Your rig probably has a lot of systems that need to be monitored and maintained. Without the right tools, your traveler’s life can be pretty tedious and sometimes unpleasant. For example, I’m pretty confident no one wants to use a dip stick to check the level on a black tank. There are monitors for that.
There is at least one thing every motorhome, travel trailer and fifth wheel – regardless of size, type or age – has in common. That would be tires.
But, bad tires aren’t just inconvenient like discovering a filled up black tank. Bad tires will take you off the road completely. Sometimes in a dangerous way. The question is, “Why aren’t you monitoring your tires?” Or, “How are you monitoring your tires – all your tires?”
Unfortunately, many people don’t understand Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS), what they actually do or maybe don’t do, or whether they even have a TPMS. As a rig owner and traveler, you need to be aware of the significant differences and benefits gained from proper use of a TPMS.
TPMS – THERE’S A LAW FOR THAT
Let’s start with what is “standard” for manufacturer TPMS requirements.
The Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act went into effect as of September 1, 2007. A warning system, or Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), must be included in all passenger cars and light trucks – under 10,000 lbs. GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight).
The TREAD Act (via Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 138) requires original car manufacturers to equip all new vehicles with:
- Monitoring of tire pressure in all four tires (but not the spare tire)
- A TPMS system that operates when the vehicle ignition is on and warns the driver when tires are under inflated by 25% or more
- A TPMS system that alerts the driver when there is a system malfunction
- A TPMS warning light that stays on until the tire is inflated to the correct pressure or the malfunction is corrected
- A “bulb check” of the warning light on the instrument panel that occurs whenever the ignition is turned on
- Vehicle owner’s manuals with warnings about potentially incompatible replacement tires
Three serious points to be aware of:
#1. The dash light may be the first and only warning you receive from the manufacturer’s TPMS installation if or when you have a tire that is under inflated by 25% or more. Other types of warning, like alarms and sirens, are vehicle / manufacturer dependent.
#2. It is entirely possible your RV does not have this feature at all. Very few travel trailers and older motorhomes will have any sort of TPMS – unless it was installed afterwards by owners*.
#3. Not all Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems are the same. There is a significant difference between what a factory installed TPMS and a third party TPMS upgrade can do for you and your rig.
The Act only stipulates the TPMS must monitor for (very) low tire pressure and activate a dash light. Whereas, an add-on TPMS can expand the information with constant pressure readings on each tire individually, tire temperatures and even high tire pressure. With constant monitoring and feedback, you are also able to notice the speed of changes and investigate fast leaks.
TPMS – IN REAL LIFE – LET’S DISCUSS
Does your rig include TPMS? Age, Weight, Type
Maybe. Maybe not. The TREAD Act impacts vehicles after September 2007 weighing under 10,000 GVW (gross vehicle weight). The assumption is the vehicles impacted by the Act are drivable and have a dashboard. That means fifth wheels, travel trailers, toads or other types of tows are not covered by the Act. Although tire damage and blow-outs on these could be potentially devastating, TPMS is not mandated to be included in the equipment’s specifications. Check your owner’s information for TPMS equipment and use.
Do you watch for the TPMS dashboard light?
Do you know what the dashboard TPMS warning light looks like or where it is located? Frankly, it’s a symbol that you hope you don’t see very often. It makes sense that it might not be recognized immediately.
A national survey found that 42% of drivers could not accurately identify the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) dashboard warning symbol**.
Is the manufacturer’s TPMS warning enough? What is “low” pressure?
We all know the recommended tire pressure varies between rigs and every tire situation has its own pressure range for optimum use and safety. Let’s simplify and focus on monitoring tires based on the following:
SLIGHLTY LOW PRESSURE
If your tire pressure is a little low (again, based on your equipment specifications) you are not operating at maximum potential. This information is great to know to make adjustments for the best fuel efficiency and care of your rig.
MODERATELY LOW PRESSURE
If your tire pressure is moderately low, you are putting your equipment at risk. If you have deep pockets, maybe you don’t mind replacing tires more frequently than necessary. If expenses are a consideration, you should get off the road and address the issue. Without immediate attention and proper inflation, damage could occur.
Remember, tire sidewalls heat up and flex with speed. Under inflated tires will cause additional increased heat. This can cause the rubber to weaken and crack. Under inflation should never be a reason for tire failure, however it often is.
EXTREMELY LOW PRESSURE
I don’t know about you, but 25% or more deflated tires is extreme to me. This level of under-inflation is dangerous. Stop driving immediately and resolve the issue.
Just realize, EXTREMELY LOW PRESSURE may be the only time you receive a dashboard warning light from a manufacturer installed TPMS system. Make sure you read your Owner’s Manual to understand what you can expect and depend on.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports3 tires that are underinflated by more than 25 percent are three times more likely to be involved in a crash related to tire problems than a vehicle with proper inflation**.
Many RV owners add their own TPMS, either because their rig does not have one at all, or they want a system that will address all levels of tire pressure. Better systems will also monitor tire temperatures, so you can improve your fuel efficiency, operate with knowledge and comfort and get off the road before damage occurs.
What about your motorhome’s tow?
Another point to consider is the potential harm caused by under inflated tires on toads and dinghies. Even if your rig contains a manufacturer’s TPMS, it will not monitor the tow. An add-on TPMS can monitor multiple tires including tows.
What about your motorhDid your rig come with everything you needed?ome’s tow?
Most don’t. If you’ve invested in upgrading the rig to make it right for you, why skimp on TPMS?
As an owner, we make choices on what to add, or possibly remove, after taking ownership of our rigs. Some upgrades are strictly for convenience and comfort, like installing an awning screen or upgrading an exterior TV. Some are for efficiency like solar panels and self-leveling systems. While some others are for safety.
TPMS systems offer all of these: They provide convenience and comfort by monitoring tires constantly and from the comfort of the cab. They also support efficiency and safety by monitoring tires for the proper fuel-saving inflation level, signaling early pressure conditions that could result in equipment wear and tear, and warning of potentially dangerous tire conditions. These early indicators can save you time, money, and potential injury.
Even with the best of intentions, without an automatic monitoring system, keeping a number of tires properly inflated at all times can be a hassle and overlooked.
* Select toy haulers from Forest River’s XLR series released after March 2020 include TPMS. There may be others.
**National Survey: Schrader Discovers 42 Percent of Drivers Still Can’t Identify Lifesaving Dashboard Warning Symbol; April, 2014; businesswire.com
3 Choi, E-H. (2012, April). Tire-Related Factors in the Pre-Crash Phase. (Report No. DOT HS 811 617). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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