3 Stupid Questions about Cars & Tires, Answered

When is Ask a Stupid Question Day? The answer is pretty stupid — either September 28, or the last school day of September (September 30 this year). This holiday is so stupid it doesn’t even know which day to fall on.

But you know what ISN’T stupid? Questions about cars and tires that affect safety.

So in the spirit of National Ask a Stupid Question day (the purpose of which is to encourage students to ask more questions in the classroom), I’m answering three seemingly stupid car and tire questions that I’ve personally heard. Because nobody should hesitate to ask questions when their safety is at stake.


1. Do you have to replace tires?

I kid you not, someone I know asked this question.

I was out to dinner with a bunch of people, and one person was saying how she just couldn’t believe how anyone can stand driving in the rain when it’s so slippery.

We were all, “it’s not that bad…” and it wasn’t until someone asked her how old her tires were that she said, “I don’t know, why, do they go bad?”

Yes, yes tires “go bad” in that they wear down and don’t work anymore. And yes, worn tires were the reason she was terrified of driving in the rain.

We all had a good chuckle about it, and she bought new tires the very next day. (She still hates driving in the rain, but at least she’s doing it much more safely.)


2. You inflate tires to the pressure shown on the tire, right?

No no no. You do not do this. But this is actually a very common misconception. It doesn’t help that bicycle tires list the recommended pressure on the sidewall, making it reasonable that people would think the same about car tires.

But the correct tire pressure for your car tires isn’t really about the tires themselves — it’s all about the car! The car manufacturer determines the ideal tire pressure for the vehicle, and it’s listed on your vehicle’s tire placard (how to find the correct tire pressure).

So then what’s the PSI number listed on the tire’s sidewall? The tire’s maximum inflation pressure. That means the tire isn’t designed for pressure higher than that. You obviously never, ever want to exceed that maximum. But you also want to still stick to what’s listed on your vehicle’s tire placard.


3. What’s that little exclamation point on my dashboard?

TPMS Warning Lamp 2That little light is a TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) light. And if you see it, it means you have a flat tire. (If that’s the case, read how to change a flat tire.)

If you see something that looks similar but not quite the same, or if the light is flashing, then a TPMS issue may be the cause.


These are three stupid questions about cars and tires that aren’t really stupid at all — they’re important. Because they’re all about your driving safety. Perhaps the grand, overarching misconception is that cars and tires are two completely separate things. When in reality they are engineered together as a system. That’s why this stuff matters so much.

Were any of these questions surprising to you? Learn anything new?