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Tire Pressure Monitoring System: All You Need To Know

Do you know what a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) alert is, and can you recognize it when it appears on your vehicle dashboard?

You’re getting a TPMS alert when you start your car to the symbol pictured above light up on your dashboard. Many people — and it’s totally OK if you’re one of them, we’re here to educate you! — don’t recognize the warning light: A study by Schrader International found that 42 percent of drivers are unable to identify the low-tire-pressure warning light on their dashboard.

Roughly the same percentage of those polled admitted to rarely checking the tire pressure. This leads us to the question: If people aren’t able to identify the light, and don’t often check tire pressure, how many people are on the roads unaware of a potentially serious safety issue?


What Is TPMS?

TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System, an electronic system designed to monitor your tire pressure. It checks your tire pressure in real-time and may ignite a TPMS alert on your dashboard when it detects significantly under-inflated tire/tires, which is usually 25% under the manufacturer's recommended tire pressure. All vehicles manufactured after 2007 are mandatory to install a TPMS system for safety concerns.

However, as TPMS the system might malfunction, it’s important to check your tire pressure with a tire pressure gauge before jumping onto a conclusion. TPMS will never replace the manual tire pressure check. For more about tire pressure, how to check tire pressure, and what might the tire pressure affect, please check our article: 6 Things You Need to Know About Tire Pressure

Tire pressure monitoring system


Why Does A TPMS Light Come On?

A TPMS light will come on when one or more of your tires are at a low-pressure level (25% below the recommended psi). When the light remains illuminated, you’ll want to immediately check your tires and address the issue. Find a gas station to check your tire pressure, or go to the nearest mechanic for quick service. 

If you see the TPMS on and off while driving, your tire pressure probably is at the edge of the low-pressure level. As the temperature caused by friction will affect your tire pressure, the TPMS will read a low tire pressure when the tires are cold and a high psi when they are hot. 

If you see a flashing TPMS light when you start your engine, it means that the TPMS system is not working properly. You should check it out at a dealer shop as it will not be checking your tire pressure until the system is fixed. Check your tire pressure with a gauge to make sure that the tires are in good condition.

TPMS light


Is It Safe To Drive With The TPMS Light On?

NO, it’s not safe to drive with the TPMS light on. An over or under-inflated tire may lead to sluggish tire response, higher heat buildup, and heavy wear-and-tear on tires, greatly increasing your risk. Actually, a tire deflated 25% doesn’t look much different, but the safety score is much lower and may cause serious problems.

NHTSA estimates one-in-four cars have at least one significantly underinflated tire and driving on underinflated tires increases a driver's chance of being in a serious accident by 300%. 

So when you see a TPMS light, go check your tire pressure at the nearest gas station, or take the vehicle to a mechanic for a thorough inspection.

Depending on the make and model of your car, the system will not tell you which tire is underinflated, by how much, or for how long — which means you’ll need to take extra steps to make sure your tires are properly inflated, preventing flat tires or potential car crashes.

tire pressure monitoring system


Direct and Indirect TPMS

If your car was manufactured after 2006, your vehicle will have either basic (indirect) or direct TPMS installed as required.

What is Indirect TPMS?

Indirect TPMS is the form of TPMS found in most non-luxury vehicles. It is able to give a driver a basic alert when a tire has lost pressure. 

Indirect TPMS uses a vehicle's Anti Lock Braking System’s (ABS) wheel speed sensors to compare the rotational speed of one tire versus the others. If a tire is low on pressure, it will roll at a different number of revolutions per mile than the other three and alert the vehicle's onboard computer. 

Indirect systems are unable to generate accurate readings and might not alert you in cases where all four tires are losing pressure at the same rate, such as the effects of time and temperature.

They are also unable to detect slow leaks. This means a driver is likely only alerted when the tire is flat, leaving a driver no other option than to change the tire or call a roadside assistance company to change it for them.

indirect tpms

What is Direct TPMS?

Direct TPMS is more common in luxury vehicles and rarely comes in standard. In a car with direct TPMS, tire pressure sensors/transmitters are attached to the vehicle's wheels. An in-vehicle receiver warns the driver if the pressure in any tire falls below a predetermined level, usually, 25% below the vehicle’s placard. Direct TPMS systems are typically more accurate and reliable and most are able to indicate which tire is under-inflated.  The reading could be accurate to less than 1 psi.

However, according to tire mechanics, tire maintenance with direct TPMS may cost more, as the TPMS sensors and the direct TPMS system will require extra labor and testing to keep a good condition.

direct tpms


How To Check The TPMS System?

When the TPMS light is on or flashing, the reason might be numerous other than an over or under-inflated tire. The problem might be that there is something wrong with the TPMS system itself. Some possible reasons are:

  1. The TPMS system electric supply, wires connected or the internal parts may be malfunctioning

  2. The sensors are out of battery, broken, or not well placed after changing tires for direct TPMS

  3. For indirect TPMS, the changed tire may not work properly along with other tires and the system is not functioning correctly, or need a learning process as the calculation starts again

    If you check your tire pressure and the readings are all in good condition, you can go and let someone with advanced knowledge check the Tire Pressure Monitoring System itself. Pay special attention to the tire changing process as the TPMS is probably the thing you ignore when changing tires. Read in detail about your TPMS in the owner’s manual and ask the professionals to check the TPMS if you see a flashing light.

    For how to read tire pressure and what’s the recommended tire pressure, please feel free to check the article: 6 Things You Need to Know About Tire Pressure

    tire pressure monitoring system



    TPMS is an essential part of a vehicle that helps you to drive safely, and it’s important to check the tire pressure and the TPMS system itself when you see a TPMS light. Also, don’t forget to check the tire pressure regularly with a gauge, as it’s more accurate and the proper tire pressure may change with the weather.

    One of the easiest ways to always have a read on your tire health is to quickly install a Tire Safety Monitor. Unlike direct or indirect TPMS systems, this smart tire monitor will detect slow leaks — aka the types of leaks that sneak up on you and lead to disaster — and keep you up to date on the precise PSI of all four tires.

    Why ZUS?

    • Easy to use and install
    • Could be carried and used for different vehicles, especially when you rent cars
    • Read real-time tire pressure
    • Keep you away from the “remember to check tire pressure” hassle
    • Alert slow leaks which could not be detected by normal TPMS
    • Keep you and your family safe on the road
    • Track individual tire history
    • Upgrade your old car and make it safe & smart

    Please feel free to check our award-winning Smart Tire Safety Monitor.

    Tire pressure monitoring system


    Please feel free to leave a comment below related to tire pressure and TPMS. We would love to provide you with more information and help more drivers drive safe on the road.



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