How to Install a Tire Pressure Monitoring System

Screw-on tire pressure sensors make it easy

Tire pressure monitoring systems are a vehicle safety technology that prevent you from driving with a flat tire. These systems use wireless pressure sensors and a central receiving unit to alert you if any tire loses pressure. Some vehicles come with built-in systems. Still, you can install a tire pressure monitoring system at home.

Types of Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems

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

Suppose you want a system that has sensors built into the valve stems. In that case, you have two options: have the job done by a mechanic, or remove the tires at home and take the tires to a tire store to have the sensors installed.

How to Install an Aftermarket Tire Pressure Monitor

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

How to Install a Cap-Based Tire Pressure Monitor

You can typically install cap-based tire pressure monitor systems without any special equipment. These are the better choice if you want to do the job at home.

To install this type of system, you 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 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 the sensors and receiver are compatible.
  • Somewhere to store the old valve stem caps: If you ever need to remove the sensors or switch the sensors to a different vehicle, you'll need the 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 prevents metal sensors from getting stuck on the valve stems.
  1. Remove the valve stem caps and store them somewhere safe.

    Valve stem caps resting in a tire pressure sensor box.

  2. If you recently checked the tire pressure, move to the next step. However, check the tire pressure if you haven't in a while. If the tire pressure is low, adjust it to the correct level of inflation before installing the sensors.

    Each car has unique requirements. Check your user's manual, the specifications decal, or the tire sidewalls if you aren't sure how much pressure the tires need.

  3. Calibrate the TPMS. Some are easy to calibrate, and other systems can't be calibrated. If you can calibrate your system, set it to the specific amount of pressure your vehicle needs. You might also be able to select the threshold at which the system alerts you. Since some monitors don't show the actual pressure in the tires, it's essential to know what the alert point is.

    If you buy a system that you can't calibrate, select one that's compatible with the amount of pressure in your tires. For instance, if your tires need 35 PSI, but you buy sensors calibrated to 50 PSI, the TPMS alert lights will come on even if the tires aren't under-inflated.

    A disassembled tire pressure monitor sensor.

  4. Install the sensors. Installing cap-based tire pressure sensors is straightforward. Even if you have no experience working on your car, you won't have trouble. In most cases, all you do is screw on the sensors in place of the valve stem caps.

    Avoid cross-threading the sensors because you need a tight seal for the system to work correctly. Regular valve stem caps don't hold back pressure because the valves do so. However, cap-based sensors depress the valves the same way that any other tire pressure checker does.

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

    An installed tire pressure monitor sensor.

  5. Turn on the tire pressure monitor and verify that it receives a signal from each tire. If it doesn't, go through a troubleshooting procedure to determine the problem.

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

    A TPMS receiver installed in a vehicle.

Move Sensors to New Tires or Vehicle

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 typically have to go with your old car if you sell it, it's a straightforward matter to pop off the sensors in a cap-based system and take the sensors with you. 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. Install the sensors on the new vehicle, make sure everything is correctly calibrated, and your vehicle will have an aftermarket tire pressure monitor just like that.

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