Automotive Tips

The Effects of Altitude on Your Vehicle

Rob CurryOne of our Jiffy Lube® of Southern California owners/operators Rob Curry and his son, Bobby, completed a 10-day Mount Kilimanjaro hike this July. The climb equaled 384 flights of stairs, going from an elevation of 15,203 feet to 19,341 feet. Their amazing trek was even more rewarding because it helped raise more than $6,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA).

During their trip, Rob and Bobby dealt with all the challenges inherent with high altitudes. As a small honor to their effort, we want use this post to highlight some potential challenges your vehicle may face if you plan on driving to one of Southern California’s high altitude locations.

How Does Altitude Affect Your Car?

Unlike normal wear and tear that adds up over time, the effects of altitude on a vehicle happen the moment it starts to climb. Most of the time, today’s vehicles are equipped to handle these rises without difficulty. But altitude puts a serious strain on an engine, and it could make small issues grow into big problems.

Higher Altitude Means Less Power

Reduced oxygen in high altitudes can lead to inefficient, sluggish engine performance because there is less air to feed the internal combustion engine. Generally speaking, an engine loses three percent of its rated power for every 1,000 feet of altitude gained. This means you could lose as much as 20% of your vehicle’s horsepower if you drive it from sea level to Big Bear Lake (with its 6,750 elevation).

The Effects on Your Fuel System

Higher elevations mean engines need less octane in the fuel to properly start running. Some high elevation locations, like Colorado for instance, sell fuel with an octane rating as low as 85. If you put this lower octane in your vehicle and then drive to lower elevations, your check engine light may come on.

Tip: If you have just returned from a vacation in a high elevation, come to a local Jiffy Lube® for a Fuel System Service. We will flush the system, which will help it normalize.

The Effects on Your Tire Pressure

In cold, elevated climates, tire pressure will decrease. This can cause trouble in the forms of:

  • Lower fuel economy
  • Reduced steering precision
  • Uneven tire tread wear
  • Potential tire failure if the pressure falls beyond 6 psi of the manufacturer’s recommendation

To avoid these issues, check and adjust the pressure of your tires once you reach your destination. Also, check and adjust it again when you’ve finished your descent.

Tip: Our Tire Rotation Service will regulate your tire pressure to the manufacturer specifications.

Congratulations to Team Curry for Handling the Elements!

As this article shows, altitude can have a serious effect on a vehicle. It can also pose some serious challenges to a person’s physical well being. Everyone at Jiffy Lube® of Southern California is proud of Team Curry for the terrific climb.

Helping the MDA is the icing on the cake. The funds Rob and Bobby raised will help children and adults affected by life-threatening neuromuscular diseases that severely limit strength and mobility. Supporting the MDA is one of our favorite charitable causes. Many of our locations offer special MDA fundraiser events. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to find out if we are running a fundraising event near you.


* Not all locations provide the services discussed in this article. Please visit to find out if your location offers the services you want. From our Location Page, click on your preferred location to find the services it offers, available coupons, and local specials.

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