• Aug 4, 2010
Remember the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire debacle from a decade ago? Thousands of the 'utes rolled-over and much of the blame fell on insufficiently inflated tires, costing the Blue Oval billions of dollars to replace the tires on just about every Explorer still left on the road. The other fallout from Explorer-gate (or Firestone-gate) was institution of the Tire Pressure Monitoring System that's now a legal standard on every car and truck built since 2008.
TPMS sensors constantly measure the pressure in all four tires, and when one or more tires is more than 25 percent below the recommended amount, a light illuminates on the gauge cluster. Most of us know the light (on right) and if you do, you're among the 54 percent of drivers who know what it means. But more importantly, less than half of the population doesn't.

TPMS maker Schrader recently surveyed drivers to see if there were knowledgeable about all things TPMS, and the results had to be a bit disappointing. First, the good news: 96 percent of all drivers surveyed felt that under-inflated tires were a serious safety problem. Now the bad news: Only 44 percent of drivers polled regularly check their tire pressure. Furthermore, one third of drivers surveyed didn't know what TPMS was or what it was used for. Another 44 percent were unaware what the symbol was supposed to represent, while still another 14 percent thought the symbol identified a problem of the non-tire variety.

In order to combat some of the ignorance among motorists about one of its main products, Schrader has introduced its TPMS Made Simple website. While it's not exactly riveting stuff, the site is chock full of information about TPMS, including what to do when that (apparently) inscrutable warning light in your gauge cluster illuminates (Hint: check your tires) and the economic benefit of properly inflated rubber, including improved fuel economy and longer lasting tires. Head over to the site to become a TPMS expert.

[Sources: USA Today | TPMS Made Simple]


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  • 80 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      One third of all drivers may not have a tire pressure monitoring system on their vehicle.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I have 3 vehicles, '02, '03 and an '07 so I shouldn't know what it is but figured it out pretty easily. I'm sure my wife would have no idea if she saw it but may be able to figure it out too. From all the complaints I have seen about how they malfunction easily I don't look forward to my next new car with them. I would just as soon check my pressure regularly and not have another monitor to worry about. They seem pretty expensive to replace also instead of the plain old valve stem.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @ack154
        Lots of European manufacturers have had a "TPMS-lite" sort of system in years past, where the car compares wheel speed sensors on the same axle to see if one tire is turning slightly faster than the other (more inflation = rounder tire = has to turn more rpms to keep up with a flat tire). If the difference is too great, it throws a warning light on the dash because one tire is probably under inflated. The weakness to this system (and why everyone is switching to a mandatory sensor-in-tire system) is that if both tires on the same axle go flat, the warning light still won't come on. So as long as your tires are equally inflated on the same axle, you'll never see the warning light. :)
        • 4 Years Ago
        I would believe that.

        My car is a 2005 and it was the first I've owned with it - and it's not even a true TPMS - it uses the ABS sensors or some other sort of wheel speed sensor to measure it - not actual sensors in the wheels.

        I've never seen the light on - even when I fill them up to 40lbs for autox. :)
      • 4 Years Ago
      Freakin' low washer fluid.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Would be nice if the sensor systems were reliable. I've had two failures of TPMS systems that made the idiot light show up all the time. Pretty soon, you're just conditioned to ignore it which kind of defeats the purpose.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Call me when TPMS will show me the current pressures, maybe even temperatures of each tire.

      There are some of us who do know what is going on... and might like information on the fly, without having to get brake-dust all over our hands checking tires that could just as easily digitally report themselves to the dashboard.

      One little idiot light doesn't help people not be idiots anyway. So the system might as well offer the option of sophistication for those of us who know our cars.
        • 4 Years Ago
        On some vehicles it does. The '08 CTS that we have at work gives specific pressure readings for each tire. IIRC, the Malibu we have does too, but I could be off on that one. The only catch is that it registers each sensor with a specific location on the vehicle, and if you rotate them front to back, then it reads the actual rear pressures as front, and vice-versa.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Jeep already has this. It tells you the pressure on individual tires.
        • 4 Years Ago
        most higher end cars with the infotainment center (iDrive, MMI etc) can tell you which tire is low. I know my bimmer had it. I don't remember if it told me actual tire pressure, but I would assume that on the fly, that would be inaccurate as pressure would increase while you driving.
        • 4 Years Ago
        If the car has TPMS sensors and is reading them successfully, you could technically read the values, but not all cars have readouts to that effect. I guess it saves them a few bucks. Who knows...
        • 4 Years Ago
        Actually, the Wifey's G8 shows tire pressures at all 4 corners. Pretty neat little feature. The downside is that you have to reprogram the system when you rotate your tires, but it's not too difficult.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "...you're among the 54 percent of drivers who know what it means." I don't see how the inverse equals one third, unless there was a "decline to answer" on the survey, or if it was a percentage of a percentage.
      • 4 Years Ago
      #idiots
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is why I dislike using pictograms as warning lights. Unless you already know what they mean, some/many of them are hard to decipher. Given that many cars now have at least some sort of driver information display in the cluster, I wonder if it wouldn't be better just to have a couple generic warning lights on the gauge face(s) and print the actual fault condition on the information display. Have a red warning light for critical faults, and an amber one for non-immediate faults. ex. if oil pressure drops too low, put on the red warning light and print "OIL PRESSURE LOW" in the info display.

      Languages shouldn't be an issue since the vehicles usually already support whatever languages required for their intended markets.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Had the customer gone to the stealer and had the winter air removed from their tires and installed the summer air, this problem would not have happened.
        • 4 Years Ago
        LMAO!!!!
        • 4 Years Ago
        Air? It's 2010! Don't you know you should be filling your tires with nitrogen? You're a car luddite!!!
        • 4 Years Ago
        No way, man. Ever since I started putting synthetic air in my tires, I've never had the light come on again. Everyone knows that.
      • 4 Years Ago
      According to the wifey it's some sort of temperature warning. She thought the squigglies at the bottom were some sort of fluid instead of tire tread.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It's the 'Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tube Man' light! Duh.
      • 4 Years Ago
      You know, like most autoblog readers/other people I never owned a car new enough to have a TMPS. And as such I check my tire pressure the old fashioned way, by seeing if the tire is bulging out the bottom in an unnatural way, also because of this I don't use a pressure gauge unless I want to see if my eyes are playing tricks on me or while I am filling the tire to make sure I am getting the psi right. TMPS pfft.
      fatppldropkick
      • 4 Years Ago
      I had a rental Impala that told you exact pressures. This was the basest base model, so it's not that fancy of a feature.
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