We’ve finally got our butts on the coast (and yes, we are loving it), but before I reveal all the juicy details I wanted to complete a blog post that’s been on my pending list for a while. Those of you that follow the blog closely will recall that I put a TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System) on my “big 5 wish list” late last year. For those not in the know, TPMS systems monitor how your tires are doing (pressure & temp) real-time on the road and can warn and potentially save you from serious/costly tire mishaps. I don’t consider them a “must have” item, but they sure are neat & provide nice peace of mind. Well, you’ll all be relieved to know we finally got one! In fact it’s been ~2 months since we’ve had it on the rig so that we could thoroughly test it out before writing about it.
After much ado here’s my full review:
Most Of The Major Suppliers Offer “The Basics”
I should start by saying that most of the major TPMS suppliers (TST, Pressure Pro, EEZ, Doran etc.) provide very similar systems and I honestly don’t think you can go wrong with any of them. I was able to see (and hold) just about every model out there during the big RV show at Quartzsite earlier this year and they were all very similar in price in features. Pretty much all of them cost around $450 or so (for 10 sensors) and provide the following:
- Temperature & pressure tracking
- Audible & visible warnings for low pressure, slow air leak and high temp/pressure.
- Flow-through or cap sensors with support for 10 sensors or more
- Auto and manual set-up of threshold alarms
- Warranty of at least 2 years
These are the basics. That said there are some differences between suppliers and a few reasons we got the particular model we did….
Positive Features of the Tire-Safeguard:
- Larger Screen -> These guys offered a much larger screen than most of the other suppliers and that’s something I liked. I don’t want to squint to see what the system is doing while driving.
- Much Longer Range -> When we bought this system the salesperson assured us we would not need a repeater for our MH+toad. I talked to all the major suppliers and Tire Safeguard was the only one who could guarantee that for our size. In fact I was down to choosing between TST 507 (also an excellent system) and Tire-Safeguard and this particular feature was the one that knocked me to Tire-Safeguard. I really like this since it’s one less piece of electronics to worry about. The great news is the claims were accurate. The TPMS has had no problem picking up all our sensors and was even able to pick-up our tow car while I was driving ~25 feet behind the motorhome out of a campsite. We’ve been very impressed with the range and it’s probably my #1 “like” feature of this system.
- User-Replaceable Batteries -> The batteries in the sensors for our system are easily changeable by the user. Older TPMS models didn’t offer this option meaning you had to send in the sensors (or buy new ones) when the battery ran out. Pretty much ALL the new TPMS systems offer this now and I consider it a “must have” feature.
- Green Light -> This is a minor thing, but when plugged-in this TPMS monitor puts out a nice little green LED light at the top right when everything is OK (goes red if things are not OK). While I’m driving I really like the convenience of just glancing over and seeing that green light rather than looking at the screen for details. None of the other guys had this nifty little feature.
Details Specific To Our Set-Up
We bought the caps (0.45oz) rather than the flow-throughs mostly because they are lighter and I don’t like the idea of a heavy thing rotating around on the end of our tire-stems. Many, many RVers buy the flow-throughs with no issues at all, so this is purely a personal preference. The caps come with a “collar” which is used to secure them to the stems but we chose not to use it. That way we can easily screw off the caps anytime we need to add air. There is no danger of the caps falling off, and the collar is mostly a security feature (so folks don’t steal the caps). We are OK with by-passing this for convenience and my inquiries on the forums reveals many other RVers do the same.
When we got the system it was an easy task of taking off the existing caps from our tires and screwing on the sensors. We took the precaution (which I recommend) of using Anti-Sieze on all the caps before securing them onto the stems. This prevents potential galvanic corrosion issues between the metal of your stems and the internal threads of the sensors. Galvanic corrosion is a problem that happens when dissimilar metals come in contact with each other (e.g. aluminium and brass) and it basically causes them to “weld” together. It doesn’t happen to all metals (it depends on their Anodic Index), but it can be very costly if it does and it seems to be a particular problem with Honda CR-V’s (I’ve read of folks with CR-V’s who had to saw off their stems & replace them because of this very issue). Using anti-seize, or some kind of insulating grease like Vaseline is easy insurance. Also taking off the caps (if sitting still for a long time) can prevent this problem.
