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PSI vs. KPA: Which Tire Pressure Unit is Best?
PSI, or Pounds per Square Inch, is the standard unit of pressure measurement in the United States. PSI ratings are found on the side of all tires used in the North American market and many tires used in Europe as well.
KPA, or Kilopascal, is another common unit of pressure measurement in North America and Europe. There are 1,000 Pascals in one Kilopascal, just like there are 1,000 meters in a Kilometer. KPA ratings are on the side of almost all tires that also have a PSI pressure rating.
Should I Buy a PSI or KPA Tire Pressure Gauge?
If you live in the United States, you’re better off buying a PSI gauge than a KPA gauge. Many gauges have both units, which covers that issue—but it’s best to find a gauge with PSI as its primary measurement.
It’ll look similar to a speedometer with big MPH numbers and smaller KPH numbers along the inner ring. PSI is the most common unit used in the United States, and most mechanics and dealers will be more intuitively familiar with it.
Digital Tire Pressure Gauges
Digital tire gauges are great because they display a clear and accurate pressure reading every time. Digital gauges can be easily switched between units of measurement, and they’re less prone to mechanical failure, rust, and other issues.
But there are some drawbacks to using a digital tire pressure gauge. First and foremost, they require batteries—and who do you know that carries a spare button battery for their tire gauge? This is a problem because people don’t check their tire pressure often.
It may be a few years before you use your pressure gauge again, and when you need it, the batteries will be dead, and the device might as well be a paperweight.
Analog (Mechanical) Tire Pressure Gauges
Analog or mechanical tire gauges require no electricity. These devices are also extraordinarily cheap—just a few dollars at most auto part stores. Mechanical tire gauges are by far the most common, and many are given away as promotional devices by dealerships.
Types of Analog Tire Pressure Gauges
There are two common types of analog tire pressure gauges. Stylus gauges, which are the simplest, and dial gauges. Professionals only use dial gauges, as they come from numerous high-quality manufacturers and provide precise readings. For ordinary drivers, stylus gauges are sufficient in most cases.
Stylus gauges, also known as stick gauges or pen gauges, are the size and shape of a simple ballpoint pen. They have a couple, or a “chuck,” on one end that presses against the Schrader valve of the tire for reading the pressure and a pin opposite the coupler for releasing pressure.
When you press the coupler, or receptacle, of a stylus tire pressure gauge against the tire valve, a stick will protrude out of the opposite end. This stick is labeled with various tire pressure readings, and the highest reading visible is your tire pressure. Simple enough, right?
Gauge valves are even better and more accurate. Assuming you don’t use a cheap one from the cash register displays at the parts store. Professional tire pressure gauges have a large, heavy-duty dial connected to a thick rubber hose and a coupler.
Operating a dial pressure gauge is simple. All you have to do is press the coupler firmly against the tire valve (just like a stylus gauge) and read what the dial says. There are usually multiple units on the dial, so you can get an accurate reading for whatever system you prefer.
Best Analog Tire Pressure Gauges
Analog tire pressure gauges are robust, reliable, and the best models are highly accurate. Professionals still trust simple mechanical gauges for battery-free reliability and durability. Here are two of the best basic and professional analog tire pressure gauges on the market today.
1. Milton S-925 Pencil Tire Gauge
Sometimes, less is better—and simplicity wins the day. That’s the case with the Milton S-925 Pencil tire pressure gauge, as this basic and easy-to-use unit is the very best of its kind. Stylus gauges, or pencil gauges, are the most common and basic kind of tire gauge.
The vast majority of stylus tire pressure gauges manufactured today are made of plastic and complete garbage—but not the Milton S-925 Pencil gauge. This model is made in the United States of America and built exactly like the stylus gauges made decades ago.
The housing is made of strong metal, and the coupler (chuck) feels like it's milled out of a solid block of steel. This gauge harkens back to an era when even the smallest tools were built to last—and this one certainly is.
The Milton S-925 Pencil tire pressure gauge is accurate and easy to use, and it measures tire pressure in PSI and KPA. It has a working range of 20 PSI to 120 PSI, which is more than enough for almost all common cars, trucks, and bicycles.
