There is a little light that goes on every once in a while.  I swear it is there just to annoy me. But, it is not. It is an image of the cross-section of a tire with a big exclamation mark in it. It tends to come on when the seasons change or the temperature outside changes drastically.  It is the TPMS, or tire pressure monitoring system, and it is the topic of today’s post.

Every car, light truck, and SUV made after 2007 has a TPMS. It is a system that monitors the air pressure in each tire on your vehicle. It sounds like a handy feature to have for your vehicle, but often it seems to be more of a bother. So, what does it do and why should you care.

You should care because the annoying light will stay on until all of the tires contain the correct amount of air pressure. The trouble is the TPMS may not tell you which tire is low. When I first encountered this, I thought, “Wow, that is a stupid design.” But later I realized why they may have done it this way. It makes you check every tire. Which is actually good.

Checking The Air

Be sure to read your vehicle owner’s manual for instructions on checking the tire pressure. You may be surprised at the proper air pressure for your tires. Be sure to check every tire and make sure it is filled to the correct PSI (pounds per square inch) of air. While you are doing this, it is a good time to inspect, visually, each tire for wear and any foreign objects like nails or screws.

After checking each tire and filling any that need air, see if the TPMS indicator light has turned off.  You may need to turn the vehicle off, and then back on to see if the indicator turns off.  If you know the air pressure is correct and the TPMS indicator light stays on, you should take the vehicle to a tire shop or mechanic.  Sometimes the TPMS sensors in the wheels go bad and need to be replaced.  Some run on batteries and need new batteries. Some are prone to mechanical failure.  In any case, have them replaced as necessary.

Often I neglect my tires, and that is just dumb. Tires are extremely important. Having the proper amount of air (pressure) is critical, not only for good gas mileage but for safety.

Why do we have TPMS?

It used to be that only luxury cars, Porsches, and Corvettes had TPMSs. Not anymore. Back in the late 1990s, Firestone recalled tires that caused over 100 deaths. These tires exploded when underinflated and under certain driving conditions. Because of this, the United States Congress passed the TREAD Act that made TPMSs mandatory. This is actually a good thing, as improper tire pressure can lead to some nasty problems, not to mention exploding tires.

Benefits of TPMS

Some of the benefits of properly inflated tires (thanks to TPMS indicators) is improved braking distances, lateral stability, better gas mileage, increased tire life, better handling, less likelihood of blowouts, improved safety, and less downtime due to changing tires less often.

So next time that light goes on, and it will (even good, normal tires mounted perfectly will lose air over time), be happy you have a warning that could help you save money, or even save your life!

Written by Gary Pradel