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Why Is My TPMS Light Flashing? It Could Be Time for a New Sensor

It’s now been seven years since many new vehicles started arriving at Canadian car dealerships equipped with a factory-installed tire pressure monitoring system(TPMS) that alerts drivers when a tire’s pressure is dangerously low. Today, most of us have a much better awareness about how TPMS works to save lives, but you might not know an important component of your TPMS might be due for replacement.

Hailed by some vehicle safety experts as the best thing to happen to vehicles since the seatbelt, TPMS isn’t yet mandated yet here in Canada, but an estimated 70 per cent of vehicles sold here since 2010 are equipped with TPMS.

If you’re not familiar with how TPMS works, it uses a wheel-mounted sensor or the ABS system to detect tire pressure. If your tire pressure is dangerously low, the sensor sends a signal to your dashboard, where the TPMS warning symbol will light up.

But there’s another reason why your TPMS symbol could be lighting up, especially if it’s flashing and your vehicle was purchased around 2007: an expiring sensor battery.

When TPMS first came out, the engineers behind this potentially life-saving system estimated its battery life would be about seven years. Today, TPMS experts believe a more realistic expectation of the battery’s lifespan is kilometres driven more than the age of vehicle—150,000 kilometres, depending slightly on the vehicle and ambient temperature.

How do you know if your TPMS battery needs to be replaced?

If your TPMS symbol lights up and your vehicle is either at more than 100,000 kilometres or somewhere between five and eight years old, there’s a good chance it’s the sensor needing a new battery.

If it is the sensor battery and not low tire pressure, the symbol will likely flash, either at first and then turn steady, or remain flashing, whereas a TPMS symbol that’s illuminated and only steady indicates low tire pressure (each vehicle manufacturer is slightly different in the way it flashes to indicate a TPMS component failure). Either way, your vehicle needs to come in to a Kal Tire service centre near you for inspection.

What does replacing your TPMS system involve?

When you bring your vehicle in and our TPMS experts diagnose the problem as an expired TPMS sensor battery, the sensor needs to be replaced, not just the battery. The battery is an integral part of the sensor, and the whole sensor needs to be replaced.

Now, your TPMS light could come on to tell us there’s a component malfunction on one sensor, and we’d replace it, and then next week, the symbol could light up again. That’s because each tire is equipped with TPMS, possibly your spare as well.

Since you’ve come into the shop to have one TPMS sensor replaced, and they all have about the same lifespan, it makes sense to have them all replaced at once rather than making several trips over the course of a few months or weeks.

That way you’ll save yourself time, but you’ll also have the peace of mind of knowing your TPMS is best able to do its job—tell you that your tire’s air pressure is dangerously low so you can avoid blowouts and accidents.

To learn more about TPMS, how it works and what to do if your warning symbol illuminates and remains steady, read our post What is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System?