How to Install a Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Screw-on tire pressure sensors make it easy

Dirty hands work on a tire

Watchara Kokram / EyeEm / Getty

Tire pressure monitoring systems are a type of vehicle safety technology that prevent you from ever driving with a flat tire. They work by using wireless pressure sensors and a central receiving unit to alert the driver if any of the tires loses pressure. Some vehicles come with built-in systems, but you can also install your own tire pressure monitoring system at home.

Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems

There are two main types of aftermarket tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). One type uses sensors that are installed inside the tires, in which case the sensor is typically an internal part of the valve stem. The other type uses sensors that are built into valve stem caps. Each type of sensor has its own advantages and disadvantages, but only the cap type can be installed at home.

If you want a system that has sensors built into the valve stems, you have two options. The easiest is to have the job done by your mechanic. The other is to remove your tires at home and take them to a tire store or a mechanic to have the sensors installed.

You can technically install valve stem pressure sensors at home, but only if you have your own bead breaker.

To install an aftermarket tire pressure monitor that uses internal sensors, you have to release the air from each tire, break the bead on each tire, remove the valve stems, and then replace the valve stems with your pressure sensors.

Cap-based tire pressure monitor systems can typically be installed without any special equipment, so they're the better choice if you want to do the job at home.

In order to install this type of system, you will need:

  • Enough sensors for your tires: Most vehicles only need four sensors, but you'll need six if you have dual rear wheels. Make sure that the sensors are designed for the air pressure level in your tires.
  • A receiver unit designed for use with the sensors: Most kits come with both sensors and a receiver unit. Make sure your sensors and receiver are compatible.
  • Somewhere to store your old valve stem caps: If you ever need to remove your sensors, or want to switch them to a different vehicle, you'll need your old valve stem caps. Don't lose them.
  • Anti-seize compound: This is optional, and you don't need it to complete the installation. Anti-seize will prevent metal sensors from getting stuck on your valve stems.
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Prepare Your Vehicle for the Sensors

Valve stem caps resting in a tire pressure sensor box.
Jeremy Laukkonen

The first step is to remove your valve stem caps and store them somewhere safe. You won't have any immediate need for them, but you will need them if you ever decide to remove the monitoring system in the future.

If you’ve recently checked your tire pressure, you can move on to the next step. However, you should make sure to check it if you haven’t in a while.

If your tire pressure is low, you'll want to adjust it to the correct level of inflation prior to installing the sensors.

Each car has its own requirements, so make sure to check your user’s manual, the specifications decal, or the tire sidewalls if you aren’t sure how much pressure your tires need.

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Calibrate Your Tire Pressure Monitoring System

A disassembled tire pressure monitor sensor.
Jeremy Laukkonen

Some aftermarket tire pressure monitors are easy to calibrate, and other systems can’t be calibrated at all. If you buy a system that can’t be calibrated, it’s vital to select one that’s compatible with the amount of pressure in your tires.

For instance, if your tires need to be inflated to 35 PSI, but you buy sensors calibrated to 50 PSI, the TPMS alert lights will come on even if your tires aren't actually under-inflated.

If your system can be calibrated, make sure to set it to the specific amount of pressure that your vehicle needs. You may also be able to set the threshold at which the system alerts you. Since some monitors don’t show the actual pressure in the tires, it’s important to know what the alert threshold is.

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Install the Tire Pressure Sensors

An installed tire pressure monitor sensor.
Jeremy Laukkonen

The process of installing cap-based tire pressure sensors is incredibly simple. Even if you have no experience working on your car, you won’t have any trouble. In most cases, all you have to do is screw the sensors on in place of the valve stem caps.

It’s important to avoid cross-threading the sensors, because you need a tight seal for the system to work properly. Regular valve stem caps don’t hold back pressure because the valves are designed to do so. However, cap-based sensors depress the valves the same way that any other tire pressure checker does. That means it’s vital to achieve a tight seal when you screw the sensor on.​

You may also want to use a tiny bit of an anti-seize compound when you install the sensors. In some cases, the sensor threads may corrode or fuse to the valve stem threads. If that happens, you may not be able to remove the sensors. However, it's vital to make sure that the compound doesn't squeeze up into the sensor mechanism.

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Activate the System

A TPMS receiver installed in a vehicle.
Jeremy Laukkonen

The final step is to turn on your tire pressure monitor and verify that it’s receiving a signal from each tire. If it isn’t, you’ll have to go through a troubleshooting procedure to determine what the problem is.

Some systems that are designed for passenger cars may not have a high enough signal strength to work on a long truck, SUV, or recreational vehicle. Your system may also fail to work properly due to low battery levels in the sensor caps.

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Changing Tires or Buying a New Vehicle.

A TPMS receiver installed in a second vehicle.
Jeremy Laukkonen

If you buy new tires or rims, or you upgrade your entire vehicle, it’s easy to take a cap-based tire pressure monitoring system with you. While in-tire monitors will typically have to go with your old car in the event that you sell it, it's a very simple matter to just pop off the sensors in a cap-based system and take them with you. Just remove the sensors, replace them with the caps that you saved during the initial installation procedure, and you're good to go.

Swapping a cap-based aftermarket tire pressure monitor system to a new vehicle is just as easy. Just install the sensors on the new vehicle, make sure everything is correctly calibrated, and your new vehicle will have an aftermarket tire pressure monitor just like that.