Nissan's clever system to keep tires inflated

2013 Nissan Altima Nissan North America

(MoneyWatch) Drivers often have a hard time knowing when their tires are low. Now Nissan is introducing a new system, starting with its 2013 Altima just on sale, that alerts you to an underinflated tire and makes it easy to pump it up to the right pressure.

Tires involve more than a smooth ride. A recent federal study shows that driving on underinflated tires triples the risk of an accident. And keeping tires properly inflated can add 3.3 percent to your gas mileage, according to the Department of Energy.

A lot of existing tire monitors are confusing. A light on the dashboard shows that a tire is low but does not indicate which one. With the Nissan system, it tells you which is the problem tire and its current air pressure.

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In addition, the Nissan system makes it easy to pump up that tire to the right pressure even without a tire gauge. When you connect the air hose, the lights on the new Altima flash to let you know air is going into the tire. When the pressure is right, the horn chirps. If you put in too much air, the horn honks faster and the tire deflates to the proper pressure.

The company says that in addition to the redesigned Altima, the tire monitoring gadget is being installed in the 2012 electric Leaf and the Quest minivan. It also plans to put the setup into all upcoming new and redesigned cars, which will include five models in the next 15 months. "By making this unique Nissan innovation available on all our future products, the guessing and the gauge vanish for our customers," says Pierre Loing, vice president for product planning of Nissan North America.

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