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For many drivers, seeing an unusual dashboard warning causes headache. Does the warning mean a trip to the mechanic and a costly bill? Could it signal a major problem with the engine or transmission? Or will the warning vanish the next time you start the car?

There’s one warning that drivers should never ignore: the TPMS warning. Fortunately, fixing the problem is quick and inexpensive, and it could save your life.

TPMS stands for Tire Pressure Monitoring System. This system monitors tire pressure to make sure your tires aren’t dangerously under-inflated. If one of your tires loses 25 percent of its inflation, the system triggers the TPMS warning light on your dashboard.

Tire problems cause 200,000 accidents each year, and under-inflated tires are a major hazard. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that under-inflated tires cause over 650 highway fatalities and 33,000 injuries each year. Tires under-inflated by more than 25 percent are three times more likely to be involved in an accident. When tires aren’t fully inflated, they don’t properly grip the road and they wear unevenly. This can increase the risk of a blowout and decrease handling.

Safety may be the main reason to keep your tires properly inflated, but it’s not the only one. Under-inflated tires waste 3.5 million gallons of gasoline each day. Drivers who keep their tires at the proper level save 3.3% on fuel economy, which translates into savings at the gas pump.

A 2014 survey revealed that close to half of all drivers rarely check their tire pressure. And 21 percent of drivers admit that they continue driving when the TPMS warning comes on. All cars manufactured after 2007 must have a TPMS system––but the system can’t protect you if you ignore the warning.

Thankfully for drivers, there’s an easy way to make sure your TPMS light comes on less frequently. Filling tires with nitrogen, a process known as inertion, rather than compressed air keeps tires at the proper inflation longer. That’s because nitrogen has a larger molecular size than oxygen. Compressed air leaks from tires at a higher rate than nitrogen, meaning your TPMS warning light comes on more frequently.

So, the next time your TPMS light comes on, don’t ignore it. Instead, fill your tires with nitrogen.

Post Author: Genevieve Carlton Ph.D.

Ph.D. - Research Historian from Northwestern University. A writer and researcher she has published pieces for Ranker, Stacker and Atlas Obscura. She has published a nonfiction history book with the University of Chicago Press and a number of scholarly articles with top journals.

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