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Monday, June 20, 2016

"Why do I need a TPMS?"

I occasionally run into folks who say "I check the air in my tires every morning and at every fuel stop so I don't need a TPMS." I might then ask if they have an oil pressure gauge or warning light on their dash. After all, they can check the engine oil every morning and at each fuel stop. How about an engine temperature gauge?  Same follow-up about checking the water in the radiator.

TPMS were mandated in all cars and light trucks back in 2002 with a 3-year roll-in. The primary reason for this was the abysmal record of people simply ignoring tire inflation. This despite the news at the time of hundreds of fatalities being traced to tire failure due to low air pressure.

While the regulations exclude vehicles with gross weight over 10,000 pounds or trailers, where most of the RV market resides, it didn't take long for aftermarket units to hit the market and for smart RV owners to start adding this important safety device to their unit. Yet almost every day I read a post on one of the various RV forums I monitor from owners complaining that they had a tire failure.

I have written more than 30 times about tire failure and the real causes. IMO almost all tire failures in RV application can be traced to one of three causes:

1. Tread Separation -- Which is a condition where the belts and tread separate from the body of the tire. This takes months and thousands of miles to develop and grow to the point of coming apart. This condition can many times be discovered with good tire inspection effort and practice by the RV owner.

2. Run Low Flex Failure or more commonly called a sidewall blowout. This failure can develop in only a few miles and much less than an hour, so the loss of air is seldom discovered when the RV owner does a walk-around visual inspection or even daily check of inflation of the tires. This condition can be prevented with the use and proper set-up of a TPMS.

3. Impact Break can occur when a tire is run over a curb, across a large pothole or even just hitting some road trash. While a TPMS cannot prevent the break, there is a good chance that as soon as air loss occurs, the TPMS would inform the RV owner so he can pull over sooner rather than later and not have to depend on some passing motorist to flag him down by pointing to the disintegrating tire. This may reduce the damage to the RV and save some money.

I believe that some RV owners may have failed to look at the cost of a TPMS, which can be less than  $99 for a 4-tire system as seen on eBay with only the most basic of features. A much better system for 6-tire RV application is the brand I bought from TireTraker. The cost needs to be balanced against the cost of replacing a tire or tires plus the potential of hundreds to thousands of dollars by avoiding  RV damage. A TPMS can also help avoid finding yourself along the side of an Interstate trying to change a tire. In some circumstances and with a better system, the TPMS may provide sufficient advance warning to allow the driver to continue, at reduced speed, to a location where there is more room and it is safer to pull over.

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##rvt748

5 comments:

  1. I have owned a TPMS system for several years. During that time I have had two blowouts at different times with no warning from my TPMS. Since my blowouts are from a weak point in my sidewall that blows quickly and with a riffle shot kind of noise how was the TPMS supposed to warn me? Until it blows there is just a small bubble on the side of the tire that can't cause much change in tire pressure until it blows.

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  2. James, TPMS are designed to monitor inflation. If/when a slow leak develops or if the pressure drops due to lack of proper maintenance then the TPM provides a warning.
    TPM can not warn about an impending Tread Separation. That is why I have written about the need to do a complete inspection every year or maybe every 1,000 miles. The other situation that a TPM cannot warn about is a sidewall failure due to Impact damage. I have also written about Impacts. If you drive over poor or rough roads or even just drop a tire in drainage ditch when turning a corner you need to do a quick visual check of your tires. Your description of the small bubbles suggests that you might have even seen the damage but didn't realize you were looking at a damaged tire that was waiting to fail.

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    Replies
    1. I only saw the bubble after the fact when it was a hole. I still own the TPMS and it does warn of higher inflation pressure and higher temperature but the warnings come way before there is a cause for alarm. Tires always heat up and that causes pressure increases but the warnings come too early and are annoying. If the pressure gets too high or if the temperature gets too high I do pull over and deal with the situation. I have never had a tire fail in the 8 years I have RV'ed (5 months a year). Excepting of course the two blowouts that the TPMS did not help with. I have swapped out all the tires as they got too worn or cupped or old. Most just got too old.

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  3. Although both comments list valid points, most TPMS units also monitor the temperature of the air in the tire. Running low on air will be indicated on the unit's monitor. However as a tire gets close to failure, such as side wall flex, the temperature increases in the tire. This is also tracked by the TPMS unit and if the temperature exceeds the setting, you get an alarm.

    A TPMS is not a cure all and you still need to inspect the tires for problems, but a TPMS will catch many potential failures before they happen, and I will take that advantage!

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  4. A properly set and functioning TPM should give low pressure warning way before it hits the high temperature point.

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