7 years into the great experiment that is mandated TPMS, the data on underinflated tires is pretty clear.
- NHTSA tire pressure surveys indicate that 26% of passenger cars have had at least one tire that was under-inflated by at least 25% Therefore, on average, passenger cars could lose about 5,440 miles / 8,704 km of tread life due to under-inflation.
- Data provided by Goodyear indicates that fuel efficiency is reduced by 1% for approximately every 3 psi of under-inflation. Therefore, a tire that is under-inflated by 25% would increase fuel consumption by approximately 2.3%. Properly inflated tires would translate into fuel savings of approximately $11 billion in the US alone.
An estimated 414 fatalities, 10,275 non-fatal injuries, and 78,392 crashes occurred annually in the US due to flat tires or blowouts before tire pressure monitoring systems were installed in vehicles.
If the tire remains under-inflated by 1 psi over its lifetime, its tread life decreases by about 800 miles.
After 7 years of the TPMS mandate, it’s true that many if not most cars on the road were manufactured and sold with direct TPMS sensors inside the tires that communicate with an electronic unit inside the car. But what if your car was manufactured before 2007 and doesn’t have TPMS sensors? What if you’re tired of dealing with the OEM sensors inside your tires, or the batteries have died and you need something to replace your old sensors? What if you want to monitor tire pressures and temperatures with more precision than that one yellow light on the dashboard, or monitor more than one car in a convenient way? You need something better, and that’s where Bluetooth sensors come into play.
FOBO, a Malaysian company which has adopted the acronym For Our Better WOrld, (Because FOBW would just be ridiculous) first came onto the electronics scene with FOBO Max, a Bluetooth tag to help users avoid losing important objects. Now FOBO has moved into tire pressure monitoring via Bluetooth. Originally funded by an IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign, FOBO Tire is an advanced aftermarket TPMS system that works by communicating with an Android or iOS smartphone via Bluetooth 4.0. FOBO Tire consists of 4 valve stem caps that screw onto the existing valve stems and monitor tire pressures constantly, even when the car is switched off. The sensors communicate with your smartphone via a downloadable app, as well as an in-car monitoring unit. The sensors and the in-car unit both come with easily replaceable batteries that last up to 2 years under normal use.
The FOBO Tire sensors can be installed in less than 5 minutes, and sensor learn and relearn procedures are accomplished by holding the smartphone near the sensor and following the on-screen instructions. No modifications or tire removal is required. The downloadable smartphone app allows a user to receive tire pressure data from up to 30 meters away from the car 24×7, with a 3-level alert system that warns the user if pressures drop below preset levels, rise above preset levels, or if temperatures become dangerously high. The app has the ability to monitor up to 20 cars for large fleet applications, and also allows for sharing of data with up to 100 other users.
As a theft deterrent, FOBO Tire sensors are locked to the owner’s cloud account and cannot be reused. It seems that the designers originally thought that this would be sufficient to keep people from stealing the sensors, not realizing that potential thieves either might not know that the sensors are not reusable, or might just think they look cool enough to not care, so that the sensors now come packaged with optional locking nuts and two special wrenches – small enough to fit on a key chain – for removing the locks.
The sensors are designed for pressures up to 50psi and temperatures ranging from -40 to 185 degrees F. The sensors are completely water, salt and dust resistant and are FCC certified. The app is compatible with Android 4.3 and iOS 7.1 and above. They also come in your choice of black or silver. While the caps are relatively large, they weigh only 10 grams apiece and do not affect rotational weight or tire balance. The FOBO Tire set retails for about $150.
A second round of funding via IndieGoGo also produced FOBO Bike, an all Bluetooth tire pressure monitoring system for motorcycles and bicycles with a maximum pressure up to 87psi. Appropriately enough, FOBO Bike only includes 2 valve stem sensors, and no separate monitoring unit. FOBO Bike will be available in March of 2015.
Nor is FOBO the only player in the Bluetooth TPMS game. There is also the GoSafe TPMS 500BT by Papago. Papago is known for its commitment to auto safety equipment such as their innovative P3 dashcam and other products. GoSafe TPMS is much the same concept as the FOBO Tire setup – 4 locking valve stem caps with replaceable batteries that communicate with an Android or iOS smartphone app via Bluetooth. Instead of a separate in-car monitor, the GoSafe sensors rely entirely on your smartphone, and require an in-car receiver/transmitter that plugs into a cigarette lighter port in the car.
The GoSafe TPMS is a bit more expensive than FOBO, coming in at around $200 to $250 retail, but the makers claim better precision from the sensors (+/- 1 psi) and the smartphone app seems to have a bit more flexibility in terms of pressure and temperature alarm settings. The internal receiver/transmitter may provide better Bluetooth coverage inside the car, where FOBO Tire has sometimes been seen to have a spotty connection if the smartphone is in a pocket.
Either product, however, provides a brand-new approach to TPMS monitoring, one that is much more advanced, flexible and easier to use and maintain than many OEM systems. The next generation of TPMS now arriving – and fast.