What is TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System)?


TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System. It’s a safety system built into your vehicle (or retrofitted) that monitors your tire pressure, and alerts you when the pressure in one or more tires falls to an unacceptable levels.

Why are underinflated tires such a big deal?

Underinflated tires are susceptible to a variety of problems, from mild (premature wear and increased fuel consumption) to major (tire failure, including tread separation and blowouts). According to Schrader, a leading manufacturer of tire pressure monitoring systems, underinflated tires wreak a staggering amount of havoc on our nation’s roads and highways, contributing to 250,000 crashes, 33,000 injuries, and 660 deaths every year.¹ TPMS can have a huge impact on these sobering statistics. The U.S. government believes that once all vehicles are equipped with TPMS, as many as 120 fatalities and 8,500 crash-related injuries could be prevented each year.²

History of TPMS

TPMS originated on European luxury cars in the 1980s; the first American car equipped with TPMS was the 1997 Chevrolet Corvette. TPMS got its big break in 2000, when the Clinton Administration enacted the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement Accountability and Documentation) Act. Among other transportation safety improvements, the TREAD Act mandated that every new car sold in the United States after September 2007 be equipped with TPMS.

How do I know if I have TPMS?

Most passenger cars and light trucks model year 2008 or newer have tire pressure monitoring systems. Some vehicle makes and models built before 2008 have TPMS. Check your vehicle owner's manual to confirm the presence of TPMS.

If your vehicle is TPMS-equipped, a warning light or other display will alert you when one or more of your tires falls substantially below its recommended pressure, as stated on the vehicle’s door jamb placard. Here are a few examples of these displays:

TPMS warning light symbols example two

There are also aftermarket TPMS systems, which usually have a display that mounts on the vehicle’s dashboard.

I have TPMS — do I still need to check my tire pressure?

Yes. Even with TPMS, it’s still important to check your tire pressure regularly because many systems won’t alert you until a tire is 25% or more below its recommended inflation pressure. Your vehicle's performance and handling, as well as tire wear, will already be compromised before losing 25% of tire psi and triggering the TPMS warning light. Therefore, the sooner you catch an underinflated tire and return it to the correct pressure, the better.

Think of TPMS as a safety/emergency warning system – not as a replacement for your own tire pressure monitoring practices.

(An increasing number of TPMS systems include the reporting of real-time tire psi readings to the vehicle's onboard computer. If your vehicle includes a digital display with psi readouts for all four tires, then your tire pressure monitoring task has been made a whole lot easier! Many aftermarket TPMS options also include real-time tire psi reporting.)

How do I get my TPMS serviced?

Where do I get TPMS service?

The TPMS system should be evaluated and serviced by certified technicians. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems are standard equipment on modern cars, so reputable tire shops have technicians specifically trained to evaluate and work with TPMS. Visit your local Tirebuyer installer if you need TPMS service.

How often do TPMS sensors need to be replaced?

TPMS sensors are designed to last for many years – 5-10 years is a likely lifespan. Given their cost, most drivers will be inclined to replace TPMS sensors on an “as needed” basis – in other words, only once their batteries have expired, or other TPMS components have failed. (Your vehicle's onboard computer should respond and provide warning of a TPMS problem or failure.)

TPMS problems that typically require sensor replacement include:

  • Dead TPMS sensor battery
  • TPMS sensor damage
  • TPMS sensor seals and/or gaskets are worn out
  • The TPMS sensor fails to transmit (many possible causes)
  • The TPMS valve caps and/or cores become seized

Replacing TPMS sensors

We recommend that you visit a Tirebuyer installer or a vehicle dealership for replacement sensors. Whatever the source, be sure you’re getting exact OE replacement sensors, or an equivalent aftermarket part, to avoid complication.

Note that some vehicles may require programming by the dealership to activate new TPMS sensors and sync them with the vehicle. Some vehicles adapt to the new sensors automatically after a period of driving, while others can be prompted to accept the new sensors with an onboard command – for example, a straightforward “reset TPMS” button on the dashboard, or within the onboard computer. Check the owner's manual or talk to your service center to understand the procedure for your vehicle.

Do you need new TPMS sensors when replacing tires?

No, not necessarily. TPMS sensors can definitely outlive a set of tires, sometimes many sets of tires, so it's perfectly fine to leave the same set installed with the wheels when fitting a new set of tires.

It’s a good idea to evaluate the TPMS sensors during a tire service. When you’re having new tires installed, ask the technician to check the TPMS sensors and system.

Rebuilding TPMS sensors

Servicing a vehicle’s TPMS requires special tools and training. In most cases, each wheel will have a TPMS sensor attached to the valve stem where the air is added. Between this stem and the wheel is a rubber grommet that seals the air inside the tire and protects the sensor from the elements.

Servicing a vehicle’s TPMS requires special tools and training. In most cases, each wheel will have a TPMS sensor attached to the valve stem where the air is added. Between this stem and the wheel is a rubber grommet that seals the air inside the tire and protects the sensor from the elements.

Just like the rubber valve stem that was replaced at every tire change for years because the weather and other elements caused wear, the rubber grommet needs to be replaced, along with the nut that holds the stem and the nickel-plated valve core in the stem.

Moisture and corrosion eat away at the stem, which is why the caps have moisture seals to protect the internal components. To make sure you don’t create a leak when replacing the tires, all these components should be replaced (or in tire lingo, the TPMS sensor needs to be rebuilt). Your installer will generally charge a small additional fee for performing this service.

Depending upon the generation and type of TPMS, there may also be a small extra cost involved when rotating tires because some vehicles require “relearning” of the position of each sensor after the tires have been moved. Each vehicle make and model has its own unique relearning procedure, so it takes special knowledge, equipment, and time for the technician to ensure that the system is working properly.

The final word on TPMS

Tires are fundamental to your vehicle's performance and safety, and maintaining proper tire pressure is fundamental to tire performance.

TPMS provides compelling benefits in the form of safety and long-term savings. We believe that the benefits of TPMS far outweigh the cost. If your vehicle is equipped with TPMS, keeping the system in good working order is a must. If your vehicle is not equipped with an OE TPMS system, then an aftermarket system is absolutely worth considering.

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