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TPMS Light On? Here Is What It Means and How to Fix It

Did your TPMS light suddenly turn on? What problems does it indicate?

We all hate it when a warning light flashes on our dashboard. It's often a headache-inducing issue that results in an unwanted trip to the mechanic.

Well, thankfully, the TPMS light turning on doesn't always lead to such a trip. Here's all you need to know about the TPMS warning light, but first a brief introduction to the system that uses it.

What Are TPMS Tire Sensors and How Do They Function?

The TPMS or tire pressure monitoring system is a vehicle part that has been mandatory on new US vehicles since 2008. This system alerts drivers of air pressure changes occurring in the tire. In other words, the TPMS warning light blinks when tire pressure drops during the vehicle's performance.

This is an electronic system consisting of sensors and a monitor. The TPMS sensors are placed on the rim and read the tire pressure levels instead of the tire pressure gauge. The information they collect is then transmitted to the vehicle's dashboard, where the monitor is visible.

When the TPMS sensors detect PSI loss, they send the air pressure low signal to the monitor and the TPMS warning lights lit up. The loss of pressure can happen due to a faulty valve stem or tire damage, as such a puncture or cut, but the tire will need to be reinflated before it goes flat.

All You Need to Know About the Tire Pressure Sensor Light

The TPMS warning light is located on the vehicle's dashboard, and it should only light up when tire pressures are incorrect. This helps to improve driving safety as it ensures the tires are always at the recommended tire pressure levels.

When air pressure is too low, the vehicle's driving conditions become unsafe. Warning lights flare up on the dashboard, indicating that the tires and their pressure should be checked.

TPMS light

Usually when the TPMS light flashes it shows that you need to inflate one or more tires. However, the problem is that the tire pressure warning lights up only when PSI levels are dangerously low. They usually send the warning when the tires are at least 25% below the correct pressure levels.

On the other hand, when it comes to an accurate reading of PSI, the TPMS light of cars is more reliable. But, we'll talk about that more later.

What to Do when the Low Tire Pressure Symbol Illuminates?

When the tire pressure low signal catches your eye, whether you just started the engine or have been on the road for a while, it is important to stop and check the tires' air pressure levels.

If you do not own a tire pressure gauge or an inflator, visiting a gas or service station will be your best bet. You can check the recommended pressure levels on the car's driver-side door or in its manual.

Inflating the tires should turn off the tire pressure warming light on the dashboard.

The Reason for Your Tire Pressure Light Blinking

A flashing TPMS light is never a good sign. However, it does not automatically indicate a major problem. When the tire pressure warning is blinking on and off, there are a few issues that might be the culprit.

The reasons can be the TPMS battery might be nearing the end of its lifespan or one of the sensors becoming faulty. It is important to schedule a service appointment with a mechanic to have the issue checked out and fixed as soon as possible.

Dangers of Driving with the TPMS Light On

When the TPMS warning light is on tires are below the recommended pressure levels. Driving on them in such a state will lead to a number of unwanted and possibly dangerous consequences.

Firstly, underinflates tires place more pressure on their shoulder areas. Due to this, the tread on those tread areas will be accelerated. This results in irregular wear formations, causing the tire's shortened lifespan.

Secondly, underinflation creates a larger road contact patch which increases rolling resistance. In other words, it will take more energy for the vehicle to keep the tires in motion. More energy equals more fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, ruining the vehicle's fuel economy and intensifying its carbon footprint. Neither outcomes are positive.

Dangers of low air pressure levels

Driving on tires under their recommended tire pressure makes them more prone to damage. Road hazards, potholes, and tire blow-out are just some of the outcomes you can prevent by properly inflating your tires. Therefore, when the TPMS light on car flashes, inspect the tire's pressure levels as soon as you can.

Now the question remains: how long can you drive with low tire pressure?

Well, the safest course of action would be to not drive the vehicle until you fix the low air pressure problem. However, often that is not possible without driving to a nearby tire shop. In those cases, just be sure to keep the drive as short as possible.

All in all, a short time or distance will not damage the tires, but anything more than that can lead to more dangerous consequences.

This Is How You Fix a Low Tire Pressure Light

Sometimes the TPMS light can stay on even after you've added air pressure to the tires. In such cases, it needs to be reset.

How to reset tire pressure sensor, if you do not wish to take your vehicle to a shop to do it?

Our first recommendation is to drive the vehicle a bit at 50 mph, for 10 minutes. This should help reset the tire pressure monitoring system sensors. You can also try to start the vehicle and run it for 20 minutes to reset the sensors. Lastly, turn the key towards "on" while the vehicle is off and hold the TPMS reset button (usually located under the steering wheel) until it blinks three times and release it.

If the sensors still don't reset after these attempts, you will have to visit a tire shop or garage.

TPMS Car Sensors vs. Regular Tire Pressure Checks

How to check tire pressure levels is a question that still remains.

Well, the answer is not that straightforward. Newer vehicles with more advanced tire pressure monitoring systems will be able to tell you the pressure levels inside the tires at any given time. However, that is not the case for all TPMS models.

In older vehicle models only the warning light will give an indication of low PSI levels, but it will not provide drivers with correct measurements. That is when a tire gauge is needed.

A tire gauge is a tool we can use to manually measure air pressure levels inside a tire. These tools are usually used by unscrewing the valve stem's cap and placing the measuring end on the valve stem. The measurements can be read on the tire gauge as a result.

Tire pressure gauges also come in handy when the temperature is frequently changing. Such cases (when nights are cold, but days are still warm) can mess with the tire pressure monitoring system, as it will turn on and off.

TPMS Car Sensors vs. Regular Tire Pressure Checks

What Does Low Tire Pressure Mean When Driving?

When the warning light flashes during the drive, it can be the result of rim-, tire-, or valve stem-related issues. However, generally it means that air pressure loss occured in the tire. This needs to be remedied as bigger problems regarding tire pressure will have you taking out the spare or replacement tire from the trunk.

The TPMS light does not mean the tire is no longer usable, but using underinflated tires for longer periods of time can lead to unwanted outcomes. This is even without mentioning the tire having to compromise safety for handling, as its controllability is compromised.

Flat tire - low pressure

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is My Tire Pressure Light On?

When the tire pressure light turns on, it is usually because the tires are underinflated. The TPMS is programmed to measure air pressure levels in the tire. When the pressure drops to 25% below the recommended levels, the light will flash. This means the tires need to be checked and inflated.

What Tire Pressure is Too Low?

Tire pressure levels are considered to be low when they reach 20 PSI. Anything below this measurement is considered to be a flat tire. While it depends on the tire size and vehicle type, typically the recommended PSI range for passenger vehicles is between 32-35 PSI.

Where is the TPMS Sensor Located?

The TPMS sensor is located inside the tire, attached to the rim's inner area. It is a small cylinder on the rim, which becomes visible only when the tire is dismounted from the wheel. This tire sensor transmits the pressure levels to the monitor located inside the car.