The purpose of the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) in your vehicle is to warn you that at least one or more tires are significantly under-inflated, possibly creating unsafe driving conditions. The TPMS low tire pressure indicator is a yellow symbol that illuminates on the dashboard instrument panel in the shape of a tire cross-section (that resembles a horseshoe) with an exclamation point.
TPMS low tire pressure indicator
That indicator light in your vehicle has a history. It’s a history rooted in years of uncertainty about proper tire pressure and many serious car accidents that might have been avoided had drivers known their air pressure was low. Even now, it’s estimated that a substantial number of vehicles hit the road each day with underinflated tires. However, proper tire maintenance with the aid of a TPMS can and does help prevent many serious accidents.
Before this indicator light became commonplace, knowing whether your air pressure had reached unsafe levels meant getting out, crouching down, and using a tire gauge. With few exceptions, this was the only pressure-checking tool ordinary consumers had at their disposal.
Then, in response to a surge in accidents due to underinflated tires, the US government passed the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act. One of the outcomes of this legislation is that most vehicles sold in the United States since 2007 include a tire pressure monitoring system of some kind.
Not every TPMS works the same way. The illumination of the low tire pressure indicator represents the final step in the process of either an indirect TPMS or a direct TPMS.
Indirect TPMS: What is Indirect TPMS & How Does it Work?
An indirect TPMS typically relies on wheel speed sensors that the anti-lock brake system uses. These sensors measure the rate of revolution each wheel is making and can be used by on-board computer systems to compare with each other and to other vehicle operation data such as speed.
Based on the rate of revolution of each wheel, the computer can interpret the relative size of the tires on your vehicle. When a wheel starts spinning faster than expected, the computer calculates that the tire is underinflated and alert the driver accordingly.
So, an indirect tire pressure monitoring system doesn’t actually measure tire pressure. It’s not electronically processing the same kind of measurement you might see with a tire gauge. Instead, an indirect tire pressure monitor simply measures how fast your tires are rotating and sends signals to the computer that will actuate the indicator light when something in the rotation seems amiss.