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Can You Use a Bike Pump to Inflate a Car Tire?

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Bike tire pump being used on a car tire

There are so many DIY ideas circulating the internet. Maybe you recently saw that your tires were looking a little low and you were looking for a way to fix that. If you surveyed your garage and found a bike pump, I have some good news for you: it might be able to inflate your car tire.

Yes, you can use a bike pump to inflate a car tire, but it’s going to take a long time. Manually pumping a tire can take upwards of 20 minutes depending on how flat the tire is. Whenever possible, I would highly suggest using a compressor to pump up your car tire instead. Regardless, a bike pump will work if you’re in a pinch.

In this guide, I’ll talk a little bit about tires and tire pressure. From there, I’ll explain how a bike pump might help you, and I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to use one to inflate your tire.

How Tire Pressure Works

Within your tire, there is ‘air’ that inflates the rubber. A modern tire contains this air with the tire’s beads, inner liner, and bead filler.

There’s a little passageway for air to travel through on the side of your tire, called the valve stem. The way this valve is designed is that it allows air to enter but doesn’t allow air to exit.

As a result, you’re left with pressurized air inside. This is because the air just keeps funneling in when you pump it in and there’s no place for it to escape. It’s the same reason why a balloon expands when you blow into it.

You can put a gauge against this valve to get an air pressure reading. The gauge will tell you approximately what the psi of the air inside of your tires is. This can then be compared to the correct tire pressure.

Car tire valve stem with cap

The Correct Tire Pressure for You

The correct tire pressure will vary from car to car and will also depend on the location of the tire. In a lot of cases, the front two tires will call for a different pressure than the back two.

How do you find the correct pressure? It’s a suggestion from the manufacturer. If you open your driver’s door and look in the door framework, you should find a sticker. This sticker will say what psi is perfect for your tires.

Alternatively, your owner’s manual might have the figure. If nothing else, a quick Google search will help you.

The “Right” Way to Inflate a Car Tire

Typically, you’d use an air compressor and a special tube attachment to inflate your tire. The compressor pumps air through the attachment and into the open valve stem of your tire.

A lot of these tools also have a built-in pressure gauge. It will constantly tell you what the interior psi of your tire is so you know when to stop pumping.

Some people might have one of these compressors in their garage, tool shed, or basement. If not, you can take your car to a gas station that has an air compressor. They often have you pay a few quarters for a few minutes of air.

If there’s no gauge built into the pump, then you’ll need to remove the pump and manually check the tire pressure routinely. Overinflation is just as dangerous as underinflation, after all.

Man using a car tire air compressor inflator with pressure gauge

What About Tires That Keep Losing Pressure?

It can be frustrating if you just pumped up your tire and the pressure is already low again. If this is the case, you might have a flat tire that you don’t know about. The quick solution is to patch the hole in your tire.

Depending on the placement, width, and number of holes in your tire, you might have to completely replace it.

Keep in mind that tire pressure will also fluctuate as the seasons change. I recommend frequently checking the pressure of your tires and expect to pump them up in winter when the air gets cold.

When Would You Use a Bike Pump?

After explaining this whole process, you might be curious about where the bike pump comes in. Well, there are a few reasons why you might try using a bike pump to inflate your car tire.

It’s an Emergency

If you’re stuck somewhere and your tire desperately needs air, you might have to grab a bike pump. This will give you enough temporary pressure to make it home or get to the nearest gas station to refill there.

You Don’t Have a Compressor

Some people simply don’t have access to a compressor and they need to top off their tire. If you need to get to work or plan on driving to a compressor somewhere else, you might be tempted to grab a bike pump — especially if that’s all you have at your disposal.

Hand pump tire inflator with a car tire illustration

You Just Patched Your Flat

I would wager that the most common reason why someone would use a bike pump is that they just patched a flat tire.

After getting a puncture in your tire, there’s a way to seal the gap so you can keep driving. After the seal is done, your tire will still be very low.

At this time, you can grab the bike pump and get to work refilling the tire.

To Settle a Bet

There are other people who are just genuinely curious about this question and might have made a bet about it.

Intuitively, it makes sense. Bike pumps deliver enough air to pump up footballs and basketballs. But, do they have enough power to pump up your tire?

If you made a bet on this topic, you’re about to win or lose it.

Can You Use a Bike Pump to Inflate a Car Tire?

This leads us to the million-dollar question: can you use a bike pump to inflate a car tire? The answer is yes. I’ve actually personally done it myself, so I can attest to the fact that it works.

It’s only an option for people with patience though. You can put in hundreds of pumps to re-inflate your car tire.

These pumps are designed to inflate bike tires to upwards of 80 psi, so they definitely have the strength. The key difference is the volume of air, though.

Something that might take two dozen pumps to achieve on a skinny bike tire would take 200 pumps on an automobile tire. You’re going to be pumping that bike pump for a long time (but it’s far from impossible).

Pro Tip: Avoid This Dilemma in the Future with a Simple Product

I know it might be too late to bring this up, but there’s a great product that will help you to avoid this disaster in the future. It’s a portable air pump for car tires.

I own one personally, and it’s saved me in a few sticky situations. Rather than spending 20 minutes manually inflating a tire, you can just throw this tool on your tire and get the perfect psi within a minute.

If you think you might be in the same situation again in the future, you might as well pick up one of these bad boys today.

NORSHIRE Tire Pump Inflator Portable Air Compressor

NORSHIRE Tire Pump Inflator Portable Air Compressor

What You Need to Inflate Your Car Tire with a Bike Pump

In a second, I’ll walk you through exactly how to use that bike pump to inflate your tires. First, let me tell you everything that you’ll need for the process:

  • A bike pump (obviously)
  • Tire pressure gauge
  • Optional: Flathead screwdriver or pebble to slightly deflate overinflated tires

Yup, that’s about it.

