. I think a decent one will be $50 or less. $20 should get you an OK one. Anything is better than having your car towed.

Make sure the valve stem covers are on so water can’t get in there and freeze.

Alternately buy a 3-4 gallon pancake compressor, these are less than $100, mine lasted over ten years and was still going strong when I replaced it with a larger compressor. Hose and air chuck will set you back another $20.

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Sign up for a Roadside service and they will put your spare on for you if your vehicle has one instead of the emergency kit.

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If a tire goes low, there is a leak, unless it has been tampered with. A tire store or car repair place, if not too far, is the best place to go. They are more likely to have a well-maintained compressor and hose, stored indoors, less likely to have frozen water in the hose or its end. And they can find and probably fix the leak.

A small 12V compressor might do the job just fine in ideal conditions, maybe not so well at below zero F. Anyone here have experience with one of those in extreme cold?

I looked at a pancake compressor when I needed a new air pump last year. I settled on a Kobalt 120v pump for about half the price you mentioned. I don’t need the versatility of the pancake compressor, just an air pump for inflation. If I wanted air tools, I would have bought the pancake compressor.

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I did have a pancake compressor. Now I have a high-quality 12V one.
I much prefer the 12V one. Much easier to use.

Right. When it gets very cold out, the convenience store air pumps will just be frozen out of service. So just get your own and check the tires cold and pump them up to the normal pressure. Then you’ll be fine unless it goes from 30 to 30 below in the same day. Over the winter you’d probably need to add 5-10 # to keep up with the cooler temps.

I have a larger stationary compressor and a small one that I can carry around. I paid about $50 for that. I just bought another Bostitch pancake compressor for around $130 and it really is a beast. I bought it just to run the roofing nailer at the cabin, but it would be fine for small work around the house. So the $50 one will stay at the cabin and I’ll keep the Bostitch at home. Don’t confuse a little battery inflator with a compressor. Whole different world.

At any rate the important thing in cold weather is that ice can develop in the valve core when you try to add air. Then it can leak causing worse problems than you had before. So if you must add air in below zero temps, always push the valve core down again for a couple seconds to clear any frost.

I have a cordless Ryobi inflator in the garage. That’s very quick and easy to use.

A small 120V tire inflator that plugs into a wall socket makes life easy. I found a Kobalt brand at my local hardware store a few years back. Inflates tires precisely to the pressure you select. A bit noisy and takes very slightly longer than a commercial air hose. But you can use it in the comfort of your garage at home without exposure to bad weather.

Cleaning the basement a couple months ago, I threw one that was my dad’s pretty much brand new into the dump. Still in the box. If I knew you folks wanted them so much you could have had it. Anything else you folks want before it goes to the dump? Spot light, heater, exercise equipment, hunting and fishing gear?

My el cheapo tire inflator is cooking to inflate a wheelbarrow tire, I would hate to depend on it for a car tire. AAA or an air cylander if you have frequent problems.

Bing, I suspect you are joking. You strike me as more likely to donate stuff rather than send to the landfill as we do.

Nope not joking. Nobody takes this stuff anymore. Salvation Army is getting pickey and their store is filled to the brim. Epilepsy folks took a pallet of stuff and small appliances, but there is simply nothing you can do with this stuff except put it in the land fill where it’ll take 100 years to deteriorate. We used to burn this stuff.

So my mom died, salvation army no particle board furniture! Lucky there are not particle board cars.

I have always carried a small 12v compressor in the car but the colder it gets the slower they work. It doesn’t gwt really cold where I live, -15 is very unusual here but 20 miles inland -25 or 30 can happen and at those temps I think the diaphragm would blow before inflating the tire.

Over the last 6 or 7 decades of living above the 45th parallel and keeping half a dozen cars on the road, simultaneously, I’ve dealt with my share of airing up tires in the cold, well below zero at times.

What are my tips? Do the same thing as you do when it isn’t extremely cold, but while freezing your keaster off! (You do need to check and be sure the Schrader valves in the valve stems seat properly to be sure ice doesn’t form from putting air in during ridiculous weather and hold them open a bit.)

Here’s the best tip… Redefine "Extreme Cold".

My old definition was temperatures well below zero degrees, Fahrenheit.

My new definition of "Extreme Cold" is temperatures below 70 degrees, Fahrenheit.

In a few weeks I’ll point the old Grand Prix south and drive 1,500 miles to the “winter” residence where it’s always Endless Summer!


When I lived in Colorado I’d use my dad’s compressor located inside his garage for that when the temperature was really cold outside. The main downside was that the compressor was somewhat expensive & took up some valuable floor space. Compressors whose main purpose is for topping off automobile tires aren’t as big and aren’t overly expensive. It takes quite a bit of energy to pump air to 40 psi, so I’d recommend a 120volt powered compressor, not a battery powered one. But a physically small sized one would likely do the job quite nicely. If I found the tire was too low to drive while I was out on the road in the winter, I’d just change in the spare tire until I could make it to a shop. That wasn’t very fun in -10 degree weather, so I tried to make sure the tires were topped off every time I had the opportunity to do it indoors.

I’ll have a Penn 704. Thank you.