Over the years, I’ve done a lot of driving and if there’s one thing I’m finicky about when it comes to auto maintenance it’s tires. Next to oil changes, the most important consumable maintenance on your vehicle (IMO) are your tires. While I don’t drive high-end sports vehicles, I do push my cars hard and want a combination of performance and ride. I’ve got a 5 year old Mazda 3 which is shockingly, fun to drive even at its low-end pricepoint. The OEM tires were a really firm, hard set of Goodyears which had absolutely no stick in the rain so after some research, I went with some Continental ExtremeContact DWS rubber. They were solid all-season tires with good performance in dry, very strong in the wet and snow. Moving from the sporty summer tires I notice they were a bit softer all around but and ok trade-off from my perspective.
Over the next year or so of using this tire, I unfortunately found the tires to be continually soft in a noticeable way. You would think over time you’d just get used to it but it would still pop up in my head every now and then. I also started to notice more rumble on highway driving and I’d attribute it to wear. Rotating the tires would help out a bit but eventually the problems would come back.
Just this past fall and winter, I would always double-check the tire wear and inflation as the seasons changed. It seemed that with these Continental tires, I had to put air in them a lot more often. I’d come out and the tires would seem low and performance squishy. And finally over the past month, the low air pressure light would come on. The tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) signalled the low air, I’d spend the $1.00 to refill them and then repeat the process a week or two later. That’s when I finally noticed that one of the tire valve stems was cracked. Now it was time to bring the Mazda in to Discount Tire and get things fixed, eh?
What I found at Discount Tire was that I could replace the valve stem and the attached low pressure device (inside the tire) for about $60. But after thinking about it a bit, I got to wondering. Were the low pressure monitors the cause of my ongoing tire problems? While there was a major problem with one tire, it wasn’t the only one that would seem to be soft. And when you really think about it, who needs a stupid light to tell you that the tire is low? Usually a quick look at the tires and feel for the vehicle’s handling will tell you all you need to know. Never had a low-pressure light or needed one so why waste $60? So I told the tire technician to pull them all out and go with standard valve stems. And I am so glad I did!
With the old-school valve stems the tires are running smoother and tighter than ever. While I’m sure some of it is due to a rotation, performance is now significantly better. Plus I don’t have to worry about replacing another low pressure monitor months down the road. When you really think about it, putting one of these devices in your tire is just inviting it to get shaken out of place and cause an imbalanced tire. Which in turn leads to more road noise, uneven wear and maybe worse. And what do you really get out of these monitors besides an idiot light that you shouldn’t really need as a good car owner?
So yes, if you’re finding you’re getting inconsistent tire performance and low pressure situations, definitely take a look at your TPMS system. Maybe you have a cracked valve like I did resulting in a slow leak. While it’s not a super dangerous situation, you really don’t need bad tire performance when the the device that’s supposed to monitor low pressure is causing that exact situation! Silly huh? And while that low pressure light is on all the time, I rather do it the old-fashioned way. My TPMS is still available, it’s just that it’s moved to my eyeballs and backside that tell me when my tires are getting low and squishy!