TPMS sensors are useful but some may consider them annoying. They’re often responsible for warning lights turning on even when nothing seems wrong with your vehicle.
I personally couldn't imagine a long RV trip without them, and it's one of my favorite gadgets to have on my RV (Check out which ones I recommend here)
So, are TPMS sensors required by law or can you just turn yours off and be done with the alerts?
The legality of TPMS sensors affects drivers, RVs and other vehicles, manufacturers, dealers, and service shops differently. Here’s why.
A Brief History
In the late 1990s, there were many accidents due to rollovers from tire tread separation which resulted in tragic deaths and injuries. The Firestone Recall of 1999 marked a new era in legal mandates concerning vehicle safety and paved the way for the NHTSA to adopt the TREAD Act.
The act made it a legal requirement for all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds to be equipped with TPMS sensors. Since your average camper is usually 5,000 to 7,000 pounds (after factoring in the weight of all the equipment), RVs fall under the same regulations.
After September 2007, 100% of cars in this weight class feature TPMS as a safety measure against under-inflation-related accidents.
The European Union also followed suit and issued legal mandates in 2012 for new passenger car models, and again in 2014 for all passenger cars sold to be equipped with TPMS sensors.
There’s a bit of a grey area regarding the legal requirements of TPMS sensors despite the existence of the TREAD Act. Although new RVs cannot be legally sold without TPMS sensors, motorhome owners aren’t exactly bound by law to keep their sensors in working condition.
Interestingly enough, the TREAD Act only features provisions that make car manufacturers, dealerships, and service shops open to legal action if they sell vehicles without TPMS sensors. Or, in the case of service shops, they’re liable if the shop refuses to service or install new TPMS sensors, or damage the sensors and give the vehicle back to the owner without repairing them.
An Overview of the ‘Make Inoperative Provision’
In the Tread Act, section 30122(b) contains the “make inoperative” provision. This clearly states that manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and vehicle repair shops aren’t allowed to make inoperative any device or component of a device that’s required by law or the applicable motor vehicle safety standards.
What this essentially means is that TPMS sensors, which are required by law, need to be operational when selling a car or RV, new or used, and when returning a vehicle to its owner after servicing.
This puts a lot of pressure on business entities such as repair businesses. A few tricky situations can arise as follows:
Customers Refusing TPMS Sensor Changes
Because drivers aren’t legally bound to keep their TPMS sensors operational and annual inspections don’t include TPMS, they can refuse to repair or replace faulty TPMS sensors after replacing their wheels or tires.
According to the NHTSA, if a vehicle enters the shop with functional TPMS sensors, it can’t be returned to the owners without an operating TPMS system. In this case, it is advised to refuse the installation of new tires or wheels unless the car owner agrees to either transfer the sensors from the original wheels or buy new TPMS sensors.
Replacing an Inoperative TPMS Valve Stem Sensors with a Rubber Snap-In
Say, if a customer brings in an RV that has inoperative TPMS sensors, a vehicle repair business would be within its rights to remove the inoperative TPMS sensor or some of its components in order to service it.
This also applies to replacing the TPMS sensor with a regular snap-in rubber valve stem. It’s important to thoroughly document the state of the TPMS sensors prior to accepting a vehicle and starting to work on it.
And, under 49 USC 30122(b), a vehicle repair business that accidentally or purposefully renders a TPMS system inoperative would be in violation of the “make inoperative” provision. This includes disabling sensors or disabling the warning light.
Closing Thoughts and Non-Legal Driver Obligations
Although as an RV owner, you won’t get a ticket if your TPMS sensors aren’t working properly, you might want to reconsider not servicing the TPMS system.
Most vehicle repair businesses, as well as second-hand dealerships, might put your camper through an inspection prior to accepting to service it or buy it from you.
Repair shops need to know the status of the TPMS sensors because they’re obligated to return the RV to you with the sensors working, regardless of why you took the car into the shop in the first place.
Even if you only needed new headlights, the repair shop can be liable for not checking and not servicing or replacing the TPMS sensors if they’re not operational when you get your vehicle back.
Your duty as a driver is to give a thorough account of your vehicle’s status. Of course, your duty is to also service your sensors and check your tire pressure on a monthly basis. This is not just for your own safety but also the safety of other drivers.