Planning for vacation triggers anticipation for the fun and relaxation ahead. Whether you're heading out with your family on a long-distance road trip to visit all the national monuments or merely heading out for a weekend fishing trip, you want everything to go smoothly. And as a cost-conscious driver, that includes getting the best gas mileage possible.
Table of Contents
If you're passionate about driving, you probably already pay close attention to your vehicle's tire pressure. But if you're new to road trips or long-distance vacations by car, you may not be aware of the advantages of maintaining proper tire pressure and the dangers of tire pressure that is too low.
In this review and buying guide, we'll review several tire-pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), highlighting the best products available on the market today. And we'll let you know why it's vital to invest in one of these systems. You might think it's enough to check your tire pressure with a handheld portable device periodically, but you don't want to be out on the road when something disastrous happens without warning.
If you're like most drivers, you might not pay much attention to your vehicle's tire pressure until there is a problem. Maybe you've come outside after work to see that one of your tires is entirely flat. Or perhaps you've checked your pressure and got it taken care of right away when you noticed it looked a little flat.
If so, you're one of the lucky ones.
Every year, there are thousands of avoidable accidents caused by sudden tire blowouts. A common cause of blowouts is tire pressure that is too low when you suddenly encounter an obstacle. These situations often are quite dangerous – and you won’t see them coming. Of course, you can help avoid the worst-case scenario by investing in a dependable tire-pressure monitoring system.
It’s important to understand that underinflated tires don't just endanger you and your passengers. They cause you to lose control of your car, which can result in other drivers overcorrecting to try and avoid a collision. These secondary accidents can net you medical bills, costly repairs for everyone involved – and significantly higher insurance premiums.
But blowouts aren't the only problem caused by low tire pressure. Underinflated tires also create drag and wear on your pricey tires, which decreases your vehicle's fuel efficiency and can result in less control. On clear, cleaned roads, this might only be a problem for you and your gas budget. But on icy or wet roads, it can result in a complete loss of control, resulting in your car spinning out and putting you and others at risk for severe injury.
With these scenarios in mind, it's safer and more economical to plan for the worst by ensuring that your vehicle always maintains adequate tire pressure. You can – and should – check your tire pressure manually, too. TPM systems are only as accurate as their batteries and transmitters, so it's always a good idea to use the standard tire gauge to get a precise second reading.
So, if you're looking for some peace of mind, the best tire pressure monitoring system can provide both audio and visual warnings to let you know before you face a possible disaster.
The best TPM systems, when operating properly, are capable of monitoring both tire pressure and temperature, frequently providing advanced notice with audible warnings. Tire-pressure monitoring systems are, in essence, an early warning system against catastrophic – and catastrophically expensive – failure.
In recent decades, we’ve learned a lot – and improved a lot – when it comes to safety features of our vehicles. Experience and technology spark new information and safety opportunities every day.
Before 2000, tire manufacturers were forced to recall thousands of tires due to significant defects in manufacture and design, which caused dangerous tire separation. That separation resulted in more than 100 fatal rollover accidents in the years prior. These accidents led directly to the 2000 passage of the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation) Act, which sought to create some regulatory oversight over tire safety.
The TREAD Act mandated that auto manufacturers begin installing systems on their vehicles to monitor issues with tire pressure. Since 2007, all cars sold in the United States must have some form of TPM system installed. Most of the time, these systems project simple displays with uncomplicated icons that warn you of a prevailing problem. Most don't contain much information, so they're not a useful diagnostic that tells you which tire is having issues, nor what kind of problem you face.
Some higher-end vehicles, however, have more robust TPMS that indicate which tire is experiencing problems. But even luxury vehicles usually provide only limited information, and the systems aren't always reliable because they rely on computer calculations rather than a direct measurement. What’s more, when servicing the vehicle, the TPM system often can lose calibration, rendering them useless.
