There are many important sensors that contribute to the better performance of your vehicle; the failure of one of these sensors can affect some components and cause the vehicle to drive poorly.
To notify drivers of the failure of some very important sensors, automakers represent those sensors with icons on the instrument cluster region of the car’s dashboard.
So, when any of these icons illuminates, it means the corresponding sensor is faulty or has failed. The Tire Pressure Sensor (TPMS) is one of the top important sensors in modern vehicles.
Now, if you’re facing a tire pressure sensor fault, this article explains the causes and how you can fix the issue yourself or a mechanic.
What is a Tire Pressure Sensor Fault, and What Does it Do?
Usually installed on the valve stems of car tires, a tire pressure sensor is a small computer unit that monitors tire pressure – hence, the name.
Tire Pressure Sensors, or simply TPMS, are installed in all modern vehicles manufactured since 2007. These sensors detect if the tires are underinflated, which means low pressure inside the tires, and report to the ECU/PCM.
The TPMS plays an important role in making your car drive optimally. TPMS would make it difficult for the car’s computer to know when you’re driving with underinflated tires, which can make the car feel unbalanced. Tire pressure monitoring sensors are powered by batteries, and they may fail due to quite several reasons.
Tire Pressure Sensor Fault Causes
You know the tire pressure sensor is faulty when you see a yellow exclamation sign placed inside a bracket “( ! ).”
When you see this icon on your vehicle’s instrument cluster, it means you should check on the TPMS. There are quite many reasons why the tire pressure sensor may go bad, and this includes the ones explained below.
1. Sensor Battery Problems
The TPMS is powered by a battery; this battery is basically built to supply power to the sensor module throughout the sensor’s lifetime.
However, the battery may get weak over time and start to discharge itself, which means the sensor won’t be powered at all times, and that can force the TMPS failure light to show on the dashboard.
2. Sensor Failure
If the battery isn’t the problem, maybe the sensor itself is bad. Vehicle sensors may stop working after some time – usually, after 80k miles or higher, which is the standard lifespan.
Also, chances are that the sensor is physically damaged, so you should check the sensor body for any possible physical scratches – especially if you got involved in an accident or collision recently.
3. Tire Change
Surprised that a tire change could cause TMPS failure? Yes, the sensor is installed in the wheel assembly – the wheel hub. So, it is available on every wheel of your vehicle.
If you work on a wheel or all the wheels – let’s say you have an alignment – chances are the mechanic may not have reinstalled the TMPS properly, or did some wrong installations that directly affected the TMPS.
If you started seeing the TPMS fault sign after changing your vehicle tire(s), have the mechanic recheck the sensor and probably reprogram it. In fact, some mechanics reset/reprogram the tire pressure sensor after working on a car’s wheel hub assembly.
4. Low Tire Pressure
As the name implies, the TPMS monitors the tire pressure levels and sends the information to the PCM or ECU system.
So, if you are running with deflated or underinflated tires, the ECU may throw up the TPMS sign on your dashboard. In some vehicles, if the reason is low tire pressure, the TPMS icon will appear with a “Low Tire Pressure” notification below.
5. Wiring Problems
Sensors are part of a car’s electrical system, which means they are wired and utilize electricity to function. The TPMS is installed in a hub – the TPMS assembly; there are other little components installed alongside, and they are wired.
If you recently worked on your car’s electrical system and then started seeing the TPMS sign on your dashboard, you should recheck the sensor’s wiring.
Symptoms of Tire Pressure Sensor Failure
When the TPMS fails, there are certain signs the car would exhibit; these are referred to as TPMS fault symptoms. Hence, when you start seeing these signs, you should have the TPMS checked for possible failure and replaced/fixed.
1. TPMS Icon Shows on Dashboard
This is quite an obvious sign; the moment the tire pressure sensor icon illuminates on the dashboard, apparently, the sensor is facing some issue or has failed completely. So, it is important to act accordingly to clear off the notification.
2. Uneven Tire Tread Wear
A failed TPMS will send incorrect signals to the PCM, which may force the car to drive in a mode that puts more pressure – or increase traction – on certain wheels; the added pressure or traction, if allowed to go on for a long time, may cause the tire’s tread to wear out faster than other tires.
3. The Steering Wheel Jerks
This may not be the case with all vehicles, but in some vehicles, you’d notice that the steering wheel jerks at irregular intervals or when you want to swerve/turn. The tire is because the car tires are not rotating with equal pressure levels due to a failed or faulty tire pressure sensor.
How to Fix TPMS Failure
The fix to adopt depends on the cause of the TPMS failure. If the sensor is physically damaged, you’d need to replace it entirely; also, if the sensor’s battery is the culprit, you may need to replace the entire assembly.
But then, if the issue is due to faulty wiring or underinflated tire(s), then you should redo the wiring and/or inflate the tire(s). These are the common fixes to TPMS failure; however, you have to troubleshoot the car to see if there are other underlying issues/DTCs that should be fixed too.
Furthermore, as hinted earlier, if the TPMS failure icon showed up after you had your car’s tires changed, you only need to reprogram the sensor, and the icon would clear off. In some vehicles, the TPMS has a “reset” button you can press to reset the sensor whenever it’s giving you issues.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the Tire Pressure Sensor Located?
The sensor is installed in the wheel hub area in every vehicle; it is usually installed in the valve stem. If your car has four wheels, it means that there are four tire pressure sensors installed in the car, and if there are more wheels, that means more TPMS.
Can You Drive With a Faulty TPMS?
Of course, you can. You can keep driving even after the TPMS icon comes up on the dashboard; the TPMS doesn’t have direct links with the engines, so it won’t stop the engine from running, which can’t stop your car from driving. You can drive with a bad tire pressure sensor, but it’s advisable to fix it as soon as possible.
How Long Do Tire Pressure Sensors Last?
Vehicle sensors are predicted to last up to 80,000 miles before wearing off or failing completely; the TPMS is alleged to last within this range. However, the sensor can last up to 10 years, depending on how often – and how long – you drive the car daily.