You’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire, and all you have is a bike pump. Can you use it to inflate your tire?
You can use a bike pump on a car tire, but it will take much longer than using an air compressor pump like those at a gas station. A bike pump makes a great car inflation device in an emergency, but you’ll need one with a Schrader valve (or a Presta valve pump with a Schrader-Presta grommet).
In this article, I’ll discuss whether or not you can use a bike pump on a car tire. I’ll also explain how to use this method and how long it takes. Finally, I’ll explain why bike pumps are so inefficient at pumping car tires.
Most people know that using a bicycle pump to inflate car tires is not the fastest method. But when is it ok to use a bike pump on a car tire?
You can use a bike pump on a car tire whenever you need to inflate your tires, and you don’t have access to an air compressor pump. Examples include getting a flat in the middle of nowhere or noticing that your tires are underinflated when you’re far from a gas station.
In such cases, you could use a bike pump to inflate your tires as a quick-fix and then do it properly when you have access to a gas station.
We’ve learned that you can use a bicycle pump to inflate a car tire. But can you use any type of bike pump?
You cannot use any type of bike pump on a car tire. Car tires have Schrader valves, and your bike pump will need a Schrader coupling. Mountain bike tire pumps usually have Schrader valves, but racing bicycle tire pumps have Presta valves, which won’t work on a car tire.
Presta valves are narrow, light, and have a lock nut that you have to screw close. In contrast, Schrader valves are thick, robust, and wide, with a spring mechanism for closing the valve.
Presta and Schrader valves aren’t interchangeable, so you’ll need to ensure that your bike pump has a Schrader valve.
If your bike pump has a Presta valve, it will work on your car tire if you have a Schrader-Presta grommet. These devices secure the bicycle pump’s valve onto the tire valve and are widely available at bike stores and online.
A bicycle pump might be all you have available to inflate your car tire. So, how long does pumping a car tire with a bike pump take?
It can take between half an hour and forty minutes to inflate a car tire with a bike pump. If the tire simply has low pressure, it will be faster to inflate it than if it’s completely flat. How long it takes also depends on the type of bike pump you have.
It takes longer to use a bicycle pump to inflate a car tire because bike tires have less volume than car tires.
However, the time taken to inflate a car tire with a bicycle pump largely depends on its type:
- Mini, hand-operated bike pump. These bike pumps are the smallest and typically the most inefficient. Since they produce a tiny volume of air on each pump, your underinflated tire might have sufficient pressure after using it vigorously for forty minutes.
- Floor pump. Floor bike pumps have a soft and ergonomic, t-shaped handle with a fold-out structure on the bottom for your feet. They provide stability while pumping, and you could have a flat tire reinflated after forty minutes of hard work.
- Foot-operated bicycle pump. Foot-operated bike pumps usually have large cylinders and can move more air into the tire on each pump. This is the most efficient type if you need to use a bicycle pump to inflate a car tire. This pump could have a flat inflated within half an hour.
How to Use a Bike Pump on a Car Tire
We’ve determined that using a bicycle pump on a car tire is possible. So, how do you do it?
You use a bike pump on a car tire as follows:
- Park on a flat surface.
- Get a pressure reading.
- Attach the bicycle pump to the tire valve.
- Pump and re-check the tire pressure.
I’ll explain these points in more detail below:
1. Park on a Flat Surface
Before inflating your car tire, you’ll need to park your vehicle on a flat surface. This stabilizes your car and makes the pumping process easier for you as you won’t need to pump at an angle.
It also eliminates the risk of the tire moving and causing injury as it inflates. Working with your car on a flat surface can help you obtain a more accurate pressure reading.
2. Get a Pressure Reading
The first step in assessing your car tire’s current pressure level is to glance at it. Is it completely flat, or does it merely look underinflated? This will give you a good idea about how much you’ll need to pump.
Next, you’ll need to get an accurate pressure reading using a pressure gauge.
Remove the tiny cap on the tire’s valve stem, keep it in a safe place, and put the pressure gauge into the valve stem.
You will see a pressure reading in psi (or pounds per square inch), and you’ll need to compare this with your car’s recommended pressure. The recommended pressure for each tire can normally be found on a sticker on the side of the driver’s door.
You can also find the maximum PSI on the sidewall of the tire, but if both options fail, you can Google your car’s recommended tire pressure.
3. Attach the Bicycle Pump to the Tire Valve
Now that you know what pressure your tire needs, you can start using the bicycle pump.
Attach the bicycle pump to the tire’s valve stem, looking for the small lever behind the pump’s valve. When pumping, this lever should be raised, and you may have to adjust it until it’s in the correct position.
When you lock the pump onto the tire valve, you should hear the hissing sound of air escaping, which is normal.
4. Pump and Re-Check the Tire Pressure
Once the bike pump is correctly in place, you can start pumping. Find a comfortable position for your hands and feet, and steadily pump.
It’s a good idea to check the pressure regularly because over and under-inflated tires are both problematic. You’ll need to remove the bike pump from the tire valve each time you check the pressure – it makes the process more tedious, but it’s necessary.
If the weather is hot, make sure that you take regular breaks because your bicycle pump can quickly overheat and possibly break. Frequent breaks also allow you to rest and regain energy for the next round.
When you notice that the tire’s pressure reading is within five psi (34 kPa) of its recommended measurement, you can stop pumping and replace the valve cap.
If you’ve inadvertently overinflated your tire, you’ll need to release some pressure. Remove the valve stem’s cover and gently push at it with a screwdriver (or a similarly-shaped object).
You’ll likely hear a hissing sound as the air is released, and you can do this for up to five seconds.
Recheck the tire pressure and replace the valve cap if it’s within the required range.
It makes sense that bike pumps are inefficient tools for pumping car tires. But what makes them inefficient?
Bike pumps are inefficient for pumping car tires because they have a low volume of air per stroke compared with the air compressor pumps you typically find at gas stations.
The volume per stroke measurement refers to how much air is pumped into the tire with each stroke.
Mini bike pumps have tiny cylinders that produce a low volume per stroke. Some cyclists find them inefficient for pumping flat bike tires but use them anyway as they’re compact and easy to carry along while cycling.
Floor bike pumps or foot-operated models typically have larger cylinders with more air capacity, producing a larger volume per stroke than mini pumps.
Air compressor pumps have a much larger volume per stroke, which is evidenced in the short time it takes them to inflate a car tire.
Using a bike pump to inflate a car tire takes much longer than using an air compressor pump. It’s, therefore, only recommended if you’re in an emergency or stuck with a flat in the middle of nowhere.
It can take between thirty and forty minutes to inflate a car tire using a bike pump. Mini pumps will take the longest, but foot-operated or floor models are more ergonomic and have a larger volume per stroke, making the process faster.
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