The best tire-pressure monitoring systems are aftermarket devices that measure each tire independently and provide audio and visual information about each tire’s pressure and temperature. These devices are particularly useful for multi-axle vehicles, including trailers, RVs, and fifth-wheel vehicles that have additional tires. Checking each one can be laborious and, as a result, many folks procrastinate.
TPMS Systems come in two different types, direct and indirect. Let’s take a look at what each provides.
A direct monitoring system often affixes directly on a tire, either by attaching to the valve stem or using some other proprietary method specific to that brand. These direct tools usually come with a display monitor that mounts directly to your vehicle dashboard, instrument panel, or side window, depending on the brand and design.
The direct monitoring system measures the actual tire pressure within each wheel and sends that information through a wireless transmitter to the display. Some models even measure the temperature of the wheel while it's operating, which is an excellent way to prevent heat-related blowouts or wear, adding even more peace of mind to an already robust early warning system.
A direct pressure monitoring system is more accurate than any factory installed system because it measures the air pressure itself rather than calculating pressure loss through increased wheel rotation. Most comprehensive direct systems monitor the pressure to within one pound per square inch (psi) for each tire. You can quickly review this information on the screen in your vehicle, so you never have to wonder which tire needs maintenance or what the problem might be.
Direct systems are not without their drawbacks, though. For one thing, direct TPMS often are far more expensive than other options, costing hundreds of dollars, generally in addition to the cost of installation. What’s more, direct systems are only as accurate as their battery lives and wireless signals allow. The batteries on the sensors of a direct system can last up to five years before you have to replace them.
Indirect TPM systems, as you might expect, don't attach directly to your tire. These indirect units affix inside the wheel well of your car to measure the efficiency of each tire’s rotation and to compare it to the rotation of the other tires. A wheel rotating faster than its companions likely is faulty because tires begin to turn more quickly when they're losing air.
Indirect TPMS are complicated computer systems that measure rotation, along with other diagnostics. Some of these systems have more diagnostic features than others and can let you know well in advance of a prevailing problem. The more advanced indirect systems will even tell you which tire is experiencing the failure, but its alerts are less informative and include only minimal information.
Because they aren't attached to your tire and do not measure pressure, factory systems are less accurate than their direct-system competitors. Even when adequately inflated, these indirect systems might, on occasion, issue a warning because a tire is poorly balanced or has uneven wear on its treads, causing it to move faster than the other tires.
The manufacturer often installs indirect systems instead of the more expensive direct systems to save because they're much cheaper and typically don’t require regular maintenance or battery replacement. They must, however, be calibrated correctly for your particular tire size.
If you purchased your vehicle after 2007, federal law mandates that it comes with some type of monitoring system – usually factory-installed – that will indicate tire-pressure complications. But if you're looking for more specific information and a better warning system, a direct TPMS is a much more informative option. Almost all direct TPMS are aftermarket products that you can have installed by your local tire specialists.
If, however, you're not planning any long-distance adventures and you monitor your tire pressure regularly, there's no reason your factory-installed system shouldn't be sufficient. We recommend that you check the TPMS periodically with a mechanic, or whenever you change or rotate your tires, to make sure it's functioning as it should. For recreational vehicles, motorhomes, and boat trailers, we recommend that you consider installing an aftermarket tire-pressure monitoring system with both audible and visual warning indicators.
Most aftermarket TPMS run between $200 and $500 per system. Be sure to check the number of wheels that the system supports and research how well the receiver supports it. Because of the prevalence of wireless signals these days, some TPMS require a wireless signal booster to avoid interference and signal loss. But this will depend on the length of your vehicle and the distance between the receiver and the tires.
Keep in mind that any direct system you buy likely will have installment costs, as well. Installing a wireless TPMS is not something you want to try on your own because it’s a complicated process that often requires deflating tires and refilling or replacing them. If you buy the system from a retailer other than a dealership or a tire service center, it likely will reduce your installation costs significantly.
All of the TPMS we've reviewed are direct systems, as most other systems come pre-installed on your vehicle and are proprietary to your vehicle manufacturer.
