Three tyre pressure monitoring systems tested, rated and compared.
STORY & PHOTOS DR ANDRE LAM
THERE are many modern cars with a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) as standard, but there are many more that do not have one. So, how do we monitor our car’s tyre pressures regularly without visiting a petrol station?
The tyre pressure gauge (manual or digital) has served motorists well, but a fairly new development is the aftermarket tyre pressure monitoring system.
As drivers, we should know the danger of tyre air leaks, which can destroy the tyre/wheel or lead to a dangerous blowout.
Under-inflation is less of a danger, but it’s a money waster in terms of fuel consumption and premature tyre wear.
For this group test, I found three TPMS gadgets that represent the wide selection available on the market. They are TyreSafe from local electronics firm Singtech, Fobo Tire Plus from Malaysia’s Salutica Allied Solutions, and AccuTire from US-based company Measurement Ltd.
All three aftermarket systems use pressure sensors mounted to the tyre valve stems where you pump the air in. Said sensors have self-contained batteries (of the CR2032 “button” type) that last for two to three years.
Another category of aftermarket TPMS uses in-tyre/wheel sensors, but it lies beyond the scope of a DIY kit. I wanted something that could be bought online, and installed in just minutes by someone with no special training.
Do note that TPMS sensors like the ones in this story need to be removed in order to pump air into the relevant tyre, which can be a pain if the wheel lock nut is affixed. Thankfully, a good and intact tyre doesn’t needed refilling that often.
This seems to be the basic TPMS configuration, consisting of four sensors that wirelessly transmit tyre pressure information to a central receiver. The TyreSafe system has a quadruple array of twodigit displays mounted on the car’s cigarette lighter plug.
Take off the cap from the valve stem and put on a lock nut before the TPMS sensor goes on. An accompanying spanner tightens the metal-treaded lock nut onto the body of the TPMS sensor, friction-locking it into place so it wouldn’t drop off or be easily stolen.
There are clearly marked, predetermined positions for the sensors to ensure that the unit displays the correct data for the correct tyre. Since the four sensors are coded as a set at the factory, they’ll be useless to a thief unless he has the paired display unit as well (but he may not know this).
Plug the display into the cigarette lighter and the TyreSafe system immediately shows the real-time tyre pressures. You have to toggle a single button to display other data and create a custom preset warning for low pressure, or even over-inflation.
As the default settings were working properly, I found no need to reprogram anything. You can choose metric or imperial for the readouts.
The pressure resolution indicated was 1.0 psi and the readings were quite accurate compared to my usual handheld gauge. As long as your cigarette lighter plug is in your line of sight, you can check your car’s tyre pressures anytime while driving.
Singtech also sells a bettervalue $128 version of its TyreSafe TPMS. I chose the more expensive $160 version for this test, because its USB power-out provides added functionality.
+Easy and secure setup, plugged-in display is always on, lightest and smallest sensors of the group, pretty much plug-and-play.
- One-button toggling is inconvenient, extra data is unnecessary when tyre pressure readings are all you need.
FOBO TIRE PLUS ($310)
This one is cool because it includes an app (downloaded from Fobo’s website) to display the info on your smartphone. It’s otherwise similar to the TyreSafe system.
Tire Plus has four sensors, whose signals are picked up by a central transceiver and sent via Bluetooth to your phone/app. The transceiver has its own power supply (two AA lithium batteries).
There is a less expensive $245 version called Fobo Tire, but its sensors only read up to 50 psi, whereas the Fobo Tire Plus reads up to 87 psi, which might be overkill in my opinion.
The procedure is similar to that for TyreSafe, but the Tire Plus sensors have plastic treads and a plastic lock nut with a special plastic wrench.
The individually battery-powered sensors are slightly bigger than the TyreSafe ones and smaller than the AccuTire ones. You can buy just one or two sensors as replacements, but they have to be re-coded to the original set.
Fobo also offers a T-stem accessory that lets you pump air into the tyre without needing to remove the sensor.
The coding/pairing needs to be done by the user, who has to follow an installation sequence for the sensors. The requisite Fobo app provides on-screen, step-bystep instructions as well as the downloadable instruction manual, which is impressively detailed but tedious to study.
Once everything has been installed, just launch the app, turn on your smartphone’s Bluetooth function, and the tyre pressure info goes live.
The signals from the tyre sensors seem to be picked up by the transceiver unit well enough and the Bluetooth connection seems to be strong/stable enough from within the cabin.
Being app-based, Tire Plus enables the display/update of other pertinent info apart from psi readings, such as date, time, temperature, battery status and, most pertinently, recommended tyre pressures.
+ Fairly painless installation, handy smartphone hookup, same app on one phone can be used for multiple cars, greater accuracy (down to 0.1 psi) than handheld gauge.
- The app has to remain open if you want realtime tyre pressure info, you have to code/pair each sensor yourself, the costliest system in this group test.
This looked like the easiest system to install, because the kit only consists of four TPMS sensors. It’s available on Amazon (at press time), but no longer listed on the AccuTire website. The company may have discontinued this particular system and replaced it with another that looks more like the TyreSafe module. In any case, the price was heavily discounted, so I included it here to see what it brings to the table.
Viewed online, the sensors appear to be similar to the Fobo ones, but when they arrived through the mail, I discovered that they are significantly bigger and heavier. AccuTire even included four pieces of lead counterweights to off set the heavy sensors.
You’ll probably need to affix each counterweight to the part of the wheel directly opposite the valve stem where the sensor is mounted.
The pairing/installing of the sensors, which do not come with safety locks of any kind, has to be done in a prescribed sequence.
The activation is a piece of cake – download the app from the website, follow the clear instructions and you’re good to go.
Each TPMS sensor is paired with your smartphone directly via Bluetooth, making a transceiver unnecessary. This explains the size and weight of the sensors, whose circuitry includes a short-range radio transmitter and a larger battery to supply the juice.
Once all four sensors are paired, the info will be shown on your smartphone – tyre pressure, tyre temperature and each sensor’s battery status. There’s no date and time, though.
It was interesting to see the different data displayed item by item through the phone’s Bluetooth feature. However, I soon realised the reason for this: My phone inside the cabin was actually struggling to connect with the four sensors outside.
On the move, depending on where my phone was within the car, I could see that one or two sensors could not connect at all, thus failing to give realtime readings.
With the vehicle stopped and me standing alongside, it was usually the AccuTire sensor furthest from the phone in my hand that couldn’t connect properly. But if the Bluetooth connection was good, each tyre’s pressure was checked/reported correctly, with a deviation of minus 1 psi compared to the reading from my handheld tyre pressure gauge.
The AccuTire system had the potential to be the most cost-eff ective one here, but was compromised by its chunky sensors that lack anti-theft lock nuts, excessive bandwidth (25 Mbps, sufficient for HD video streaming) that requires excessively heavy batteries, and inconsistent connectivity in my experience. The last point would be a deal breaker for me.
Had the AccuTire TPMS worked properly, it might have aced this comparison or tied with the winner, because it’s a cinch to install and its price is nice.
The Fobo Tire Plus is pretty much the complete package – works as advertised, useful and user-friendly. But at over $300, it’s the most expensive system in this story.
The TyreSafe TPMS is good value at $160 (great value at $128 without USB port), simple to install and idiot-proof to operate. It wins this group test of tyre pressure monitoring systems, with the Fobo system a close second.
+ App’s user-friendliness, straightforward four-sensor setup, low cost if purchased online.
- Fiddly pairing with your phone, the sensors are clunky and their bluetooth connection tends to be unstable, relatively easy to steal.