Your TPMS: What It Does And What It Means

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If you have a newer car with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System, or TPMS, then you may be wondering what it means when that dashboard light illuminates. While warning lights are designed to do just that, warn you of an impending problem, it doesn't always mean that something is wrong with the tires in this case. Here is more information about your TPMS and what the warning light on your dashboard may indicate.

How Does the TPMS Work?

The TPMS is a series of sensors on each wheel near the valve which are connected to your car's computer system. Its duty is to monitor your tires' pressure and warn you if there is a significant loss of pressure. For most cars, the warning is in the form of a dashboard light shaped like a cross section of a tire with an exclamation point. In some cars, you may also be able to see the exact pressure on each tire.

What Do the Warning Signs Mean?

If your tire pressure is low in one or more tires, then the tire pressure symbol on the dashboard will come on and stay on. This will also happen if you are using the spare tire because that tire has no sensor and the system reads it as a tire problem. However, if there's something wrong with the system itself, then the light will flash for at least a minute and then stay on. Sometimes the system will reset itself on its own, but at other times, you may need to see a mechanic.

When Should the TPMS Batteries Be Replaced?

If your TPMS is repeatedly indicating a system problem, then it may be a sign that the battery in one of the sensors, or the entire sensor itself, needs replacing. For most cars, this is usually after about five to seven years. Most tire shops and mechanics who sell replacement tires should have a supply of sensors available.

What Is the Best Way to Monitor Tire Pressure?

Always carry a regular tire pressure gauge in your vehicle and use it at regular intervals. Any time your TPMS warning light comes on, check your tire pressure with your gauge. You should also use your tire gauge whenever you are filling your tires with air. The TPMS should not be relied on for all tire pressure needs.

Never take your tire pressure for granted, and if you think there is a chance that your tires are underinflated, then check them with a regular tire gauge. If there isn't anything actually wrong with the tire, then the sensors may need to be replaced. If you are having problems with your TPMS, then you should take it in to an auto repair shop to have it checked out.