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Tire gauges

Until the recent advent of digital devices, tire pressure gauges consisted of various analog gauges – either the tried-and-true pencil gauges or the easier-to-read dial devices. Digital gauges, however, have now swept the market.

These tools not only come in a wide variety but also deliver pressure readings instantly, use liquid crystal displays (LCD), and measure down to 1/10 pound per square inch (psi).

But this digital technology comes at a price that's often twice that of traditional gauges. So it raises the question: Are they worth the extra money?

That is best answered by someone who has spent years plying a tire gauge out in the field changing and repairing farm tires. That would be tire expert, Don Kubly of Gempler's.

Kubly's practical advice on tire repair appears in this magazine as well as on the “Top Shops Tips” segments during the Successful Farming Machinery Show on RFD-TV Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 10 a.m., and Sundays at 9 p.m. (all times Central). Kubly is also Gempler's tire guru. He puts his vast field experience to good use by providing technical product support (800/874-4755) for customers.

Kubly says both pencil and dial gauges provide solid readings as do digital devices if those gauges were made by a reliable manufacturer and they haven't been damaged or abused.

“But digital gauges often provide readings down to.5 psi increments while being accurate down to ±0.3 psi with the professional-grade gauges,” Kubly says.

The most obvious advantage to a digital gauge is that it is easier to read than a pencil device. The reading is instantaneous, and most digital gauges are set to keep the reading on their screens for 10 to 15 seconds. “Some displays are backlit for reading in low- or no-light situations,” Kubly says.

There is a huge span when it comes to features and the cost of digital gauges.

Entry-Level Gauges

At the entry level are $10 to $17 gauges that fit snugly in your hand as well as your pocket. These gauges operate on a standard watch-type battery that often lasts up to five years. Depending on the model you buy, these devices provide readings from 0-100 psi, which makes them ideal to cover most all farm applications.

The Digital Pocket Tire Gauge from Gempler's is accurate to within ±1 psi, and it sells for $17.50 (

The Accutire MS-4350B is accurate down to ±.5 psi and has a backlit LCD that allows you to record recommended tire pressures for reference. It sells for $13 (

Professional-Level Gauges

The professional-grade gauge shown above offers accuracy down to ±0.5 psi. The shape of this type of gauge, which fits readily in the palm of your hand, provides for a larger LCD. The rubber boot surrounding the gauge helps to protect the LCD (its most vulnerable part). When outfitted with a flexible hose or ridge stem with single or dual chuck, such gauges are ideal for working around the largest machinery and dualed-up vehicles, Kubly says. “But they are more expensive.”

Figure on paying between $20 and $25 for a straightforward gauge of this quality. With additional bells and whistles (such as a hose extension, two-way chucks, and a pressure-release valve), a professional-grade device can cost from $60 to $70.

Pencil Gauge Offerings

One obvious difference found in a tried-and-true pencil gauge (beyond the lower price) is the readings on its indicator stick.

“These are reliable gauges that will do a good job if you're not picky about getting so precise as to set tires down to.5 pound,” Kubly says. “Plus, they come with a wide variety of attachments that allow them to handle any situation.”

One such situation on the farm is reading tires filled with fluid. “There are gauges designed with a spring-loaded indicator bar that ejects corrosive fluid from the gauge after a reading is made,” Kubly says. “I don't know of a digital gauge you can use with liquids.”

Pricewise, pencil gauges range from around $5 for a basic device for use on cars up to $35 for a gauge with either dual chucks or chucks that swivel 360°. Then there are gauges made to read large-bore tire valves, although you can buy an adapter to employ standard-size gauges for that particular job.

Other Types of Gauges

Another type of gauge is one that employs dial displays. Popular with race car enthusiasts, these gauges feature a needle that rotates to the pressure reading. Gempler's offers one that comes with a rubber hose extension. It can read standard- and large-bore valve stems as well as liquid-filled tires. The readings go from 0-160 psi, and it sells for $36.50.

A nifty dial gauge from Accu-Gauge ( eliminates switching back and forth between the gauge and air chuck when inflating tires. The Accu-Gauge EZ-Air has a chuck that clips onto the valve stem. You can inflate directly through the gauge. And a bleed button allows for ready pressure adjustment. The EZ-Air sells for $20.

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