Should vehicle owners be alarmed when the tire pressure sensor fault light starts to flash? Is it something serious that you need to attend to? What does it mean to see a warning saying a tire pressure sensor fault?
There are instances when you will see “tire pressure sensor fault” flashing on your dashboard. If that happens, note that it could indicate that the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) found a problem with the tires. It could be that the tires are over or underinflated, leading to tire damage, or worse, serious accidents later.
Read on to learn more about the tire pressure sensor fault light and what you can do to fix them. That way, you can avoid problems later.
Causes of the Tire Pressure Sensor Fault Warning
Aside from the obvious, there are other reasons behind the TPMS error message flashing on your dashboard. The most common ones include the following:
1. Faulty Tire Pressure Sensors
This is the most common and obvious reason why the TPMS error message shows up on your dashboard. Tire pressure monitors wirelessly transmit their data to the computer in your dashboard. This means that it needs to run on batteries. And although these batteries take a long time to run out of juice, they do run dry eventually.
Unfortunately, you cannot just replace the batteries. You will need to change out the entire tire pressure sensor. Tire pressure sensors have batteries soldered onto their boards for additional durability.
2. Tire Pressure Sensor Reset
There are times when the tire pressure control module and the sensors lose their connection. In most cases, it is due to the sensors resetting accidentally. You will need to reprogram the sensors to connect again to the module when this happens. It is also advisable to take it back to the dealership so a technician can do it for you.
3. Wheel Replacement
Another reason is living somewhere where you have different tires for winter and the entire year. It could cause an error message to appear. The different sets of tires might not have pressure sensors in them. The module will not have anything to feed them information.
Meanwhile, if the other set of wheels does come with sensors, you may need to reset and reprogram them. That way, they can connect with the onboard module. You can do this easily using an affordable TPMS reset tool.
What Is the Tire Pressure Sensor?
A “tire pressure sensor fault” message flashing across your instrument panel means there is an issue with your car’s TPMS. This stands for your car’s tire pressure monitoring system.
TPMS Has Air Pressure Sensors Inside Each Tire
In the US, the law requires all vehicles manufactured after 2007 to come with a mandatory TPMS. This system consists of air pressure sensors mounted inside each tire. These sensors would then relay the information they collect, in real-time, to the driver via the instrumentation panel.
Almost all cars nowadays use tubeless tires. Their edges come sealed to the rims to provide an airtight seal. Pressurized air fills the inner core, and each tire will need different air pressure.
This depends on the regular load that the car will be carrying and the driving conditions. You can find the typical tire pressure requirements written on a small metal plaque mounted on the outer edge of the driver’s door.
TPMS With ABS Sensors
There is another TPMS that does not require air pressure sensors. It uses ABS sensors instead. If your tires have low air pressure, the diameter of the wheel will compress a bit.
It needs to spin faster to reach the same speed as the rest of the car. If one wheel spins higher than the rest, the TPMS will error. It is what will flash on your instrument panel.
Problem With ABS Sensors
The problem with this kind of TPMS system is that you will not be getting real-time readings immediately. You have to drive a certain distance to get a usable reading from the ABS. Moreover, you will only be getting a rough estimate of the tire pressure and not an accurate reading.
Location of Tire Pressure Sensors
Typically, the tire pressure sensor is on the inner side of the rim. You can see it right at the base of the tire valve stem. You can often tell if a tire comes with a tire pressure monitor if a nut surrounds the base of the valve stem.
Symptoms of a Bad Tire Pressure Sensor
Since tire pressure sensors are mounted inside the tires, figuring out if they are faulty or not can be tricky. However, some signs point towards the possibility that your tire pressure sensors are faulty:
1. Flashing Check Engine Light
The last thing that every car owner wants to see is the check engine light flashing. However, when this symbol lights up, it is not necessarily connected to the engine all the time. There are many reasons why the check engine light would appear – one of which is a faulty pressure sensor.
That said, you should not just have your engine checked out by a professional mechanic. Let the mechanic check the tires out first, too. It might just be as simple as replacing one or two tire pressure sensors. If that is the case, you will only be paying a very nominal fee.