The first – and best – pressure-monitoring system on our list is the TireMinder A1A system, thanks to its ease of use, bright display, and both audible and visual warning systems. The A1A pressure-monitoring system can monitor 22 tires at once, displaying information about each tire's air pressure and temperature. For your larger vehicles, you will need to buy extra wireless transmitters for each additional tire, as the basic package typically comes with only four or six of them.
Minder manufactures the TireMinder system, a division of Valterra Products that produces various accessories and aftermarket additions for RVs and trailers. The A1A system comes with an easy-to-read display that's backlit to make it readily visible when you’re driving at night. The basic kit also comes with a signal booster for RV tire-pressure monitoring and fifth-wheel trailer hitches.
The A1A system is an advanced product and can display independent tire pressure and temperature of each attached wheel. It delivers visual and audible alerts, so you hear about complications before they happen and can focus on the road rather than the display.
This robust TPMS also conducts a self-diagnosis every five seconds to ensure that you're getting the most up-to-date information as quickly as possible. Of all the TPM systems we reviewed, this system handles the most pressure, at 232 psi. Minder even offers a variation that eliminates the display, sending the information to an app on your cellular device for those who want to de-clutter their instrument consoles.
This pressure-monitoring system is easily one of the best we've found on the market today, with hordes of useful features, including a rechargeable battery in the display screen. Like the other TPM systems on our list, the EEZTire system can monitor as many as 26 tires on a single screen and provides both audible and visual alerts when something is wrong.
The EEZTire system might require a signal booster for longer vehicles. Still, all of the tire-pressure sensors are easy to install, fitting directly over your tire caps and containing replaceable batteries.
The LCD screen on this system presents all of your tire information on one easy-to-read surface and runs on a single lithium battery that plugs into your car's USB port or cigarette lighter to recharge. This tire-pressure monitoring system features separate controls for RVs and trailers, allowing the driver to shut off the sensors for any attached unit when it’s disconnected from the RV. The monitor automatically goes into power-saving mode if no movement is detected for 15 minutes, preserving your battery power.
Each independent sensor is capable of monitoring tire pressure of up to 210 psi and sends a signal every six seconds to update the receiver when you're on the road. The sensors also have an anti-theft warning feature to let you know if someone tried to remove them – a standard tactic of trailer thieves. The receiver is motion-activated, so it will not begin reporting until your vehicle is moving, which also saves battery power.
The TST tire-pressure monitoring system is another excellent system with a reasonable price tag and abundant features – especially attractive to any genuine RV driver. First, it has one of the only full-color displays, which comes with a rubber dash-pad mount and a window suction-cup mount, giving you options on where to place it for the best visibility.
The tire-pressure sensors on this unit come in two different styles. But maybe the most exciting option is the pass-through monitor, which allows you to refill the air on your tires without removing the sensor. If you prefer, you also can get standard-cap sensors to monitor external trailers, such as car and boat trailers.
The TST tire-pressure monitoring system also comes with a signal booster to ensure that you get the clearest broadcast from all of your sensors. The full-color screen cycles continuously through all connected tires, displaying the psi and the temperature of each tire and allowing you to customize each axle for individual alerts.
All sensors automatically code to the monitor for easy set-up. And the cap sensors have a replaceable battery, giving them a longer life. You also can recharge the monitor via your vehicle’s cigarette lighter or USB port and cable.
The final tire-pressure monitoring system on our list is the TireTracker TT-600. It comes with a large LCD monitor and versatile mounting brackets that give you several options for convenient viewing. The screen is more expansive than some of its competitors, and it’s far easier to program and calibrate for proper function.
Like its competitors, this system offers a signal amplifier and a USB recharger for the display unit. Unlike some of its competitors, however, TireTracker includes four replacement batteries for its sensor units, which may come in handy when you're far from a service station.
The truly extraordinary thing about the TireTracker unit is its fantastic customer service. The TireTracker tire-pressure monitoring system comes with a lifetime limited warranty, which is unique among its peers. And customer reviews suggest that the instruction manual is easy to follow with a lot of support from the company’s customer-service staff.
