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What Your Tire Pressure Light Is Really Trying to Tell You

What Your Tire Pressure Light Is Really Trying to Tell You

Proper tire pressure is critical to vehicle operation and safety, so much so that in 2007 it was mandated that all new passenger cars have wireless tire pressure monitoring built in. If you’ve been driving for any time, your tire pressure light has likely come on at least once. While this notification can create anxiety for drivers, its there to keep you safe. There are a handful of common reasons you might experience this type of dashboard notification.

Knowing why you’re experiencing the notification can be tricky but not impossible. It’s a good idea to know what to do and where to start looking when it occurs.

Today, we’ll help you discover what your tire pressure light might be trying to tell you.

What Is a Tire Pressure Light?

A tire pressure light is one of the warning indicators on a vehicle’s dashboard. This notification typically occurs when the tire pressure is low, or there’s an issue with the onboard tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

Tire Pressure Light In Car
When your dashboard lights up, it’s always important to check to see what it’s warning you of.

Tire pressure is critical for safety due to potential blowouts and traction loss as well as fuel economy. These high-tech systems are now standard on all new vehicles sold in the United States. If you’re a car geek like me, you might be interested in reading the NTHSA study, where they compared all costs associated with tire pressure before making it mandatory. Costs include vehicle damage, property damage, fuel costs, and even the cost of loss of life. Overall having these systems on all vehicles are well worth their cost to keep us all safer on the roads.

These warning indicators are safety mechanisms to help drivers know something isn’t right with their vehicle. It can help keep drivers safe by allowing them to find a secure parking place until they can address the situation.

The larger the vehicle the more dangerous improper inflation can be. Because of this we always recommend that RV owners install monitoring on their RVs if they don’t already have it.

Pro Tip: Use one of these Best RV Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems to stop your tire pressure light from turning on.

Aftermarket tire pressure monitoring system
This is an aftermarket tire pressure monitoring system that we use on our RV. It even works with trailers.

Can You Ignore a Tire Pressure Light?

Technically you can ignore the tire pressure light as it will not cause the car to stop functioning. However, it is a warning indicator and there’s typically a reason when it illuminates. Ignoring any warning light can be extremely dangerous.

A low tire pressure light may mean your vehicle has a tire below the threshold for safe driving. Driving on a tire with low pressure can lead to the tire failing, which is extremely dangerous, especially at high speeds.

Anytime you notice your tire pressure light come on, especially while driving, you need to manually check your tire pressure. If the system is functioning properly, it will warn you of a problem before it becomes dangerous.

If you check your tires and can’t identify the issue, take your vehicle to a professional tire repair location as soon as possible. Technology isn’t perfect, and things can break occasionally. A professional may test the technology or identify the reason for the light.

checking tire pressure
Don’t ignore your tire pressure light when it comes on.

What Is Your Tire Pressure Light Telling You?

If your tire pressure light comes on, it might be trying to tell you a handful of things. Let’s look at a few common reasons your tire pressure light could illuminate your dashboard. 

Low or High Tire Pressure

Two of the most apparent reasons for a tire pressure light coming on is that the pressure is outside the safe threshold. While the most common culprit is low pressure, these systems can also alert for high pressure.

While the light will indicate a problem, it won’t help you identify its cause. You could have an object in your tire or a leaky valve stem; both could cause a tire to leak air slowly over time.

Vehicle displaying tire pressure on screen
Some vehicles will display the tire pressure on a screen. This might help you quickly identify a problem tire, but note that sometimes the tires get rotated and might not light up correctly with the screen.

Maintenance Needed

As tires age, they can begin to lose air. This air degradation could cause your tire pressure light to come on and alert you. If you top off your tires and your light comes on now and then, it might be time for new tires.

A quick trip to a local tire shop may be the only way to identify the issue. However, preparing yourself and your wallet for a new set of tires is wise. Depending on your vehicle, this may not be a costly expense. 

