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Learning Curve: Training Still a Key Issue in TPMS Service, Multiple Options Exist

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TPMS has many unresolved issues, and most tire dealers have dealt with the problems in various ways. However, one of the most common concerns these days still involves training.

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The Tire Industry Association has done an admirable job taking the lead in this area, and even recently released the Spanish version of its 200-Level TPMS Training Program. The excellent staff, already road warrior veterans, however, can only accommodate so many dealers and members. “It’s been very busy lately, and we’ve been traveling a lot,” said TIA’s Sean MacKinnon, director of automotive training development. “But we have a new program in the development stage that will take our basic overview to the next level.”

MacKinnon, himself a former technician with a major tire retailer, said that the new program, scheduled to be released later this year or early next year, would be vehicle specific.

“For example, GM alone has 22 different relearns. We are taking the Mitchell1 Guide and refining it with the technician in mind,” he said. “We have to be concerned because in a lot of the older vehicles (the ones with the first generation TPMS versions installed), the batteries are beginning to die.”

Some of the other areas they will address include how to operate learn and scan tools, how to replace sensors and how to replace service packs. TIA also is in the process of developing an 11×17-inch chart with several TPMS tips suitable for service bay display. As they say, stay tuned for further developments.

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In the meantime, there are other pockets of support that supplement TIA’s training efforts.

One of the organizations that’s been active in the TPMS training business is NAPA Auto Parts and its sister company, Indianapolis-based Balkamp. Both companies fall under the Genuine Parts Co. umbrella. 

Balkamp is a direct supplier to NAPA Auto Parts, and has worked closely with NAPA to train its store salespeople and shop owners/technicians on a variety of tool and equipment products, including TPMS.

“We have used the TIA video and it’s good,” said Roger Ball of Ken Lowery Auto Care in Louisville, Ky. “But the NAPA material goes into a little more detail.”

Ball said that he works with Balkamp’s Brian Wright. “We were able to get him to come in last fall,” said Ball. “He followed that with another program in the first quarter of this year. NAPA gave us two videos on how to install systems, reset them and tips on mounting and dismounting.”

Wright said he has a simple philosophy: “Keep yourself and your technicians educated and attend any and all training available no matter who is providing it,” he said. “Everyone trains a little differently, so you may be able to pick up different information/techniques from one class to another.”

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Balkamp and NAPA have had a TPMS training program in place since NAPA started selling the TPMS diagnostic tools about three years ago. Wright admits that the motivation behind the program was “from the basics of the federal mandate, where TPMS requirements originated.”

NAPA’s TPMS training is administered by Wright and his co-worker, David Camarillo. “David covers the eastern half of the U.S. and I am responsible for the west,” Wright said. “We each have approximately 35 NAPA distribution centers, which includes about 3,000 stores. We also assist the 84 district and region managers of NAPA Tool and Equipment across the country in setting up and training their outside sales forces at the store levels. The district/region managers are our first step in getting product and product knowledge/training to the street.”

The in-depth training program reviews multiple diagnostic tools, replacement sensors, and the sensor-rebuild kits.

“We provide training as requested by NAPA Auto Parts stores and NAPA district managers across the country,” said Wright. “We have provided many training courses over the last several years, and we are continually updating our training program based on market data and information from our suppliers.”

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Since that time, Wright said the questions from their trainees remain consistent.  “The most common questions asked are: What is the best TPMS activation tool to use? Why would I need a full diagnostic TPMS tool? What is the difference between direct and indirect systems?”

Wright adds, “The questions have changed over the last three years because of the complexity of the systems and the numerous types/brands of TPMS sensors, but the problems haven’t changed. The most common problem we see in a TPMS system is a simple tire rotation in which the shop/technician did not reprogram the location of sensors in accordance to where the on-board computer ‘thinks’ they are located.”

One of the suppliers that has contributed to the development of NAPA’s program is Schrader-Bridgeport International, based in Altavista, Va. Schrader claims to be the technological leader in TPMS with OE manufacturers and offers replacement sensors, service packs, tools and retrofit kits for the replacement market.

Schrader’s Bill Wick is the director of NAPA business development and has been instrumental in leading the development of TPMS training and training materials for his company.

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In addition to providing dealers and technicians with the usual array of training and related supporting materials such as DVDs, videos, etc., Schrader also thinks about the motorist – the end-user and the customer.

“The average car owner might not know about TPMS and, therefore, might not understand that it costs more to service tires with TPMS,” said Wick. “We believe that if you educate the customer first, then you don’t have as many problems in trying to sell service – or other goods.”

With that in mind, Schrader offers several point-of-sale and display materials. They alert the customer before they come in the door. “We have signs – a static cling for the doors – that say, ‘we speak TPMS,’” he said. “We also have a consumer three-fold brochure that tells them all about TPMS in language that they can understand. In addition, we provide the counter sales personnel with similar information on a desk pad.”

Similar to what TIA plans to produce, Schrader has developed an 18×24-inch TPMS training poster addressing TPMS sensor removal and installation that can be strategically placed in the bay area, reminding technicians of some of the more common TPMS procedures.

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While TPMS training is continuously evolving, NAPA’s Wright said, “We have still got a lot of work to do. The one thing in our favor is that there really isn’t anything new to the TPMS world. There have been some updates to the activation tools over the years, and the TPMS sensors are continually changing in style and installation procedures, but basically, everything remains the same.”

Since the hardware hasn’t changed considerably in the last couple of years, is there one piece of advice that he might pass along to a dealer or technician to help them with TPMS?

“Since the federal mandate for 100% compliance at OE went into effect in September 2007, we all need to remember that TPMS systems are not going away.”

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