High-tech, expensive tire-pressure monitoring systems aren't much good to anyone if they aren't accurate. But, as we've seen, factory-installed units don't measure tire pressure, and nothing is as precise as your standard handheld gauge. Accuracy depends significantly on what type of system you choose.
Any direct TPMS will provide you with the most precise readings – except for a tire-pressure gauge or a professional tire shop. Direct systems are accurate to within 1 psi on most vehicles, as long as the calibration is correct. Recalibrating on some brands can be difficult without help from a tire-service expert.
Factory systems aren't designed to read your tire pressure, so they're less useful for long-term monitoring. The factory-installed systems only function is to let you know when you have a tire-pressure dilemma. Some manufacturer systems provide you with a reading on some of their higher-end cars. Still, it's usually little more than a calculation based on the tires’ rotation rather than an actual measurement.
Direct TPM systems always provide a reading of your actual tire pressure and temperature. Depending on calibration, signal strength, and battery power, however, those measurements might not be accurate 100 percent of the time. If you think your sensors are malfunctioning or providing you faulty warnings, check the batteries on the sensors. If that doesn't seem to be the problem, invest in a signal booster for your unit.
Discount Tire can repair and service tire-pressure monitoring systems. Often, the best use for a dedicated tire-service center is helping you calibrate the system to get an accurate reading on your tires or troubleshoot possible issues with the system.
Many of the parts on RV TPMS are specific to a particular model and manufacturer. So, getting appropriate sensors or sensor batteries might be trying on short notice. You should check with your service center to see if they have the parts you need in stock and the service you require.
Prices for service on direct systems vary between service centers but usually are reasonable. Always call ahead with the details about your TPM system, and shop around for the best deal. Service on tire-pressure systems often is inexpensive, as it typically requires little more than recalibration or a battery replacement. You might want to avoid buying parts directly through a service center, however, as they tend to charge a mark-up on all ordered parts.
Indirect TPM systems, on the other hand, have specialized factory computer parts that can get more complicated and, as a result, will require the intervention of a tire specialist.
Most direct TPM systems are relatively straightforward to install and include step-by-step instructions about how to do it right. The principle is the same on virtually all of them. All you need to do is attach the sensors to the stem valve on your tire. Then, press and hold a button or two on the display unit to calibrate it.
If you have any trouble calibrating your TPM system, though, you can always take the entire unit to an automotive shop, which can take care of it for a small fee. If you ask, they might even show you how to calibrate it correctly, so you know how when you have to replace the sensor batteries.
Indirect systems, on the other hand, often are complicated to install. They usually require removing your vehicle’s tires and installing sensors on the tire rims, in addition to installing monitoring equipment within the wheel wells. If you're determined to connect an indirect TPMS or get one serviced, it’s best to seek help from a professional who has the tools and training to get it right.
Tire-pressure monitoring systems may not seem like much – a display unit, a signal booster, and a few remote sensors. But all of the parts contain high technology, which can be expensive. Each manufacturer puts special features on each new unit, which often drives up the price. And each new sensor you add to your TPMS increases the cost significantly.
Most TPM systems will run you somewhere between $200 and $400 for a basic unit, including the display and four to six sensors. Expect an additional cost of between $50 and $80 per supplemental sensor, bringing the total cost for an RV TPMS to $600 or more.
Look through the list of features available with each unit. Some companies make their pressure monitoring systems more economical by adding unique features, such as pass-through sensors or added signal boosters. On their own, these additional features will increase the price, but when combined with the initial package, they can make your TPMS investment worth it.
Your RV or trailer is a significant investment. You've likely put a lot of mileage, memories, and time into its care and upkeep. Unfortunately, accidents happen every day. The internet is littered with tragic stories of sudden tire blowouts that brought a quick end to the dream of the open road.
Investing in a tire-pressure monitoring system is one way to prevent unexpected tragedies on the road. If you value your trailer and your vacation, look into purchasing a reputable TPM system.