Damaged Sensor

Technology isn’t foolproof. A faulty sensor can cause your tire pressure light to illuminate. These sensors typically attach to the inside of the tire. Hitting a pothole or other object with your tire can damage these sensors. If so, the light will likely stay illuminated until you fix the sensor.

Tire Pressure Light Won’t Go Off - Now What?

It’s Cold

Another common cause for a tire pressure light to come on is cold weather. Weather is a factor because molecules in the air contract when temperatures drop. The compression of these molecules reduces the air pressure inside the tires, and you may need to give each tire a shot of air.

However, don’t expect the light to go off immediately. You may need to drive several miles before the sensors update and the light stops illuminating your dashboard. Top off your tires and take your vehicle for a quick drive. 

Pro Tip: We took a closer look to determine How Often You Should Check Your Tire Pressure.

Tire pressure tag on door
Note that the tire sticker on the vehicle’s door always says tire pressure when cold. When the temp drops, so does tire pressure.

What Do You Do When Your Tire Pressure Light Comes On

Many drivers’ tire pressure lights have come on at some point. If you experience this unfortunate situation, don’t panic. Here are a few things you should do in this situation.

Find a Safe Place to Pull Over

When driving as the light illuminates, find a safe place to pull over immediately. This location could be a parking lot, gas station, or the side of the road. Ensure your vehicle is completely off the highway and there’s a safe distance between you and any traffic.

Inspect Your Tires

Once you’re in a safe place, you need to inspect your tires. You must look, listen, and feel your tires for potential issues. If you’ve run over a large object, there’s a chance you’ll hear the air leaking from your tire.

While inspecting your tires, reflect on the events just before the light lit up your dashboard. Did you hit any objects on the road? If so, check that side of the vehicle first. However, sometimes a visual inspection may not always be enough.

Check Your Tire Pressure

You must check your tire pressure if you can’t determine which tire is causing the issue. We recommend keeping a tire pressure gauge in the glove box of every vehicle. You never know when you’ll need to use it.

Take the caps off each valve and attach the tire pressure gauge. Check the tire’s sidewall for the manufacturer’s recommended PSI for your tires. If a tire is low enough to cause a warning light, it will be well under the max PSI.

checking tire pressure
Your tires get you safely from one place to another, so it’s crucial to care for them well.

Adjust Tire Pressure as Needed

You can remedy many tire pressure lights by adjusting the pressure as needed. This option typically means putting air into your tires, but it could also require pressure reduction. Either way, you’ll want to make the necessary adjustments.

Reducing the pressure is easy, especially if you have a tire pressure gauge. Many of these devices have a small notch that makes removing air from your tires convenient. On the other hand, airing up your tires may be more challenging.

Unlike a balloon or your favorite pool floaties, you can’t blow up your tires with your mouth. You’ll need an air compressor to do the job. Some drivers carry portable air compressors or inflation tools. However, they’re also often readily available at gas and service stations. Change the tire if you don’t think you can safely drive to the nearest location to get some air in your tires.

Drive to Service Center (if necessary)

You may need to drive to the nearest service center if you can’t identify the issue. Your tires play an essential role, and they’re not something you can take lightly. You may need to change your tire or put on a spare to help you safely navigate to the service center.

This is why you must know how to change a flat tire. If not, you could be stuck on the side of the road or put yourself and other drivers in a potentially dangerous situation by driving on a flat tire.

WHY Your Tire Light is ON & EASY FIX

Don’t Ignore Your Tire Pressure Light

You can’t ignore the tire pressure light on your vehicle’s dashboard. Driving with a tire with low pressure can affect the handling and performance of your car. You could cause unnecessary wear on your tire and increase the chances of a blowout.

If your tire pressure light comes on, take action immediately. Assess the situation and, if necessary, head to a trusted tire shop. Warning lights can help you stay safe while operating your vehicle and help you extend the life of your tires.

Do you keep a tire pressure gauge in your vehicle? Tell us in the comments!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of “Go North” on Amazon Prime Video, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for and an Arizona travel guide.

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