Here’s the easiest and least-costly way to reduce your pain at the fuel pump. Everyday we collectively waste four million gallons of gasoline due to low tire pressure. It is estimated that a quarter of our automobiles and about a third of light trucks (including sport utility vehicles, vans, and pickup trucks) have one or more tires underinflated by 8 pounds per square inch (psi) or more below the level recommended by the vehicle manufacturer. The fuel waste penalty from underinflated tires is 1.5 billion gallons per year. At $3.50 per gallon we are collectively throwing away $5.25 billion a year from having underinflated tires. On an individual basis if you have underinflated tires it is estimated the fuel penalty is equal to paying 12-15 cents per gallon more in fuel costs!
Greener and safer
The California Air Resources Board estimated that improperly inflated tires for California vehicles resulted in 700,000 metric tons of annual greenhouse gas emissions. One path for calculating your environmental impact if you drive with under inflated tires is to recognize that the consumption of one gallon of gasoline is equal to 25 pounds of global warming. Assuming the average vehicle should be achieving 20 miles per gallon in fuel efficiency and that underinflated tires reduce this fuel efficiency by 3% then on a per gallon basis underinflated tires generate approximately 1 pound of greenhouse gases per 20 miles. If you drive 10,000 miles a year with underinflated tires then you are not only throwing money out of your tailpipe but also approximately 500 pounds of additional greenhouse gases.
Proper tire inflation is also a safety issue. It is estimated that 23,000 accidents occur each year where underinflated tires are a contributing factor.
Why we do not properly inflate our tires
This issue is as old as the 1974 oil embargo and President Jimmy Carter emphasis on car fuel efficiency. It is also a classic example of behavioral economics. In this Information Age of digital technologies we still check tire pressure using an Industrial Age tire gauge. The task of tire inflation monitoring requires finding a gauge, figuring out the correct tire pressure and then physically measuring each tire. One fundamental of economics is that people make short-term and incremental decisions. For the overwhelming majority of us tire pressure is out of mind and has zero daily value. There is no price-signal like a filling station’s price sign that will trigger a consumer action to check tire pressure. At best many of us have an auto technician check our tire pressures during a 5,000 mile oil change. The economics of our behavior is that we will search for a gasoline pump price that might be a penny or two lower while we ignore a zero-cost path to cutting pump price pain by up to 15 cents per gallon while also reducing pollution by just maintaining properly inflated tires.
A $10 (and modern) solution
RightPSI is one of a growing number of companies offering easy to use and affordable technologies for tire monitoring. Their device fits on a tire stem. It displays one of three colors based upon on tire pressure. If the tire is appropriately inflated then it shows green. If the tire is not inflated in alignment with tire specifications then this condition is identified as red or yellow based upon the severity of under inflation. With this type of technology you can gauge your tire pressure as easily as looking at your four tires.
The economics of these technologies are a no-brainer. These technologies typically cost around $10 per tire. For a set of four tires your investment is $40. If you drive 15,000 miles per year then your estimated annual fuel savings can be $100 or more per year from using RightPSI’s technology to insure that your tires are correctly inflated. The $40 cost for putting their technology on four tires has the potential of achieving investment payback in less than 6 months. If your tires achieves a 60,000 mile useful life this investment could generate approximately $450 in total savings or over a 10 times return on initial investment!
Business owners, act now!
At every business coaching event I conduct there is at least one business owner that asks for ideas on how to address higher pump prices. As part of my answer I give them my pitch for keeping their vehicle tires properly inflated along with the financial justifications included in this article. Based upon my experience in behavioral economics I often wonder how many of these business owners actually follow through. Now with color-coded tire pressure indicators the task of daily maintaining the correct tire pressure in business vehicles has become a measurable activity easily observed. At the start in using this type of technology it might require the boss walking out to the vehicle parking lot with work associates to jointly observe the indicators. My experience is that this type of feedback from the boss will quickly influence a new cultural norm for focusing upon maintaining correct tire inflation. The result will be fuel cost savings, reduced emissions and a higher potential for achieving manufacturers tire life warranties.
About the author
Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017