THE GOODS : Device Flags You When to Pump Up Low Tires


Convenience at one time was an electric starter motor instead of a crank. Today, cars have all kinds of gadgets, from power seats to automatic light controls.

But we still must manually check the air pressure in our tires by squatting down with a gauge, unscrewing a valve cap and taking a reading. And we have to repeat that on all four tires.

Tire manufacturers recommend we do this every month, but most of us don't bother.

The federal government estimates that motorists driving on under-inflated tires consume an additional 21 million barrels of oil every year. The cost to consumers of this neglect is put at $2.2 billion for premature wear on tires and extra fuel.

But the money is the minor issue. An estimated 720 drivers lose their lives every year due to under-inflated tires, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Among other problems, under-inflated tires increase stopping distance, reduce driver control and can cause tire failure.

Is there a remedy for this neglect? One device worth considering is Tirecheck, a valve cap that can visually signal whether a tire is under-inflated.

Tirecheck screws onto the valve stem and shows a green flag as long as the tire is properly inflated. If the pressure drops about three pounds below where it started when the valve was screwed on, an orange warning flag pops out.

As Tirecheck is screwed onto the valve stem, it depresses the spring valve inside, releasing the tire's air to push against a membrane that senses pressure. As a result, it is crucial that the Tirecheck not leak, because the tire's regular valve is now open at all times.

John Thomsen, president of the Florida firm that makes Tirecheck, says the device has a square rubber ring that forms an airtight seal around the rim of the valve stem. If Tirecheck did leak, the orange flag should pop up and indicate a low pressure condition, he says.

Tire companies decline to either criticize or endorse Tirecheck, although privately tire engineers say they are leery about any product that would keep open the tire valve.

After four weeks of using Tirecheck on my car, I haven't had any problems of air leakage; nor did orange flags pop out. Tirecheck has been tested and approved by regulators in Germany, where the device was patented.

Tirecheck is Thomsen's only auto product. The firm also makes medical devices, including an instrument used in open heart surgery.

A set of four Tirechecks costs $12.95 and can be ordered by calling (800) 769-1396.

The next step in convenience would be a system that signals on the dashboard when a tire needs air. Such systems are under consideration by auto makers.

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