From: Jim Downing, The Sacramento Bee
Published March 27, 2009 11:17 AM

New California air board rule will require auto shops to inflate tires

The latest target of California's war on global warming: squishy tires.

Thursday, the state Air Resources Board voted 8-0 in favor of a rule that requires most automotive service shops to check and inflate tires to the recommended pressure.

The measure should prolong tire life and improve fuel efficiency slightly, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions.

The tire measure is a small part of California's climate-change strategy, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of the state's 2020 emissions-reduction target. But it's one of the few immediate changes that consumers are likely to notice.

Enforcement of the rule will start in July 2010. The regulation applies to roughly 40,000 auto shops statewide, including smog-check and oil-change stations and most other businesses that work on vehicles. Auto body and glass shops and car washes are excluded.

It's not clear whether customers will pay more to have their cars serviced as a result of the measure. Shops are free to charge as much as they like — or to charge nothing at all — for checking pressure and inflating tires. Many shops already check pressure as part of routine service.

"We're relying on the market to control it," said air board Deputy Executive Officer Mike Scheible. If shops appear to be using the regulation to gouge customers, Scheible said, the rule could be modified. Air board staff estimate the cost of labor to check and fill a set of car tires at roughly $2.

Under the rule, auto shops will be required to have on hand a high-accuracy pressure gauge, which costs about $25.

Customers are free to decline the pressure check when their cars are being serviced. Drivers won't be penalized for having soft tires. Law-enforcement officers won't check tire pressure during traffic stops.

For every 3 pounds per square inch of pressure that tires are underinflated, fuel economy drops by roughly 1 percent, according to federal studies.

Tires inflated with air typically lose about 1 psi per month. Inflating tires with nitrogen gas, as some shops do, slows the rate of leakage.

Roughly one-fifth of passenger vehicles have tires underinflated by 6 psi or more, according to federal and state studies. An additional one-third of vehicles have tires that are moderately underinflated, 1 to 6 psi less than what the manufacturer recommends.

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Vehicles manufactured since 2008 are required to have built-in pressure gauges that notify the driver when tires are low.

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