Did you know you can install your own tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) on older cars? Turns out it’s a pretty simple system. Most aftermarket (and stock) systems rely on one of three sensor types: They either mount on a metal strap tightened around the center of the wheel, attach to the inside of the wheel right behind the valve stem, or replace the valve caps.
Obviously the valve cap type is the easiest to install — and thus the most common aftermarket install — but they’re bulky and a little funny-looking. Most OEM systems install behind the valve stem and require careful torque consideration to function correctly. A tool like the one pictured above makes the job quicker and easier, but any high-quality torque wrench (accurate in the right range) will do the job.
If you wonder what the behind-the-valvestem type sensors look like, eBay Guides features a How to Install TPMS post that includes photos of a typical install — though it fails to mention torque specs, which you’ll likely find in the instructions that come with aftermarket models (or in the shop manual for OEM replacements). The strap type works just fine, too, at least in my basic internet research. The G35 Driver’s forum shows some pictures of a strap type installation (with good feedback).
A little searching turned up a variety of aftermarket kits starting at around $100. My favorites:
Accutire’s MS-4378 Remote Tire Pressure Monitor ($100)
It’s pretty much a plug-and-play install, with valve-cap sensors and a cigarette-lighter-powered receiver with a range of around 40′. This strikes me as a kick-ass solution to trailer TPMS. Just screw the caps on your trailer tires (you get four with the kit — perfect for tandems) and plug the receiver into the cigarette lighter on whatever the hell you’re driving to tow the trailer today. Then again, this probably isn’t the most aesthetically-pleasing unit for a daily-driver car install.
Orange Electronic P409S Retrofit TPMS ($140)
Its behind-the-valvestem sensors are lithium-ion powered, so they should last a while. And the dash-mountable receiver looks pretty slick, so this might make a good system for mounting in your muscle-car. Plus, it’s not all that expensive.
Revolution Supply’s Strap/Bracket Set ($60)
While technically not a full sensor kit, some aftermarket installs (like the one on the G35 forum above) don’t work with every possible wheel combination. If you’re stuck with wheels that don’t match up with existing sensors, you’ll need to go the strap route. Here’s a good example of what appears to be a well-supported strap kit. You match the strap up with various brackets to install the sensors. This can also work to help you retain the factory TPMS when you install incompatible aftermarket wheels on your newer vehicle.
Strap Kit [Revolution Supply]
One last thought: If you’re heading to Discount Tire or Tire Rack to buy aftermarket wheels, don’t be afraid to ask about TPMS systems or system relocation. It looks like both outfits — and probably most other major wheel/tire vendors — are prepared to help you through the process for a fee.
I’ve owned two cars with TPMS, but since the system never glitched I never really learned how they work. Now I’m intrigued. Of all the gizmos on my newer vehicle, this is one that I really do appreciate. Catching tire leaks early prevents unnecessary tire wear — and saves serious cash.