What does it mean when tire light is flashing? T.P.M.S. Guide

(Last Updated On: August 19, 2023)

The Tire Pressure Monitoring system is a safety feature used on modern vehicles to indicate to the driver when there is an issue. With the tire pressures low, a vehicle’s MPG is reduced alongside stopping distances and stability on the road.

TPMS has been required on vehicles manufactured in the EU since 2012 but can also be found on older cars. The use of TPMS on vehicles allowed manufacturers to no longer provide spare tires on new cars as the tire pressures and the driver could closely monitor problems.

To get straight into it, all lights on the dashboard indicate an issue on the tire light is no exception to the rule.

What does it mean when tire light is flashing?

A flashing tire light indicates a problem with the tire pressure monitoring system, not a tire pressure problem. TPMS utilizes infrared sensors on the tire valves that communicate with the ECU, giving real-time feedback on the tire pressures. The sensors are powered by a battery similar to a watch battery and have an average lifespan of around seven years, but it has been known that batteries need to be replaced much quicker.

A flat battery in the sensor is not the only problem with TPMS; the valves can lose communication with the car’s computer. When this happens, they can be reprogrammed with a TPMS machine, or some vehicles allow you to do this through buttons on the dashboard. Your car’s manual will indicate if you can do this.

Solid TPMS light

A tire pressure light that comes on and remains solid indicates a tire pressure problem; either the car has a puncture, or the tire pressure needs adjusting and the system reset. All vehicles with TPMS have a reset function after checking the pressures to tell the car everything is okay. This can be either a button or a procedure; this is indicated in the car owner’s manual.

In a nutshell: Flashing vs solid TPMS light

What should you do when a tire pressure light flashes?

When a tire light is blinking, you should check the tire pressures and reset the TPMS system. A sensor that is getting low on battery may still reset and be perfectly serviceable for a while longer; the flashing is just a warning indicator that you need to do something about it. This isn’t always the case, but a sensor programmed to illuminate the TPMS light when the battery gets down to 20%, as you can imagine, may last another year. There is always the chance the pressure of the tires is causing a malfunction in the sensor, so checking and resetting may fix the problem.

If resetting the tire pressures and TPMS system doesn’t solve the problem, then the car will need to go onto a TPMS reading device or diagnostic tool which will tell you which sensor is causing the problem.

There are a few scenarios to repair sensor valves, in that if the battery may need changing, it can be done in most. However, some TPMS sensor valves are sealed and require the whole unit to be replaced and reprogrammed after changing the battery. Unfortunately, this isn’t a job that can be carried out without using a tire machine and rebalancing the wheels after. The car will need to go into a tire shop for this repair.

It is essential not to trust the car’s dashboard as to which sensor is causing the problem. As clever as TPMS is, they are programmed to only work on one corner of the vehicle. When the tires are changed, tire fitters tend not to put the wheels back in the same place they came off—for example, putting the driver-side front wheel onto the passenger-side rear. The car will still recognize the pressure but cannot identify where on the vehicle it is.

TPMS valve

Can you drive with TPMS light flashing?

There are a few problems with driving with TPMS light flashing if you have sensor valves, the tire pressure monitoring system will not be operational. If you have a puncture, it may not be evident to you until you feel it in the steering. Your average road cars didn’t come with TPMS systems 20 years ago, so driving the car won’t be a problem. It would still be wise to check the pressures first, just in case there is another issue entirely.

Here’s were you may experience a big problem and you really shouldn’t drive. Some cars do not have sensor valves but rely on the A.B.S, stability program and ride height sensors to judge tire pressures. In that case, the tire pressure light flashing may actually indicate another issue entirely and potentially be hazardous if driving.

Do you need to keep the tire pressure montiring system?

People have removed the TPMS system from cars. However, this can invalidate car insurance and manufacturer warranties because it is a modification.

It is unwise to interfere with or remove the car’s safety features if you were to have a bad accident in the car; you may be liable if the basic safety systems, such as TPMS, were found inoperable.

One last thing to remember is depending on your tire type; for example, run-flat tires can support the car’s weight with no air. So without T.P.M.S, it would be impossible to see you have a flat tire without them.

Conclusion

Tire pressure monitoring system is a vital safety component to modern vehicles that should be kept in good condition. A flashing tire light indicates there is a problem with the hardware, for example could be a communication error or a flat battery on the valve sensor. Which will need rectifying as soon as possible. It is is possible to drive however it is unwise to drive long distances and you should only drive to the place of repair. Because depending on the type of tire pressure monitoring system on the car, you can’t be 100% sure there isn’t another issue causing the light to flash.

My name is Tom although my friends call me Tommy. Messing around with cars and bikes has always been a hobby of mine even from a young age. So I made it my day job 17 years ago. I am a fully qualified mechanic as you would expect. I've worked in all different areas of the motor trade, valeting, panel beating, engine repairs, I'm sure you get the idea. I enjoy sharing my wealth of knowledge and experience with others, which is the reason I spend a lot of time here writing for this website.

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