The Little Warning Light That May Save Your Life

March 20th, 2020 by

A closeup is shown of the Tire Pressure Sensor on a driver information cluster.

Today’s cars have a myriad of signals, lights, and gauges that provide plenty of real-time information to their drivers. However, many of them can be quite confusing. One of these is the TPS, for tire pressure system. You’ve probably had it happen where you wake up one cold morning, get in your car to go to work, start the engine, and then see a little yellow light that looks like a letter U with an exclamation point inside it pop up. This is the dreaded TPS. So you see the Tire Pressure Warning Light––what to do? Whatever you do, do not ignore the tire pressure warning light, because it just may save your life. We here at McCluskey Chevrolet know the importance of a car’s tires, not just to extend the life of your vehicle’s tires but also to ensure you get the safest ride possible. We know from experience that riding on tires that are not properly maintained can not only hamper your enjoyment of your car but can also lead to other problems with your vehicle. If you are looking for new tires in Cincinnati, then come into our tire shop today. If you are just in need of a quick repair to an existing tire, we can do that as well as check the tread of your tires to see when you will need a new pair.

What is a TPS?

TPS stands for tire pressure system, and it is your vehicle’s way of checking to make sure your tires have the proper level of inflation. Automobile manufacturers also sometimes refer it to as TPMS for tire pressure monitoring system. Tire pressure is measured in psi, which stands for pounds per square inch. If you look on the inside well of your driver’s side door, you will see a chart listing the recommended tire pressure for your vehicle’s tires. This is not there for decoration and is crucial information for your safety. Also, do not assume that all tires have the same pressure level. My friend’s Honda Pilot’s tires require 32 psi, while the tires on my coworker’s Tesla Model S require 40 psi. The TPS uses pressure monitoring sensors within each tire that monitors the specific pressure levels for that tire. Some systems even provide tire temperature readings. This system is a key part of your vehicle’s safety system.

The first TPS systems simply told you if at least one tire was underinflated. The TPS light would come on, and then you’d have to walk around with a gauge checking each tire until you found the culprit. Newer systems will often indicate which tire has the issue, by putting an extra light next to the TPS light. If it is on the left bottom of the TPS light, it means the driver’s side rear tire. If it is on the upper right of the TPS light, it means the front passenger tire has low pressure. Some advanced systems even provide real-time tire pressure information, so you can click a button, and an image of your car with all four tires and pressures listed will appear on your dashboard display or vehicle’s infotainment system. My vehicle has this feature, and I am in the habit of checking it each day before leaving for my drive to the office.

Before the advent of the TPS, drivers had to have manual tire pressure gauges, which they used to periodically check the pressure in their vehicle’s tires. This was a timely procedure that also meant getting your hands dirty. Anyone who has ever had to put air in their tires will know exactly what I mean. Also, since it was something you had to do yourself, most drivers neglected this task, putting it off until they had a general service call like an oil change. As a result, there were many accidents caused by underinflated tires that could have been avoided had the drivers been more diligent in checking their tire pressure.

In addition, people who live in temperate climates are more susceptible to tire pressure changes, since hot air and cold air can affect the pressure. As we move from winter to spring and into summer, the pressure inside our tires will increase as the heat increases. This means that you may have to actually let a little bit of air out of your tires so that they do not become overinflated. Conversely, as we move from summer to autumn and into winter, the air temperature drops, reducing the pressure in our tires. In this situation, we will have to make sure to add air to the tires as necessary. This is also why your TPS light often comes on when you get up on cold winter mornings.

What Does a TPS Light Mean?

A closeup is shown of a hand checking the pressure of their tires in Cincinnati.

The drop in air pressure in your tire triggers the sensor in the TPS. This then sends a signal to light up the TPS light on your dashboard. However, there can be a number of reasons why this occurred. First, it could be a seasonal loss of pressure. As I pointed out above, as the days grow shorter and the air gets colder, the pressure in your tire decreases. If it is a seasonal decrease, then you will probably see all four tires with lower than normal pressure.

A second reason is that one of your tires may have a puncture. For some reason, my neighborhood has more than its fair share of nails and screws littering the road. This may be caused by a large number of new homes being built and existing homes being renovated. Unfortunately, even the most careful of contractors might have a runaway screw that ends up in the road, your driveway, or on someone’s lawn. Even the best of us have faced a punctured tire at some point in our lives. If you suspect that you have a punctured tire but cannot find the puncture itself, you can bring your car into our shop, and we will take a look.

Finally, the TPS light may be indicating that one or more of your tires is having problems maintaining pressure. There may be a small crack somewhere that needs to be repaired. If this is the case, you may need to replace the tire.

What Should You Do if Your TPS Light Comes On?

Whatever you do, do not keep driving as I did. I was extremely fortunate that I did not end up in a horrific accident. If the light comes on, drive immediately to your nearest service station to see if you need air in your tires or if you have a leak or puncture in one of your tires. If you are in Cincinnati, then come visit our tire center at McCluskey Chevrolet. We are conveniently located at 9673 Kings Auto Mall Road, where our tire professionals stand ready to assist you with all of your needs.