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Dealers, Drivers Need to Think of TPMS in Winter Tire Changeovers

February 14, 2011
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It hasn't been a typical winter. Snowstorms have been relentless. A blizzard affected one'third of the U.S., dumping two feet of the white stuff on Chicago and New York City. Even the Super Bowl wasn't spared, providing a dramatic scene of maintenance crews shoveling the Cowboys Stadium retractable dome.

Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring this year, but North Americans are skeptical of the groundhog’s prognosis. Memories of the March 2008 blizzard are still fresh in people’s minds.
Industry professionals highly recommend installing a new set of TPMS sensors on all winter tire/wheel assemblies when consumers make the summer-to-winter changeover.

The time to change to and from snow tires is both a regional and personal decision. Whenever it takes place, a changeover brings with it a need for consumers to make some decisions. To purchase or not purchase a second set of wheels needs to be followed with questions about TPMS sensors.

Having a second set of wheels with their own TPMS sensors for winter tires makes sense for ease of use, according to Paul Wise, Schrader International’s director of product line management and marketing.

“A second set of sensors provides an easier changeover,” says Wise, “and consumers achieve a certain level of peace-of-mind, knowing that TPMS is with them year-round.”

He says customers help tire dealers evaluate the need for a second set of sensor-equipped wheels. Equipment cost and ease-of-changeover are important to consider. Service fees, service kit costs and consumer wait time also need to be part of the equation.

“Transferring sensors back and forth from summer to winter tire sets will be more costly in the long run,” says Wise. “Having the second winter tire TPMS set makes the change-over process easier and more cost-effective.”

Wise explains that when a customer purchases new winter tires and wheels, the added cost of additional TPMS sensors is easier to absorb when viewed as an investment for the lifecycle of the tires.

Sean MacKinnon, TIA’s director of automotive training development, strongly recommends installing new sensors for the winter tire set.

However, if a decision is made to switch OE sensors to the aftermarket winter tire wheels, MacKinnon suggests installing a new TPMS service pack to ensure proper sensor operation and a tight air seal. “Exposure to road salt and other ice-melting chemicals takes its toll on TPMS components,” he says.

Of course, there are customers tempted to completely omit TPMS sensors, effectively disabling a safety feature of the vehicle. “Schrader would never recommend any consumer eliminating sensors,” Wise emphatically states. “TPMS is a legislative-mandated, safety-enhancing, OE-based system that can save lives. It has multiple benefits, including safety, fuel savings and reduced environmental impact.”

He says TPMS should always be on a customer’s vehicle, regardless of if and when he or she changes over to winter tires for the winter driving season. “The accident and fatality statistics due to low tire pressure are significant and well-documented, and they need to be shared with drivers.”

MacKinnon says the practice of excluding TPMS sensors from a wheel assembly during a tire changeover could be construed as a direct violation of U.S. motor vehicle safety codes.

Changeover Challenges
There can be some difficulty with some vehicles when using the same sensors on summer and winter wheel assemblies. Wise cautions that a TPMS relearn procedure may be necessary if the same sensors are used for both tire sets but their positions on the axles change.

As always, training for tire technicians is important. MacKinnon says TIA’s new Certified Automotive Tire Service training program provides in-depth TPMS information, including sensor and service pack installation, relearn procedures, tools and troubleshooting.

Schrader provides a TPMS call-in hotline for aftermarket technicians, along with training materials that cover winter tire changeovers. The company’s consumer website – tpmsmadesimple.com – offers drivers a set of videos, tips for reacting to an illuminated TPMS warning icon and answers to frequently asked questions.

Sometimes, DIY customers mount their own tires and bring their vehicles to a dealer to have the sensors trained or relearned. Wise says the tire technician should always follow the test-before-you-touch TPMS procedure.

“Using a handheld TPMS scan and programming tool, test each tire for sensor activity,” he explains. “Test results will indicate if any changes are needed to the customer’s setup of the winter tires. The technician can then inform the consumer of the proper service steps that can ensure a successful changeover.”

MacKinnon reminds dealers that a TPMS relearn fee is becoming more common, especially if the customer has not made a major purchase at the service location.

At this time, it’s rare to find vehicles with on-board computers capable of tracking two different sets of tires’ TPMS information. The feature is found on several Toyota and Lexus SUVs and minivans, according to MacKinnon.

Wise pointed out that Schrader’s recently introduced EZ-Sensor has the ability to exactly replicate OE TPMS sensors, allowing consumers to have summer and winter tire assemblies that provide a simple tire change­over. “The vehicle’s TPMS system will not know the difference between the two because the sensor information is identical.”

Wise also said another advantage of the EZ-sensor is it can be fitted with Schrader-patented rubber snap-in valve stems that provide further protection against winter road salts and materials that normally corrode aluminum valve stems.

Of course, this time of year brings more glowing TPMS warning lights, as cold temperatures cause a drop in tire pressure. MacKinnon reminds technicians to check the spare tire since an increasing number of vehicles with full-size spares are equipped with a fifth TPMS sensor.

Back to Summer
Sooner or later, the threat of snow will end this spring and the switch to summer tires will begin. The same changeover process will take place, including a costly swap of sensors if the customer opted for a single set. A system relearn may be required by the vehicle and the TPMS should be inspected for possible service, depending on what type of services take place during the seasonal exchange.

Wise says a key point for dealers to consider is that many leading aftermarket tire service and repair companies have implemented operating standards for their store locations. If a vehicle comes in equipped with TPMS, the store will always service the TPMS before it leaves the premises.

He says if a consumer refuses the TPMS service, many locations are opting to decline the business by not servicing the vehicle. Should a consumer choose to buy winter wheel-and-tire assemblies and the vehicle is TPMS-equipped, the service location should require the customer to implement TPMS for the winter tire set.

“Schrader views this as an important ‘best practice’ in the aftermarket community,” says Wise, “due to the underlying safety that TPMS offers through a vehicle’s lifecycle.”

Wise concludes by saying the summer-to-winter-to-summer tire cycle is critical to Canadian markets where winter tires are necessary due to difficult weather conditions.

“In some Canadian provinces, winter tires are legislatively mandated,” he says. “In many cases, service and repair facilities will store the second set of wheels and tires for the consumer. The vehicle owner simply returns to the same location for the summer changeover after winter’s barrage is over.”