How to Get the Best TPMS Tool for Your Car?
The best TPMS (Tire Pressure Management System) tool will help you diagnose and maintain sensors that monitor your car’s tires. That’s important, not just for the health of your tires, but your safety as well.
Long story short, a good TPMS tool is a must-have. And we’re here to help you pick the very best of the bunch. But first, you have to know what TPMS is.
What is TPMS?
You’ve probably noticed that a number of lights usually come on every time you start your car. If everything is working fine, they should quickly disappear. But they usually last just long enough for you to see how each one looks like.
One of them is the TPMS light. It looks something like this:
So, what does it mean? TPMS stands for tire pressure monitoring system. It’s a car’s on-board system that alerts you when the tire pressure is too low. During startup, the TPMS light comes on to notify you that the pressure monitoring system is working. However, if the light doesn’t disappear shortly after, it means that one or more of your tires are under-inflated. Similarly, if the light comes on when you’re driving, it means that it’s time to check your tire pressure. That’s basically what a TPMS does – it notifies you when your tire pressure is worryingly low.
The Problem with Low Tire Pressure
Your tires must always be properly inflated. Why is that important? Because both under inflation and over inflation can be hazardous; especially under inflation.When tires are properly inflated, their performance improves. Additionally, the vehicle becomes a lot easier to handle and its load capacity increases. That’s all because a well inflated tire reduces tread movement and rolling resistance while increasing water dispersion. In other words, it reduces the risk of an accident. Under inflation is particularly bad because it leads to sluggish tire response, excessive heat buildup, tire overload and reduced fuel economy. All these things can either cause an accident or leave you stranded when the tire (inevitably) blows out.
This was confirmed way back in 1970 after an Indiana State University study found that 1.5% of all motor accidents are caused by under inflated tires. Sufficient technology didn’t exist at that time to make TPMS, at least not until the early 1980s.
The 90s took TPMS mainstream after it was installed in the Porsche 959 and then later on all Chevy Corvettes. Pretty much every mainstream car model had the technology soon after that. And then in 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Tire Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act of 2000.
One of the Act’s requirements was that every passenger vehicle sold in the U.S. beginning September 1, 2007 should have TPMS. With it came some of the best TPMS tools that car owners and drivers can rely on.
How Does TPMS Work in Your Car?
That depends on the type of TPMS that’s equipped in your car. There are two kinds of TPMS:
- Direct TPMS: uses a sensor that’s mounted in the wheel to monitor the pressure in each tire. If it (the pressure) drops below 25% of the manufacturer’s recommended level, the TPMS triggers the dashboard warning light.
- Indirect TPMS: works with the car’s Antilock Braking System (ABS) wheel speed sensors. Usually, if a tire’s pressure is low, it will roll at a different speed than the rest of the tires. The TPMS senses this and triggers the dashboard warning light.
Whenever it detects low tire pressure, TPMS sends a signal to the Engine Control Unit (ECU), which then alerts you via warning lights. If you’ve observed it keenly then you probably know that the TPMS light has different ways of illuminating. Here’s what each of the lights means:
- TPMS light stays on when you’re driving: this means that the pressure in at least one tire has fallen below the required minimum. You have to inflate it or change it in case it’s a puncture.
- TPMS light keeps turning on and off: if the TPMS warning light comes on intermittently, it means that your tire pressure is changing with temperature changes. Usually, if a tire’s pressure is close to the minimum threshold, it can decrease to below the minimum when temperatures drop (typically at night), thus triggering the TPMS light. When temperatures rise (mostly during the day), the tire pressure increases to a level above the minimum, thus turning the TPMS off again.
- TPMS light flashes and stays on: when you start the car, the light flashes for a minute or two and then stays on. This indicates a problem with the TPMS itself. That’s where the best TPMS tool comes in.
It will tell you if the tire pressure monitoring system is faulty or if you simply need to replace the TPMS sensor. And yes, TPMS tools also measure tire pressure. That’s killing two birds with one stone.
Tips to Get the Best TPMS Tool for Your Car
Like any other device, different TPMS tools have different sets of features. And there are tons of brands out there; so many that you may feel overwhelmed. Don’t be!
Instead, simply focus on the following pointers and you’ll get your hands on the best TPMS tool for your car.
- Vehicle coverage: first and foremost, is it compatible with your car? You don’t want to invest in a tool that won’t work on your vehicle. Most premium products like the Autel TS508 or JDIAG 2-in-1 TPMS Relearn tool are compatible with all domestic and foreign cars. Go for such. You can also check the manufacturer’s website to know for sure if your vehicle is covered.
- Functionality: the best TPMS tool should offer a lot more than simply measuring tire pressure. Look for a device that can also activate, program and relearn TPMS sensors.
Sensor activation is required when you’re diagnosing the TPMS. Programming and relearning are necessary when you replace TPMS sensors.
Beyond that, some tools allow you to pull and erase trouble codes. If you’re willing to spend a few more bucks you’ll find that they are a lot better than the basic ones. They allow you to turn off the TPMS light and other warning lights.
- Usability: tools like the Autel TS501, Autel TS601 and Ateq VT31 have an intuitive interface like the one you would find on a smartphone. You navigate through menus on a screen to find functions.
Others like the VXDAS TPMS tool and VXScan EI50448 do not have a screen. They feature two or three buttons for checking pressure, activating TPMS and relearning. They are simple and more straightforward.
In this case your choice should depend on what you’re more comfortable with. Keep in mind that tools with a display screen will cost you more.
- Tech support: does the device come with free software updates? Do they have a number that you can call when your TPMS tool isn’t working? These are some of the things to keep in mind. Autel usually offer software updates as well as a toll-free number for tech support. You can’t go wrong with them.
- Price: obviously you can’t spend what you don’t have. You’ll be happy to know that there’s a device for every price range. The best TPMS tool right now is (arguably) the Autel MaxiTPMS TS 508. It will set you back close to $400.
If you’re looking for entry-level options, you can consider a unit like the VXSCAN El50448 which costs just under $10. But it won’t give you the same service as a high-end or mid-range TPMS tool.
Just to recap everything: TPMS is one of the most important systems in a vehicle. It’s your best friend that constantly checks your tire pressure while your eyes are on the road. That constant checking can be the different between a successful trip and an (avoidable) accident.
Needless to say, you must always ensure that your car’s TPMS is working properly. That means having the best TPMS tool with you for diagnosing the system when the need arises.