Let’s face it, dealing with TPMS issues can be a screamingly complex, headache-inducing endeavor that leaves techs and customers alike confused and angry.
Some of that complexity is built into the technology, while most comes in the NHTSA regulations surrounding it.
But there are ways to reduce the headaches for all involved, and most of those ways start in one place, a procedure called “Test Before Touch.” Used properly, TBT can form a strong foundation for everything else you do regarding TPMS, reduce complexity, cover your rear-end in a legal sense and help you educate and keep your customers.
If you already perform Test Before Touch procedures, I hope that you will find many reasons why it’s not “just a huge waste of time” as one shop manager, who shall remain nameless, told me. If you don’t, I hope you will find a good many reasons why you absolutely should.
The 3 Cs
There are three major reasons why TBT is a critical necessity for any shop. I call them the 3 C’s: Coverage, Corrosion and Communication.
Coverage: By this I mean that performing a properly audited TBT will act to cover your shop in a legal sense. While trying to understand and follow the regulations regarding TPMS can reduce strong men to tears, the most important part comes down to a simple fact: a sensor that has already failed before it gets to you may be legally replaced with a standard rubber valve stem if the customer so wishes, or if you have no immediate way of replacing it.
If a sensor stops working or breaks while you are working on it – even if the breakage is due to corrosion that occurred long before it got to you – it must be replaced with another sensor regardless of what the customer wants or how long it might take you to find a replacement.
Why this should be the case is a matter for more advanced legal minds than mine, but your shop can be heavily fined for disregarding these regulations. Thus the importance of testing every sensor before any work is performed on the vehicle and keeping clear records of the test.
Corrosion: Similarly, the best time to identify any possible issues with corrosion on TPMS valve stem sensors that may lead to damage or breakage is before the damage occurs. Being able to tell the customer that a TPMS sensor may break before it actually breaks makes it much more difficult for the customer to get angry and blame you for the damage; warns them that they may have to pay for a new sensor before they feel trapped into doing so; and helps to convince your customer that you know what you’re doing and are on top of the situation.
Telling a customer that a valve stem has broken after it breaks just about guarantees an uncomfortable conversation. Dominic Guaglione, manager of a United Tire & Service store in Ardmore, Pa., knows it all too well, “It’s probably the worst possible thing to tell the customer after the damage has happened.”
Communication: The last reason to perform a standardized TBT procedure is one that many shops and tire techs don’t necessarily think of, but it can be just as important: TBT is an easy way educate your customer about TPMS. This can be critical, not only to keeping your customer happy but to keep your customer coming back to you.
While just about every tire technician in the U.S. knows something about TPMS, the vast majority of drivers don’t even know what that little light on the dashboard does. The information gap is extreme, and closing that gap can make a huge difference to whether your customer is going to be grateful that you’re looking out for their interests by, say, replacing sensor service kits every time versus thinking that you’re ripping them off for an extra $10 per tire.
As Ken Sylvester, president of United Tire & Service, says, “The customer needs to be counseled, and taught why TPMS is necessary.”
You cannot simply rely on the dashboard trouble light to let you know when there’s a problem with the TPMS. Having a standardized TBT procedure for every customer keeps you from getting blamed for problems – whether caused by other shops, corrosion or TPMS battery issues. As Scot Holloway, CEO and general manager of Bartec, emphasizes, “Clearly shop owners do not want to inherit someone else’s problem. Unfortunately with TPMS, if you fail to test before you begin service work, it is very easy to do just that!
“On most vehicles, it takes a very long time for system faults to show themselves as a blinking light,” Holloway says. “Our testing has shown that on some vehicles it can be as long as a week or more than 100 miles, before a flashing light appears on the dashboard after a sensor battery has failed.”
A well-designed, standardized TBT procedure, like the one provided by Schrader for use in their training programs, consists of five key steps. (My own additions are in italics.)
Step 1: Check the TPMS warning symbol on the dashboard.
A. Turns ON then OFF = No maintenance necessary, TPMS is fine
B. Stays ON = Low tire pressure situation in one or more tires
C. Flashing, then ON = Possible sensor/system malfunction
Step 2: Check the valve caps and valve stems.
A. Is it missing?
B. Is it the correct OEM-specific valve cap?
C. Any metal valve caps should be replaced with plastic to avoid corrosion issues. Make sure to discuss with the customer before replacing, as metal valve caps are often a vanity item.
D. Check the valve stems to identify any possible corrosion/breakage issues before they happen. If a stem seems particularly corroded and likely to break, discuss with the customer before attempting to remove it.
Step 3: Check the TPMS sensors with a hand-held scan/diagnostic tool.
A. Test Before Touch – Industry Best Practice!
B. Determine whether all sensors/batteries are still functional. It can also be useful to estimate the age of the sensors to give the customer an idea of whether battery issues are likely to occur in the near future. Some of the newest scan tools can also report directly on battery status.
Step 4: Print pre-repair audit and documentation.
A. The audit report shows the customer: date/time stamp, make/model/year, owner’s name, license plate, VIN, TPMS inspection notes, customer authorization.
B. Discuss any battery issues with the customer, and determine how they want to replace it. If one battery has gone out, be sure to inform them that the others may not be far behind. If necessary, discuss any corrosion issues and be sure the customer understands that by law if a sensor breaks due to corrosion it must be replaced with another sensor rather than a standard rubber stem. Optionally, take a few moments to ensure that the customer knows why service kit replacement is critical to preventing corrosion issues in the future. Step 5: With the customer now well informed and with their approval, begin TPMS repair.
In my experience, shops tend to see Test Before Touch as solely a way to cover themselves with NHTSA in the event that someone will come and check up on their audit reports. This, of course, leads some dealers to think that TBT is a big waste of time.
However, I believe that it can be as important to perform TBT as the best way of educating your customers on issues that they might otherwise blame on you, heading off customer service problems before they come up, and giving the customer the clear impression that you know what you’re doing and are concerned for their safety.
Customers who know something about their TPMS will probably expect to hear about your testing process and their sensor status. To customers who know nothing about it, having you give them clear and understandable information about this important system inspires confidence in your knowledge and skill.
Think of a printed audit report not as a waste of your time but as an opportunity to demonstrate customer care and give them a reason to keep them coming back again and again.