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For most of us, starting our cars in the morning is a stress-free task. The car’s dash lights up with warning symbols and thrashing gauges, but after a moment it all calms down. Sometimes, though, one of those little, inconsequential-looking lights in the gauge cluster stays on, indicating that something is wrong. 

Now, if you’re driving an early-2000s Audi or an Italian car from, well, ever, you’ll be accustomed to the anxiety that comes from watching all of the little lights turn off. But if you’re literally anybody else, a warning light can feel like a big deal. One of them, the tire pressure monitoring system, is there to alert you to the fact that your tires need attention.

What does that mean? Is it safe to drive your car after the light comes on? As it turns out, there’s good news and bad news when it comes to tire pressure lights, so come along with The Drive and let’s dig in to find out what’s going on when you see the warning. 

What is the TPMS Light? 

Your vehicle’s tire pressure monitoring system, or TPMS, is a type of sensor system that helps you determine when one or more of your tires are either over or underinflated. Automakers have a few options at their disposal in terms of the types of sensors used, but the general purpose is the same regardless. 

The TPMS light is one of those wonderful warning lights that occasionally illuminate your car’s gauge cluster and ruins your day. The good news is that, unlike the other, more serious warning lights, the TPMS light doesn’t always mean a trip to the mechanic. 

What Does a TPMS Warning Light Mean?

Seeing that dumb little light with an exclamation point staring back at you can mean a few things. In many cases, it’s as benign as temperature changes causing a shift in the tires’ air pressure. In more serious cases, the tire has lost pressure due to a puncture or other damage. Overinflating your tires can also set off the sensor and cause the light to go off.

Is It Safe To Drive With TPMS Light On? 

We’ll risk sounding like Debbie Downer here to tell you no. It’s not safe to drive around with your TPMS light illuminated. Without a tire inspection, there’s no way of knowing how quickly air is leaving your tire, or for how long it has been over or underinflated. The best course of action is to use a tire pressure gauge to check the current inflation level of each tire. 

If the light comes on while you’re driving, slow down and get to the nearest gas or service station to inspect the tire. 

How Do You Fix a TPMS Warning Light?

“Fixing” a TPMS light can happen in one of a few ways. You can take the vehicle to a service station to fill the tire or release enough air to get it to the proper inflation level. How can you know what that level is, you might ask? Inside your vehicle’s driver-side door, there is a small white and yellow label that will tell you what the cold air temperature should be. In other words, you’re going to need to wait a bit for the tires to cool off to get an accurate reading. 

Do not inflate your tires to the level listed on the tires’ sidewall, as that number represents the maximum inflation level that a tire can withstand. Filling to that level will cause you to experience a bumpy ride and could lead to a blowout.

How Do You Know If You Have A Bad TPMS Sensor? 

It’s normal for a TPMS light to show up and then disappear, especially in parts of the country that have cool mornings and warm afternoons. The sign that should cause you to worry about your TPMS sensors is when the light blinks rapidly and does not stay solid or go away. This indicates that one or more sensors are bad, or that the system itself is malfunctioning in some way.

Get Help With Repairing a Bad TPMS Sensor From a Mechanic On JustAnswer  

The Drive recognizes that while our How-To guides are detailed and easily followed, a rusty bolt, an engine component not in the correct position, or oil leaking everywhere can derail a project. That’s why we’ve partnered with JustAnswer, which connects you to certified mechanics around the globe, to get you through even the toughest jobs. 

So if you have a question or are stuck, click here and talk to a mechanic near you. 

Pro Tips To Fix TPMS

The Drive’s editors have made nearly every mistake in the book when it comes to tire pressure monitoring systems and tires. Here’s what we’ve learned over the years.

  • Pay attention to the light itself. Is it blinking or is it solid? Did it come on while you were driving, or was there a major shift in air temperature recently? It’s important to understand what you’re looking at.
  • Don’t eyeball your tire pressures. It’s awfully tempting to just add some air to get the light to go off, especially if you don’t have a pressure gauge, but there’s no way you can know that you’ve inflated the tire to the proper levels. It can also cause you to have a blowout or poor ride quality if you’ve overinflated the tire.
  • We hope you trust your tire shop at least a little bit, but even if you trust them with your life, you should be asking about how the TPMS sensors were replaced or transferred during a tire replacement visit.
  • If you’re absolutely certain that you’ve inflated your tires to the proper level and that there is no physical damage to the tire itself, most vehicles offer the ability to reset the light from within the cabin. The exact process will depend on the type of vehicle you drive, but there’s usually some combination of pressing the trip-mileage reset button and turning the vehicle on and off.

Featured Products  

Autown Tire Repair Kit

Fix-A-Flat

Tymate Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Griffin Off-Road Tire Repair Kit

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: [email protected]

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