Knowing your rig’s tire pressure at all times is vital, whether traveling in a Class B RV with just four tires or hauling a travel trailer that doubles your tire count. There are quite a few options available for a tire pressure monitoring system and we recommend having one — but which kind and how much you want to spend are entirely a personal decision.
The scariest thing that has happened in the Roadtrek in the first two years we have owned it was when I experienced a tire blowing out on an interstate highway. To make matters worse, it was on a curving overpass with limited space to get out of the way of speeding traffic that had little interest in slowing down or even moving over. (This included while the tow truck driver and I were out of the vehicle working on the busted tire — but irresponsible drivers putting people at risk is a whole other blog post for another day.)
Monitoring your tire pressure
Soon after that experience, we decided we wanted to know what the tire pressure was on all four tires at all times. We’re not certain how quickly the tire went out on the van that day but it’s possible I would have had some warning that something was wrong before the tire completely collapsed and I was immediately forced to the side of the road.
After reviewing the many options that range from about $70 to well over $300, I settled on purchasing a Carchet TPMS unit. Many different companies seem to offer very similar units. They all share the same wireless broadcast sensors that go on your valve stems and the same type of display unit. One thing I preferred about the Carchet was that it comes with a longer 12V power cord that connects to the display, rather than the display unit plugging directly into your 12V outlet. That means you can mount it to your windshield or somewhere on your dash.
The Carchet system runs about $90 and is quite simple to set up and operate. The basic idea on these systems is that you replace the valve caps with sensor caps that have a battery and broadcast the tire pressure to the monitor display inside your vehicle.
If you have a travel trailer and want to monitor those tires plus the tires on your tow vehicle, I recommend investing in a larger system that allows you to monitor more tires and, for the cost, are probably of a higher quality.
Installation of the tire pressure monitors
While they come with a locking mechanism for each cap, we never use ours because to us it’s not worth the hassle of using a special tool to unlock the valve stem every time you need to adjust the air pressure, or if you want to check it manually before departing. If we lived somewhere or visited areas with crime rates bad enough that you have to worry about your valve caps, I would probably reconsider — where we lived and visited!
Without the security locks, you simply connect the display unit to your vehicle via a 12-volt DC plug and screw the new sensor caps on the valve stems. The caps use the flat round batteries, and try to conserve their power by going to sleep after you’ve been parked for a while. That’s one of the tricky parts about using this system — you have to start rolling to wake the sensors up so they will transmit the current pressure to the display unit, and sometimes that can take several minutes of driving. That’s why I prefer not to use the cap locks — so it’s easier to unscrew the sending units, check the pressure manually before leaving, and then put them back on. I use the system more for a constant check while driving than as a maintenance unit, so it’s not that big of a deal to me.
Displaying your tire pressure
The display unit has three brightness settings, but even the lowest setting can be a bit bright late at night so keep that in mind when locating it inside the vehicle. We have ours lying flat in a console below the driver’s sightline. That means making a quick glance to check tire pressure rather than having it always in view on the windshield, but at least it’s not annoying when driving at night. Constantly checking the pressure isn’t necessary, although I tend to make a routine glance at it from time to time. With this system, if the tire pressure gets too low (or too high), an audible alert will sound warning you of an issue and show you which tire is causing it. (A similar alert will occur when a sensor battery is low.)
One other note about the display — it shares tire pressure and temperature, but only in Celsius. There is no way to change it to Fahrenheit. Since we use it as a safety monitor, the actual temperature isn’t as important to us as making sure all four tires are running at about the same temperature. Besides, maybe this will force me to finally learn the Celsius scale.
Longevity of the system
The original batteries lasted almost two years before they needed to be replaced, and replacements are available from Amazon in bulk for less than a dollar a piece. Probably the worst part of the overall design of the sensor caps is how you replace the batteries. You must use the special tool that comes with them or you will not get the sensors open without causing damage to them. Once you find the tool (yes, I lost ours for a while), the replacement procedure is easy. The company even provides extra rubber washers to replace the originals that may break when you separate the two parts of the sensor unit. The washers are necessary since the sensor units are exposed to a lot of weather and moisture, so that is a nice touch for the manufacturer to include replacements.
Speaking of replacements, a new sensor will become necessary over time. Odds are that exposure to all types of weather conditions — especially if you live in a true four-season state like Michigan, as we do — is going to take its toll. We recently had a sensor that stopped working and even after replacing the battery it would not come back to life. There are now replacement sensors available for 20 bucks a piece, so you don’t have to buy an entirely new system if you have one die on you.
Hit or Miss?
This one lands in the middle.
As noted at the beginning of this post, I strongly recommend having a tire pressure monitoring system on your rig. If you’re towing, that means having them on your tow vehicle and your trailer. The peace of mind they provide is great because you can easily spot a slow leak and address it at your next stop, or spot a rapid leak and know to get somewhere off the road safely before an emergency develops.
Whether this is the specific unit that’s right for you is a decision you have to make. It’s not a bad system but it is quirky and I wouldn’t consider it outstanding. It’s fine for the investment you make, which is quite a bit lower than the fancier units — but it’s also a case of getting what you pay for.