Does Kevin really need new tire-pressure sensors?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2010

Dear Tom and Ray:

I live in Albany, N.Y., and I own a 2009 Dodge Journey, all-wheel drive, with 19-inch wheels and tires. I didn't realize it at the time, but getting these optional huge wheels has made it impossible to find winter tires. So I have to buy another set of smaller, 17-inch wheels to put my winter tires on. Here's my question: The car has a tire-pressure monitoring system that tells me when the pressure is low in one of the tires. Do I have to buy new tire-pressure sensors for each of these new wheels, or can I get by without them? Or can I buy a cheaper, aftermarket system?

-- Kevin

RAY: Those 19-inch wheels looked really great in the showroom, didn't they, Kevin? What you don't realize when you buy monstrous wheels is that (A) it's going to cost you a fortune to buy replacement or snow tires for them, and (B) you're going to feel every cigarette butt in the road.

TOM: We understand your desire to save money, Kevin, especially since you already spent 600 dollars upgrading to those 19-inch wheels. But we can't recommend that you save cash by disabling the tire-pressure monitoring system.

RAY: The sensors can be expensive. For some cars, they're several hundred dollars each! In that case, an aftermarket system may make sense. But in your case, the original Dodge sensors are not that pricey.

TOM: At the dealership, they'll cost you about 50 bucks each. Figure on spending about 300 dollars to buy four of them and have them installed and programmed on your new set of wheels (the computer has to be told which particular wheel each sensor is monitoring).

RAY: You have to do it, Kevin. Most people think that having a tire with low pressure is no big deal. But it can create a cascade of problems.

RAY: And if you keep driving on an underinflated tire, the deformation can lead to an intense buildup of heat. Excessive heat can lead to belt separation and a "catastrophic" tire failure -- better known as a blowout.

TOM: And if you think driving on 19-inch tires is exciting, wait 'til you have a blowout and go asphalt over teakettle into a nearby pine forest.

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