For installation we used the auto-programming feature and it was perfectly painless. The pressures on all the tires came within 1 PSI of the measured pressure (as taken by our manual pressure gauge) and temperatures matched very closely too (as taken by our handy dandy infrared gun). The entire set-up took less than 20 minutes.
Negative Features of the Tire-Safeguard:
- Customer Service Was So-So -> We had a bit of a rough start with Tire Safeguard trying to contact the customer service and not being called back. We were buying the system with two other RV friends and they also had the same issues. That said, since we received the TPMS there has been no problem & we’ve had several additional conversations with customer service which were very well handled. We even returned one of the caps (suspected leak) and received the replacement promptly with no questions asked.
- We’ve Had One False Alarm -> We had one tire show a false temperature of 144 degrees. Resetting the system cleared the alarm. From the forums I gather the occasional false alarm is not unusual in TPMS systems.
- Acquisition takes Time From “Sleep Mode” -> We’ve noticed when sitting still that the sensors take a while to acquire after the unit is switched on. This is pretty typical of almost all TPMS systems since the sensors go into “sleep mode” when not in use to save battery life. Once the RV starts moving the sensors acquire quickly, but if we want to measure pressures before moving the rig (which we pretty much always want to do) we have to remember to turn on the unit ~20 minutes before we pull out. Not a big deal, but just something to be aware of.
Extra Tire Tips:
A TPMS is a pretty good safety system, but I think it’s important to understand some tire basics before you buy one:
Get Your Rig Weighed: Before you install a TPMS system it’s critical to understand WHAT your tire pressure should be for the size of your rig. The #1 reason for blow-outs are either under-inflated or over-inflated tires. The only way to be accurate on this is to load your rig up, get her weighed (preferably 4-corners, but per axle is a good start) and then set the tire pressures as recommended by your tire manufacturer for your specific tire brand at your specific weight. There’s no better way around this. Loading and then weighing your rig should be one of the very first things you do when you get an RV. Don’t skimp this!
Understand How Pressure Varies With Temperature: Once you get your rig weighed and set your tire pressures, it’s important to understand how these pressures might naturally vary under different conditions. Pressure increases with temperature (it’s called The Ideal Gas Law PV = nRT) so as you’re driving your tires will get hotter and your tire pressure will increase. Similarly if your RV tires are sitting in the middle of Pheonix in summer the tire pressures will be naturally higher than if they’re sitting in the middle of Fargo in winter. To put this into numbers, air pressure in a tire typically increases 1-2 pounds for every 10 degrees of temperature rise (and visa versa for drops). Big (sudden) changes in temp are signs of a problem, but these small changes are all perfectly normal and nothing to freak out about if you understand it properly. Here’s a neat little TABLE that shows how tire pressure varies with outside air temp.
Always Have Back-Up Gauges: No matter how much you love your TPMS you should not forgo the simple back-up of a manual tire pressure gauge. What if your sensors fail? Or you need to check if they’re working? For under $20 everyone should have one of these in their rig. We’ve used a manual gauge for the past 4 years, checking our tire pressures before each trip in the rig. Easy and fast.
In addition, although not a requirement it’s nice to have an simple infrared gun as a back-up to check tire temps. As I mentioned above tire pressures will rise normally while driving, but if one of your tires is significantly hotter than the others this can indicate a serious problem. Also having an infrared gun is just plain cool
Know What To Do In A Blow-Out: I’ve linked to this video before, but it’s important enough to do it again. Did you know you should accelerate before you brake if you have a blow-out? Counter-intuitive right? EVERYONE should watch this:
Protect Your Tires During Down-Time: Anyone who’s left stuff sitting out in the hot sun knows how damaging it can be. Tires do best while driven and will deteriorate with UV and ozone exposure. There’s not much we can do about ozone (well, apart from not parking next to something obvious like welding equipment), but for the UV side we regularly protect our tires with Aerospace 303 and cover them with inexpensive tire covers whenever we’re sitting still for a few days. Overkill perhaps but it’s easy, cheap insurance in my mind.
PHEW! That ended up waaaay longer than I expected, but I hope it was helpful. We’ll get back to beach and easy, fluffy posts next
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