Step-By-Step Guide to Inflate Your Car Tire with a Bike Pump

Without further ado, let me get into my step-by-step guide. Trust me, this process works because I used this exact process myself not too long ago.

How To Inflate Your Car Tire With a Bike Pump

Step #1: Gauge the Situation

Let’s start by assessing how bad the situation really is. Do you have a nail or screw lodged in your tire? How flat does the tire look? Are you in a scenario where you can safely spend 30 minutes inflating a tire without getting hurt?

Step #2: Remove the Valve Stem Cover

Take a look at your flattened tire. Along the center ring, you should notice your valve stem sticking out.

This is the black tube that’s protruding from your tire.

There’s a little cap on the top of this valve stem. You won’t be able to do anything until the cap is removed.

Grab it with your fingers and screw it counterclockwise (remember, lefty loosey). Completely remove the cap and put it somewhere where you won’t lose it, like your pocket.

Car tire pressure valve with cap

Step #3: Take a Pressure Reading

This is where your tire pressure gauge comes in handy. Push it against the now-exposed valve stem and see how much pressure is in your tire.

You’ll want to look for a “psi” reading — that’s short for “pressure per square inch”. Essentially, it gives a baseline value of how much pressure is in your tire. Quantifying it per square inch allows all different tires to use the same language when talking about their pressure.

Step #4: Find the Suggested Pressure Level

Pop open your driver’s door (if it’s safe to do so). On the inside framework, you’ll find a white sticker with some yellow on it. This will tell you how much pressure the manufacturer suggests putting into each tire.

Typically, you’ll find two different values:

  • A suggested psi value for the front two tires
  • A suggested psi value for the rear two tires

If you can’t find this sticker, then Google the psi value for your specific make, model, and year. It should be somewhere around 30 psi.

Car tire sticker recommended PSI

Step #5: Lock in the Bike Pump

Now, insert the black valve from the bike pump into the valve stem of your tire. The bike pump’s valve has a little arm on the rear of it.

This arm needs to be straight down when you put the valve over your tire’s stem.

To lock the bike pump in, this arm needs to be brought up 90 degrees. When locked, the arm will be perpendicular to the tube feeding the black valve.

Now your bike pump is officially locked in.

Step #6: Start Pumping

This is where the fun starts — it’s time to start pumping your bike pump.

Your bike pump probably has some sort of platform at its base. I like to put my feet on this platform to secure the pump in place.

You’ll use two hands to bring the handle of the pump straight up, then push it straight down. The motion looks like how people would blow up dynamite on TV shows back in the day.

Every time you push the handles of the pump all the way down, you’re pressurizing the inside air of the tire.

Step #7: Check the Tire Pressure

After pumping for a little while, you’ll need to check the tire pressure. Do this by unlocking the bike pump valve by swinging that arm down and removing the valve from the tire’s valve stem.

Put your tire pressure gauge on the tire’s valve stem and get a reading. Reset the gauge and take two more readings to ensure the reading is correct.

Mechanic checking the car tire pressure with a air pressure PSI gauge

Step #8: Repeat the Steps Until You’re Within 5 psi

Keep repeating steps 6 and 7 until you hit a psi value that’s within 5 psi of the recommended value (per the sticker inside your driver’s door).

Why 5 psi? Well, this value will get you close enough so you can drive to a safe location that has an air pump and save you time. Otherwise, you’ll waste even more time manually pumping up your tire.

NOTE: Remember to check whether your bike pump is locked or unlocked every time you put it back on the tire’s valve stem. If you pump when the valve isn’t locked in position, all the air will escape and not go into the tire. You’ll waste your time.

A quick way to check whether it’s locked is to gently pull the valve as if you were going to take it off. If it doesn’t immediately come off, then you’re locked in.

Step #9: Release Pressure if You Overinflated Your Tire

Maybe you’re an overambitious bike pumper and you put too much air in your tires. You might think, “oh, that’s great. Now I won’t have to worry about them getting low for a long time.”

The sad truth is that an overinflated tire is just as dangerous as an underinflated one. The tread won’t properly stick to the road underneath it.

This is where that screwdriver or pebble comes in handy. You’re going to release a little pressure from your tires.

Make sure the cover is removed from your tire’s valve stem and get the bike pump away as well. Use your pebble or screwdriver to gently push against the valve stem of your tire.

Doing so will result in a hissing noise that you can hear. This is air escaping from your tire through that little valve.

Make sure you only do this for a few seconds, maximum. Remove your pebble or tool and grab your tire pressure gauge and check it. If it’s still high, repeat this process again for a few seconds and check once more.

Be careful not to overdo it in the opposite direction and bleed out too much air. It’s a delicate balance.

The good news is that your bike pump is within reach if you happen to release too much air in this step.

Mechanic releasing air at the car tire valve stem with a air stem tool


I’m glad to deliver some good news to you guys and let you know that bike pumps can actually be used to inflate a car tire. If you want to see answers to more of your car questions, either drop a comment below or read the rest of my blog. I also posted a list of other car products that can save your neck in the future.

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Ernest Martynyuk

An automotive enthusiast who's been tinkering with vehicles since I was 15-years old. Repairing automotive electronics has been my main job for over a decade now and have a passion for everything technical regarding cars.

4 thoughts on “Can You Use a Bike Pump to Inflate a Car Tire?”

  1. A Friend and I were out hunting. We finished the hunt went to our truck the tire was flat so we had a rubber hose put it on the valve stem had a Bic pen took the inside out attached it to the hose and proceeded to take turns with our mouths and blew enough air in the tire to get home. One more thing jack the car up.


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