RV TPMS: What It Is and Why You Need It

One of the greatest fears every RVer has is a breakdown on the road. Apart from it dampening the enthusiasm of your road trip and ruining your schedule, a breakdown can be downright scary if it happens in the wrong place, at night, or during bad weather.

Though there are a multitude of things that can go wrong on any vehicle at any time, one of the most common failures on an RV is a tire. Motorhome owners have a lot of them to contend with between the coach itself and the towed vehicle and it only takes something as small as a wayward nail to cause a flat—or worse yet—a blowout.

For decades, RVers simply had to remain vigilant about inflation pressure—checking it before travel and during fuel stops. While this is still a good habit to be in, it won’t help if you start to lose pressure in one or more tires as you travel down the road. That’s why a Tire-Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is such a worthwhile addition.

By constantly keeping tabs on all the tires as you travel, a TPMS can let an RV owner know the instant a tire starts to lose pressure and address the problem before it gets catastrophic. At the very least, a good TPMS can save owners a lot of money especially if the tire can be fixed rather than replaced.

An RV TPMS is a safety feature that not only protects you (and everyone riding in and around your RV while you’re on the road) but it also helps to keep your tires in tip-top condition, a goal near-and-dear to the hearts of RVers—for many reasons.

Let’s take a look at why this system is so important.

Shop for quality, ease of use, and reliability © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is an RV TPMS?

The purpose of an RV tire pressure monitoring system is to track the pressures of all tires on the rig to make sure proper tire pressure is maintained as you travel.

Many factors can cause tires to lose air including a change in ambient temperature, a slow leak, and a fast leak caused by something the tire strikes on the road or even just time and travel.

Using our rig as an example, we’re 40-feet long (without the car in tow!) and heavy. If we’re rambling down the highway at 65 miles per hour and one of our RV tires blows out we could find ourselves in a very precarious situation. Not only would we be in danger in this scenario but so could anyone traveling near us on the road.

This is what makes an RV TPMS so critical.

Constant monitoring of tire pressure allows you to be alerted to any changes in the tire pressure of every tire on your rig as they happen.

Shop for quality, ease of use, and reliability © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How does an RV TPMS work?

A TPMS places a sensor at each of the RV tires and the sensors allow the constant monitoring of each tire’s pressure. As soon as the pressure in any one of the tires drops below the appropriate level, the driver is notified via the information on the TPMS console mounted on the dashboard of the rig.

Those are the basics of how a TPMS system works but depending on the model, some offer a variety of additional features. Some systems offer customizable high and low-pressure alerts and a high-temperature alert (each sensor also monitoring the temperature of the air in the tire).

Why do you need an RV TPMS?

There are several important reasons to have an RV TPMS. The first and most important by far is for safety.

1. Safety

A system that monitors your tires contributes to your safety, the safety of everyone in your RV, and the safety of everyone in the vicinity of your rig.

A TPMS system is a good tool for every vehicle and even more so for RVs. Most motorhomes are large, long, tall, and very heavy. Some have twice as many tires as the average vehicle on the road.

Our rig has six tires and our toad has four more. So, we ride down the road on 10 tires. Our RV alone weighs over 14 tons and we spend a lot of time on the road. At any given time any one of those 10 tires could have an issue and we want to be alerted as early as possible.

A blowout in any vehicle is dangerous. A blowout in a 38-foot motorhome towing an SUV while hurtling down the highway could very easily be catastrophic.

2. An RV TPMS extends tire life

Tires that are over- or under-inflated wear out more quickly than tires that are maintained at their recommended psi. Overinflation leads the tire tread to wear more quickly at the center of the tire while underinflation can cause the outer treads to wear prematurely. For this reason, a TPMS extends tire life.

3. Environmentally friendly

Under-inflated tires wear sooner and reduce fuel efficiency by increasing drag. This makes a TPMS an environmentally friendly system in a couple of ways.

First, there’s the fuel consumption issue, of course. Improperly inflated tires can increase the drag resisting the rotation of your wheels causing your RV engine to have to work harder (i.e. burn more fuel) to roll down the road. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2 percent for every 1 psi drop in the average pressure of all tires.

There’s also the matter of tire replacement. A worn tire requires replacement and the more tires you replace, the more rubber, steel, nylon, silica, polyester, carbon black, petroleum, etc. you use (and dispose of)!

Types of RV Tire Pressure Monitor Systems

There are two types of RV TPMS—direct and indirect. Let’s take a look at what distinguishes them from one another.

Direct RV TPMS

The most common form of TPMS, this type adds a sensor to each tire (either installed inside the tire by mounting it to the wheel/rim or externally on the valve stem). The sensor is programmed to that tire position and then provides real-time data alerting the driver if the tire’s pressure drops below the appropriate level.

Some direct TPMS units will also alert you to a slow leak in a tire as well as when a tire’s temperature rises above a certain point.

Shop for quality, ease of use, and reliability © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indirect RV TPMS

Indirect tire pressure monitoring systems are less common. They work along with the antilock braking system of your RV or vehicle.

An indirect TPMS senses and monitors how fast the wheels are spinning. When one wheel spins at a different speed than the others, it generally indicates improper tire pressure in that tire. The driver is alerted to the discrepancy and can stop and tend to that tire.

With an indirect TPMS, the sensor must be recalibrated every time the tire pressure is changed.

Indirect TPMS units are factory installed only and are not available as aftermarket systems.

Shop for quality, ease of use, and reliability © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to look for in an RV TPMS

Here’s where we get into the details. RV tire pressure monitoring systems have a number of features that are important to assess when considering the purchase of a system for your rig.

Display

The type of display on a system you need to monitor while driving is an important consideration. If you can’t read the display in the sun, for example, the monitoring system is relatively useless whenever you’re driving in those conditions. Look for a display that is easily read even when wearing sunglasses. While this may seem like an obvious feature of any TPMS, it isn’t.

Also consider the size of the display screen; for most people a 4 ½ inch x 3 inch screen is easy to read.

It’s very important to have a TPMS with a high-quality display that’s easy to read.

Ease of use and installation

This is self-explanatory but no one likes to have to spend hours trying to figure out how any system works. You want a system that’s easy-to-install and easy-to-use so that you can set it up, learn how to use it quickly, and carry on about your business.

So, when shopping for a TPMS, be sure to read reviews where you can often find comments from people who will often express how frustrating a system was to install or to learn.

You want a system you’ll install and walk away saying, “That was easy” and one you’ll use almost without having to think about it.

Reliability

The reliability of any product is always important. But when you’re counting on a product to give you accurate information related to a safety item, you want to be darn sure that information is reliable.

I’ve heard complaints about wireless connectivity issues. If your TPMS only monitors the condition of your tires some of the time then it’s not serving its intended purpose.

The reliability of how the system responds is crucial. The system must properly respond to changes in tire pressure and temperature or it’s of no real use and could even present a danger if it’s giving inaccurate information.

Flexibility

One size does not fit all with a tire pressure monitoring system. The reason is that we’re all driving and towing different rigs. But let’s say you’re taking a road trip and leaving your toad behind.

You’ll want a TPMS system that allows you to separate the two different parts of your towing configuration. If you leave the toad behind, you want to be able to drop it from the system and monitor only the tires on your motorhome.

This is perhaps an even more important feature for trailer/fifth wheel owners. They need to know that even if they’re not towing their RV their TPMS will work on their truck.

Another important element of flexibility is whether or not you can buy as many sensors as you need, based on how many tires you have.

Shop for quality, ease of use, and reliability © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

User-replaceable sensor batteries

A system that allows you to replace the batteries is an important consideration when purchasing a TPMS.

Some systems don’t have user-replaceable batteries and as the batteries began to die they start having an issue with individual tires not properly reporting. The cost of replacing the low-battery sensors can be more than buying a whole new system.

You’ll want a system that has a monitor with a built-in rechargeable internal lithium battery and comes with a common USB charging cord that can be connected to a USB port for easy charging.

If you’re looking at a system that doesn’t have user-replaceable batteries, you need to know the predicted life of the included batteries and you also want to know whether the sensors can be sent back for replacement when they’re no longer sensing accurately due to low battery power. (Or perhaps replacements are offered at a discounted price.)

Cost/budget

Budget is always a consideration when shopping for a product and a tire pressure monitoring system is certainly no exception.

There are various systems out there at various costs.

But shop for quality, ease of use, and reliability. If you buy a quality product up front that performs well, you won’t need to replace it for a long time to come.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

—Burma Shave sign