TPMS or Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems are now standard equipment on today's passenger vehicles. TPMS sensors gather data in real time and often are attached to the back of the valve stem or banded to the wheel.
The sensors transmit important information, such as pressure and temperature, to the vehicle’s ECM. Information is then displayed on the dashboard instrument panel as a display or warning light.
By its very nature, TPMS is an electronic component integrated into a heavy mechanical process. With that, sensors are prone to fail. Aside from the sensor running low and needing replaced, one of the most common causes of failure is inappropriate handling during wheel or tire removal or servicing.
There is no universal technical standard for TPMS sensors. Between original equipment and improvements made by aftermarket sensor manufacturers, a number of design options are available.
Those numerous designs of replacement sensors fall within three main categories: direct, multi-protocol and universal. Categories are based on how the sensors operate and whether or not TPMS tools are necessary to install them.
Direct replacement sensors, also called OE replacement sensors, are identical to the original equipment and pre-programmed for the specific vehicle. These typically can be swapped out as direct replacements for the OE original part. While they do not require a tool to pre-program for use on that specific vehicle, they do require a TPMS activation tool to trigger the sensor’ relearn procedure for its proper replacement and use.
Multi-protocol or multi-application sensors are aftermarket replacement sensors that are pre-programmed to work on a wide variety of vehicles.
These come ready to use out of the box, but like direct sensors, they require a relearn procedure after installation. Because one sensor will work with “multiple” sensor output protocols, the shop can stock fewer parts.
Universal or “programmable” sensors are aftermarket sensors that come as blanks and require programming for the specific vehicle prior to installation. This additional step is performed through the use of a programming tool with specialized software, either wirelessly or through direct contact with the tool.