NMA Email Newsletter: Issue #75

Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has mandated that all cars and light trucks manufactured in 2008 or later be equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). An NMA member learned the hard way about the rigmarole that one has to go through to reset the TPMS when the low pressure indicator light illuminates and stays on. He wrote:

My 2009 Chevy van has that now-mandated tire pressure monitoring system. Today the system said, “right front tire pressure low” and it wouldn’t go out. None of the tires were obviously low. So I drove home, hooked up the air compressor and filled up the front right tire. After a minute or so, the system still showed a low tire, so I ran the compressor some more. Still low.

Time to open up the manual. It says “every time the tires are changed or rotated” you must retrain the system. When this happens, the transmitters inside the rims are moved to new locations, but the system doesn’t know this until it re-learns the location of each sensor.

How do you do that? Put the system into ‘learn mode’ by turning the key to ‘run’, setting the parking brake and then pressing the lock and unlock buttons at the same time on the remote until you see “learning tire sensors” on the display panel. (This procedure can lead to a lockout if you aren’t careful; fortunately I had the window down.) Then you have to add or release air in each tire for five seconds. The horn chirps once after each of the first three tires is adjusted, and twice after the fourth tire.

After doing that, it said the right rear tire was low. OK, I reconnected the air compressor, let it run for awhile, and finally, the sensor light went out. This time, the TPMS had identified the correct tire.

While the example here is for a specific Chevrolet model, it is important to realize that every vehicle manufacturer has a different method to reprogram their systems. Be sure to consult the vehicle owner’s manual for instructions if the low pressure warning lights up, or if you plan to rotate your tires. Scanning online for “[vehicle brand] tire pressure monitoring system” and checking out associated user forums might also provide some helpful advice.

Here is a site from AA1Car that provides general information about tire pressure monitoring systems. The Mitchell1 Tire Pressure Monitoring System Guide is the apparent bible of TPMS, but it comes with a hefty price tag. Whatever you do, be forewarned that resetting the system is not likely to be straight-forward or based on common sense. And try not to lock yourself out of your car in the process.

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