The Milton S-925 Pencil tire pressure gauge usually retails for less than ten dollars. And given that cheap, poorly-made tire pressure gauges cost about the same, there’s really no good reason not to buy a Milton pencil gauge. This simple gauge will provide decades of reliable, trouble-free use for you and anyone else who manages to get their hands on one.
2. JACO ElitePro Tire Pressure Gauge
Pencil gauges aren’t for everyone—and luckily, there are numerous analog tire pressure gauges available with more features. The JACO ElitePro analog tire pressure gauge is a professional dial gauge that requires no batteries and displays accurate readings every time.
The JACO ElitePro analog tire pressure gauge is one of the most common professional gauges on the market—and it’s trusted by thousands of mechanics, tire shop workers, and truckers around the United States. This gauge is calibrated and certified to be accurate by ANSI Standards.
This analog gauge isn’t quite as accurate as JACO’s digital gauges—but it’s plenty accurate for the vast majority of applications. It’s accurate to ±1.5%, which is well within the range that’s useful for cars and trucks. Plus, it’s many times more accurate than cheap pocket gauges found at parts stores.
The dial and all the mechanical components of this tire gauge are held within a rubberized housing. This housing, which has slats cut across it for a strong non-slip grip, protects the delicate components from grease, scuffing, and shock.
This is a durable unit designed for use in the industry, so it’s more than enough for everyday drivers. The JACO ElitePro analog tire pressure gauge also features solid brass connecting hardware and a real pressure hose.
Overall, the JACO ElitePro tire gauge is an excellent value for the price, and you can trust it to provide accurate pressure readings for years. The glow in the dark dial makes it easy to read at night, and this gauge reads up to 60 PSI of pressure.
Best Digital Tire Pressure Gauges
We found two of the best digital tire gauges on the market. Digital gauges, which are accurate and clear, are great for people who check their tire pressure regularly. Don’t forget to carry spare batteries for your digital gauge.
1. AstroAI Digital Tire Pressure Gauge
The AstroAI digital tire pressure gauge is one of the highest-rated and most affordable digital pressure gauges on the market. This unit retails at around $10 and functions reliably and accurately.
This model is more advanced than dollar store calculator gauges—but not too advanced for the average car owner to use. It has a simple backlit LED screen that clearly displays the tire pressure in the unit of your choice.
And speaking of units—you have many to choose from. While PSI and KPA are the most common, you can also choose to measure tire pressure in BAR or Kgf/cm2. This is useful for international travel where pressure isn’t commonly measured in either unit.
This tire pressure gauge has a battery-saving feature that many others lack. It automatically shuts off about 30 to 40 seconds after use, so you don’t have to worry as much about reaching into the glove box and finding a dead meter.
For the price, the AstroAI digital tire pressure gauge is an excellent value and perhaps the best inexpensive digital unit on the market. It’s available in silver, red, and blue and measures just eight inches tall and just above an inch wide.
2. JACO ElitePro Digital Tire Pressure Gauge
But what if you work in the automotive industry, or if you just need something a bit more robust than a $10 tire pressure gauge? You’re in luck—because JACO produces a rugged digital tire pressure gauge that’s designed for professional use and pressures up to 200 PSI.
The JACO ElitePro digital tire pressure gauge is dimensionally similar to high-quality professional analog gauges—but features an easy-to-read and accurate, backlit digital display instead. Additionally, this unit is calibrated to ANSI 2A standards, and it’s fit for professional use.
And for the price, it’s a steal—the JACO ElitePro digital tire pressure gauge usually retails for just under $30. That’s an excellent deal for a professional automotive gauge that uses brass hardware and real lined pressure hoses.
This gauge is certified to ±0.50% FS or ± about one pound of pressure. The digital components are kept safe in a strong rubberized housing, which is scored for easy gripping in oily environments. This unit can survive being dropped, tossed around, and left outside for some time.
The Jaco ElitePro digital tire pressure gauge truly is a professional product that’s perfect for truckers, mechanics, and drivers who value durable construction and accurate tire pressure readings.
About The Author
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding