Truck Systems Technology - Tire Pressure Monitoring

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Roslyn B. says, “I have a question about trailer tires. This past weekend I had a blowout on a busy interstate. We spent two hours in 102 degrees in a precarious position waiting for the emergency assistance from Good Sam to get to us. Thankfully a FHP trooper waited with us hoping to slow the traffic speeding by on I 275.

We had the tires on my 19-foot Airstream checked out prior to our trip. The tire was only two years old. Any thoughts on what to do to prevent this from happening again? We keep it stored in an inside facility in Orlando.”

We feel you, Roslyn. A tire pressure monitoring system that allows you keep track of your tire performance might be your best option. When installed, a remote monitor in your tow vehicle tells you when a tire becomes dangerously under- or over-inflated. Let’s let Steve Rosenthal, fellow Airstreamer and expert on tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) tell you more—

“Tire pressure monitors are quickly becoming a necessity rather than the newest gadget out in electronics land,” says Rosenthal. “Every new passenger vehicle and light truck produced or sold in America has a TPMS system standard; not as sophisticated on some models, to very sophisticated on more expensive or exotic vehicles.
People are fast becoming believers, due to the fact that they’re hearing stories from other RVers or that they’ve had a near disaster or worse and experienced tire failures themselves. To most folks, TPMS systems seem complicated and difficult to understand, so I’ll try to give a “non-geek” explanation of how they work. They really aren’t that complicated or mysterious.

Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensor

First, these systems are completely wireless. This means that they have no wires running from the sensors to the monitor installed on the driver’s side dashboard area. They operate on frequencies that allow them to communicate back and forth from the sensors to the monitor. The system is constantly requesting the temperature and pressure from each sensor installed on every tire on the vehicle. When the sensor is ‘asked’, it responds with an answer, giving the monitor the data and then displaying that information on the screen for the operator to see. Settings are established in advance so that the system understands what the high and low pressure and high temperature settings are supposed to be. As long as the tire stays within those setting parameters, the system remains quiet and displays that all is well.

If, however, the system detects tire anomalies (a fancy engineering word for ‘the system is out of established limits’), the monitor immediately goes into an alert mode, and lights and sirens go off to give the driver the opportunity to make quick educated decisions about the issue before it becomes critical.

If a nail or screw is picked up in a tire, a brake begins to drag, or a hub bearing fails, these (and other issues) can cause air pressure, the lack of pressure, or even heat to become a problem. The system immediately jumps to the problem tire or tires, and lets the driver know exactly which tire is in trouble—possibly preventing a catastrophic event.

Tire Pressure Monitoring Sensor

I’m often asked why sometimes the TPMS didn’t alert the driver to a blowout in advance of it occurring, and the answer is simple: if there is a catastrophic occurrence that takes place instantly—such as hitting a piece of debris or a very sharp-edged pothole—the tire fails instantly and there’s no way that the system can tell the driver ahead of time that that’s about to happen. There’s no system available as of this date that has forward-looking radar to help drivers avoid holes and road debris. I’m sure however, that the day will come when they do have such ability.

In the meantime, keep vigilant and make sure you are not driving on old (more than four year old) tires. (The date of manufacture may be much older than the purchase date.) Make sure that you have your tires properly inflated. And make sure that your trailer DOES NOT EXCEED THE GROSS VEHICLE WEIGHT RATING (GVWR). I had a fellow Airstreamer tell me that he thought it was okay to tow his trailer at between 1000 to 1500 pounds above GVWR. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Take it easy, slow down, and keep the shiny side up!”

Thanks, Steve! Roslyn, the TST tire pressure monitoring system is available in the Airstream Life Store.

Also, check out these articles about tire safety and selection in the Outside Interests archives:
Tire Tips Part 1 
Tire Tips Part 2

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