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 vehicle safety technology that prevents you from driving with a flat tire. They use wireless pressure sensors and a central receiving unit to alert you if any tire loses pressure. Some vehicles come with built-in systems, but you can also install a 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 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 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: have the job done by your mechanic, or remove your tires at home and take them to a tire store to have the sensors installed.

How to Install a Tire Pressure Monitoring System

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.

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

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.
  1. 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 before installing the sensors.

    Each car has unique 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.

    Valve stem caps resting in a tire pressure sensor box.
    Jeremy Laukkonen
  2. Calibrate your TPMS. Some are easy to calibrate, and other systems can't be calibrated at all. If you can calibrate your system, make sure to set it to the specific amount of pressure that 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, it's vital to 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 your tires aren't under-inflated.

    A disassembled tire pressure monitor sensor.
    Jeremy Laukkonen
  3. Install the sensors. 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.

    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 you install 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.
    Jeremy Laukkonen
  4. 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 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 correctly due to low battery levels in the sensor caps.

    A TPMS receiver installed in a vehicle.
    Jeremy Laukkonen

Changing Tires or Buying a New 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 will 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 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 vehicle will have an aftermarket tire pressure monitor just like that.