2. Decreased Fuel Economy
Do you feel like you are taking one or two more trips to the pump than you usually do? The reason might be that one or more of your tires are underinflated. You may be unaware of this because the tire pressure sensors are not working properly, if at all.
For instance, an underinflated tire will not roll over the pavement as easily as a properly inflated one. This will force the engine to work harder to make the wheels spin.
3. Uneven Tire Wear
The underinflated tires will not only make your car guzzle more gas than needed. It may also cause you to spend more money than usual. The reason is that you will need to replace your tires soon. Underinflated tires will wear down unevenly. Either the inner or outer edges of the tires are worn down considerably more than the other side.
This means that you will need to change the entire tire even though the rest is still quite thick, with one edge already worn down considerably.
4. Jerky Steering Wheel
The tires may get underinflated because the tire pressure sensors did not tell you to get them pumped up. If that happens, it could affect the steering of your car. When your tire has low air pressure, its sides will get softer.
It will then cause your car to tilt to the side. This can result in your steering wheel veering from one side to the other. In some cases, if you hit a particular speed, an underinflated tire would cause your car to wiggle.
5. Weird Noises Coming from the Wheel
If you have one underinflated tire, the flat spot will hit the pavement with an audible flop. The noise will not be that noticeable at first. However, as the tire loses air pressure over time, the noises will get louder.
If you leave this unattended, the noise would be the least of your worries. There is a chance that your tire will blow.
Again, what does the Tire Pressure Sensor Fault mean? When the Tire Pressure Sensor Fault flashes on your dashboard, this might mean that the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) sensed a tire problem, such as underinflated tires.
How to Fix the Tire Pressure Sensor Fault Issue
Most of the time, fixing the cause of the error message is pretty straightforward. You can even do most of them yourself. Here’s how:
1. Check the Tire Pressure Manually
If you receive a TPMS error message, get a tire gauge and measure each tire’s air pressure by hand. Make sure that every tire has the right air pressure. You can find the right tire pressure on the plaque under the driver’s door. After that, increase or decrease them as necessary.
2. Reset the TPMS System
Once the tires have the correct tire pressure, reset the module to eliminate the warning alert. In most cars, there is a button that you need to press. Others require the use of a diagnostic tool to reset the system. Some cars require you to drive them for around fifteen minutes to restart the TPMS system.
3. Use a Diagnostic Tool to Figure Out the Problem
Sometimes, even after inflating the tires to the correct pressure, the warning sign will still be flashing. In that case, use a diagnostic tool to figure out the exact error codes that you need to fix. There might be a communication issue with one of the tire pressure sensors, or it might be damaged or malfunctioning.
You need to purchase a decent diagnostic scanner. That way, you can get a detailed trouble code reporting on the problems with the TPMS module.
4. Reprogram the Sensors
There are times when the tire pressure sensors get disconnected from the control module. When this happens, you will need to reprogram them to reconnect adequately. You can do this by using a TPMS reset tool. You can buy it from any automotive parts store or online at a quite low price.
5. Replace the Malfunctioning Tire Pressure Sensors
Have you tried doing all of the other measures mentioned above, but the pesky warning message is still flashing? Then maybe one or more of the tire pressure sensors are already faulty and need replacement. Using a diagnostic tool, figure out which ones are broken sensors. Then, replace the broken ones.
You can typically have a tire shop unmount the tires and replace the sensors for you. They would also help restart and connect the sensors to your car’s control module as an added service.
Conclusion – Tire Pressure Sensor Fault Light
Do not panic when you suddenly see the words “tire pressure sensor fault” or something similar flash across your dashboard. Often, it just means that one or more of your tires are underinflated.
However, you should also not ignore this warning. It is still advisable to have your tire pressure checked as soon as possible. Many more severe problems can arise if you don’t take this warning message seriously.
Fortunately, fixing this error message is a simple task. Often, it is as simple as going to the gas station and inflating the tires to the right pressure. However, if the problem is a bit more serious, you should unmount the tires and replace the sensors.
Whatever you need to do, you need to do it as soon as possible. This is to prevent facing the consequences of driving with these errors.