In one of my cars, every time I rotated my tires, I saw a light that said I had a flat tire. I would check my pressures, and everything was fine, but the light wouldn’t turn off. This made me wonder if rotating your tires messes up the TPMS sensor that’s built into the wheels.
Tire rotation doesn’t necessarily mess up your TPMS sensors, but it does confuse your car. The sensors are programmed to certain psi’s that are dictated by the manufacturer. Front and rear tires have different target psi values. By rotating your tires, your car is looking for a front tire pressure but reading from a rear tire TPMS sensor. This will give you a false warning light and will make your car think a tire is underinflated or overinflated.
In this piece, I’ll answer that question. I’ll also cover more about TPMS sensors and tire rotations. In the end, I’ll tell you how to rotate your tires without messing up your TPMS sensors.
What is a TPMS Sensor?
TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System. As you might have guessed, the TPMS sensor is just a part of this system.
The system is constantly monitoring the pressure of your car’s tires. This sensor is a “dummy” sensor. It is looking at the tire’s psi and comparing it to the value it was trained to look for (by the manufacturer).
If the pressure is a certain amount below, the sensor will trigger. In some cases, it will also trigger if the psi is too high.
The amount of psi that you need to be off by, will also differ from car to car.
The actual sensor is embedded in the inner part of your rim, reading pressures from inside the tire. The sensor is wired electrically to your car and triggers a warning on your dashboard if the value gets too low (or too high in some vehicles).
For instance, if your car’s tire pressure is 12 psi too low, the light will go off. It might not tell you which tire is low or what the read pressure is.
Understanding TPMS Sensor Settings
Keep in mind, the sensor is fed information from the manufacturer. If you didn’t know, your front tires’ suggested psi is probably different than the value for your rear tires. This idea will pop up again later.
Types of TPMS Sensors
When it comes to these sensors, there are two different types. They achieve the same goal but go about it in different ways.
The first type is called direct TPMS. In this style, each tire has a sensor that’s dedicated to the tire. They take the pressure reading and send it to your car’s dashboard.
They’re typically more expensive to maintain, but they last a long time and deliver pretty accurate readings.
The other option is an indirect TPMS sensor. In this one, pressures aren’t being measured from an instrument. The system taps into your car’s ABS to figure out the air pressure. In this case, it’s looking at how quickly the tires rotate in relation to one another.
If one tire is rotating slower, then that’s a sign that the tire is underinflated. Once this is sensed, then the TPMS sensor triggers a warning to your dashboard.
These sensors are less expensive but also less accurate. If all four tires are flat, an indirect TPMS won’t be able to detect it.
What is a Tire Rotation?
Now it’s time for the other part of the equation: rotating your tires.
As the name suggests, this is simple when the tires are swapped to different positions on your car. The actual pattern used will change depending on the style of drivetrain you have. In other words, there’s a difference between FWD and RWD, here.
Regardless of drivetrain, you’ll probably rotate the tires using a figure-8 technique. Each tire shuffles to a new location using a pattern that looks like an hourglass or the number 8.
It’s done by physically removing each wheel (by removing the lug nuts and pulling the tire right off the mount). Then the wheel is moved to a new location, reinstalled, and that wheel is moved to a new location.
Tire rotation is part of the process of checking the health of your tires.
The Need for Rotating Your Tires
The real reason why you rotate your tires is that your car is unevenly weighted. The left-half and right-half of your car don’t weigh the same, and neither does the comparison between the front and rear half.
This uneven weight leads to uneven wear on your tires. You can thank friction for that one. When your tire makes contact with the ground, friction is the force that rubs away the tread on your tire. With more weight, friction has a bigger impact.
Sort of like sliding a chair across a floor as opposed to sliding a refrigerator across a floor. Heavier things experience a bigger result from friction.
At any rate, since your tires are wearing unevenly, you’ll need to swap around their position. Continuing to drive a car with unevenly worn tires will speed up the process and make things even worse. In extreme cases, it also means spinning out and losing control when you accelerate or decelerate.
It’s the same reason why you typically replace 2 or 4 tires at a time, never 1 or 3, even if you just have a single flat tire.
How Often Should Tires Be Rotated?
In case you were curious, tires should be rotated about as frequently as you change your oil. Something between 5,000 to 10,000 miles is widely accepted in the industry.
Does Rotating Your Tires Mess Up the TPMS Sensor?
Yes, rotating your tires will mess up the TPMS sensors. It doesn’t ruin the sensors themselves, just the location that they’re in.
You’re taking a tire that used to be in the front and putting it in the rear. This, in turn, confuses your car when it comes to TPMS. If your front tires require less pressure than the rear, things will get funky and you might get a TPMS warning light on your dash that isn’t correct.
Still, this doesn’t mean that you should avoid rotating your tires. This is still a critical piece of maintenance. You just have to make sure you correctly rotate your tires.
How to Rotate Your Tires Without Messing Up the TPMS Sensor
If you want to correctly rotate your tires without messing up the TPMS sensors, it’s really straightforward.
Before rotating the tires, take a look at the wheels. See if you can find the TPMS sensors. It’s either attached to the rim or near the valve stem base. If you’re not sure where it is, take a look at your owner’s manual.
Once you know where the sensors are, go ahead and rotate your tires. You’ll be performing a standard tire rotation, nothing special yet.
Once all of the tires are rotated, it’s time to reprogram the TPMS sensors. This will effectively tell your car which sensor is paired with which tire.
The reprogramming process varies wildly from car to car. Your best bet is to consult your owner’s manual and follow their instructions.
Failure to reprogram the sensors will leave you with a system that thinks there’s a faulty pressure somewhere.
Rotating your tires without reprogramming your TPMS sensors is never a good idea. You’ll wind up thinking you have a flat tire when you really don’t. For more car instructional guides, explore my website. Also, check out my list of car products that everyone needs.