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Cold Weather Triggers Cars' Tire Pressure Warning Light

Your car dashboard may be warning you about low tire pressure. But the problem could be caused by the weather.

Photo credit: Patch file photo.
Photo credit: Patch file photo.
By Eric Sevim

The tire pressure monitor light first started showing up in luxury cars in the late 90s but now is standard in all cars sold in the United States as of Sept. 1, 2007. 

The Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS) is a valuable safety tool, but can be a bit of an annoyance when it consistently comes on, then goes off after driving a bit, in the winter.

In winter, temperatures begin to drop drastically over night. When it comes to our cars, steep temperature drops can trigger a sign of winter that we don’t welcome: a yellow or orange low tire pressure warning light.

We have good news for you, though. When your light comes on, your car is simply telling you that you need more air in your tire, and this time of year, the warning is usually related to chilly nights.

Here’s what’s happening:

  • Several vehicles that are 2000 and newer cars and trucks are equipped with a Tire Pressure Monitor System, which triggers your dashboard warning light when the air in your tires drops just a few PSI below the recommended tire psi.
  • Your tire pressure will decrease about 1 psi for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit the outside air temperature drops. (Likewise, it increases about 1 psi for every 10 degrees when the temperature rises.) If your tire pressure was last adjusted during the day or after just coming off the road, the air pressure could be related to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. So now, the temperature drops over night overnight temperature hits the low 40s, your tire pressure will drop down by 5 psi, almost certainly turning on the tire pressure warning light .
  • To remedy your low tire pressure light, a simple check or adjustment of the air in your tires is all that is required. You can do this at a local gas station, or bring it to your local mechanic. There shouldn't be a charge for this if you find a decent shop.

  • Make sure you let your mechanic know that the tire pressure light was on in the morning when it was cold. If you drive your car down to the local shop, the tire pressure will rise from where it was in the morning because the tires will heat up. Parking the car in the afternoon sun will also boost the tire pressure … falsely.

  • In most vehicles, your TPMS light will turn off once the tires are properly inflated.

If Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) seem like overkill when it comes to automotive technology, consider this: A June 2012 study by the Rubber Manufacturers Association reports that more than 80 percent of vehicles on our highways have at least one under inflated tire, which can reduce safety and handling, raise your fuel consumption, and can wears out the tires faster, costing you money. 

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