Picture this: You have just packed up the minivan and hit the road for a family vacation when the tire-pressure warning light blinks on.

Today, you have to pull into a service station, hope someone will loan you an air gauge and then check the door pillar or owner's manual for the appropriate inflation for a heavily loaded vehicle.

But in three years, your car will be able to tell you which tires need to be filled and then beep the horn or flash the lights when you reach the proper air pressure, eliminating the need for often unreliable hand-held tire gauges.

The tires also will enhance performance of the vehicle's antilock brakes and electronic stability control by relaying data on tire wear and load, friction changes that occur during braking and other dynamic conditions.

When car-to-car and car-to-infrastructure communications become common, vehicles equipped with this new system will be able to relay information on slippery conditions to vehicles behind.

And, because the electronics are packaged more efficiently, the whole system will be less expensive and more reliable than today's tire-pressure-monitoring systems, promises Continental AG, supplier of the Intelligent Tire System.

“The more information vehicle systems share, and the more vehicles communicate to each other and their environment, the further we can take accident-avoidance and collision-mitigation technology,” says Andreas Wolf, head of Continental's Body and Security business unit, during a press preview in Germany.

The U.S. has required all new vehicles to be equipped with tire-pressure-monitoring systems since '07, and Europe will begin phasing them in by '13.

The key difference with the new ITS is the location of the sensor. Current tire-pressure monitors are mounted to the valve stem in the wheel. There, they are vulnerable to impacts during tire changes and heat radiated from the brakes and wheel.

Continental's new system, set to launch in 2013, packages the same electronics in a special pocket on the inside of the tire. There, it is easier to install and much safer from damage during tire mounting.

In the words of one engineer, “The days of tires being dumb and round are over.”