It's important to get in the habit of checking your tires. While most modern vehicles come with tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), relying on them can often lead to a false sense of confidence. More importantly, these systems may only raise a warning flag when your tire pressure is already fairly low.
Instead, it's a good idea to check your tire pressure manually at least every month or more often if you feel like it. Tire pressure can vary based on temperature, so it's normal to add more air now and then. But what should you do if you notice one tire losing air consistently or more rapidly than your other tires? Is it a critical problem if you only need to add air every few weeks or even less often?
What Causes Slow Leaks?
As with almost any other automotive problem, a slow tire leak can have numerous potential causes. Of course, the most likely problem is a puncture in your tire. A nail, screw, or some other piece of road debris embedded in the tread may create just enough gap for a small amount of air to escape. You may not lose much air pressure since the object will partially plug the hole.
There may also be other issues causing your leak. For example, tire damage can prevent the rim from sealing properly with the inner tire liner. This situation can result in a loss of air pressure, although it usually requires severe wheel damage. Minor cosmetic issues with your wheel are unlikely to cause your tire to fail.
When Should You Worry?
While it's not an answer anyone likes to hear, the truth is that you should worry whenever you notice air loss from one of your tires. While a tire leak may start slowly, nearly all leaks will worsen over time. Your tires endure high speeds, high temperatures, and substantial amounts of force during even a leisurely Sunday drive. These stresses will inevitably cause any leak to deteriorate over time.
It's also important to remember that tire repair shops must follow strict industry guidelines. These guidelines limit repairable damage based on size, position, and other factors. A minor puncture is usually repairable, but driving on that damage can cause it to worsen and beyond the point of repair. Waiting too long can mean a costly replacement.
How Should You Address the Problem?
If you notice a small pressure loss in one tire, add more air and carefully monitor the situation. Once you find that it's necessary to add more air every few weeks or even every few months, there should no longer be any question that you have a damaged tire. Although you can continue to drive on the tire for a short while, having a tire repair shop inspect and repair it as soon as possible is the best option.
Contact a tire repair shop for more information.