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The Short List: A Few Expert Recommendations Can Help Dealers Get Ready For TPMS

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Every business that has a service bay and changes tires has at least one mantra these days – preparing for the final TPMS compliance date – Sept. 1, 2007. That’s the date when the NHTSA edict goes into full effect, mandating tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) on all new cars.

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However, as most observers and participants know, working with TPMS is not a perfected task – yet. There are still several system manufacturers, and they are all different. Also, there are still some common problem-solving concerns that can and should be addressed.

“We approach TPMS just like another part of our business,” says Rex Pennington, retail division manager of Alliance, Ohio-based Terry’s Tire Town. “Even with the newness and kinks that we’ve got to work out, we still think of it as an opportunity.”

In business for more than 30 years, Terry’s Tire Town is one of the Midwest’s largest tire distributors, and it has a number of retail tire stores. Today, because they are seeing a slight but steady increase in TPMS-equipped vehicles, technicians at Terry’s Tire Town are concerned not only about servicing but also safety.

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“Every low tire on a vehicle negatively affects fuel mileage, tire wear, handling, braking and safety,” says Pennington. “Proper tire inflation is a safety and savings measure that will maximize a company’s profit potential in an environment where oil prices continue to rise. That’s what we need to ‘sell’ to our customers.”

Pennington and others in the business often refer to a study from the U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) that surveyed 11,530 vehicles nationwide and revealed that 27% of passenger cars and 33% of light trucks operate with one or more substantially underinflated tires. The result is that, in the U.S. alone, an estimated total of 23,000 crashes and 535 fatalities every year involve flat tires or blowouts.

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With vehicle-service intervals approaching 31,000 miles for some models, lack of attention to routine maintenance clearly creates unnecessary hazards. Underinflated tires are not necessarily obvious; 30% of underinflation is next-to-undetectable to a casual observer. Underinflated tires also consume excess energy, with fuel consumption increasing by approximately 1% for every 2.9 psi of underinflation.

Not surprisingly, service technicians are interested in techniques and tips that can help them handle the TPMSs they are seeing more regularly.

“We deal with TPMS on a daily basis,” says Pennington. “A common mistake is that, with the variety of systems available today, some mechanics just don’t know each vehicle’s system. It will take a while, but it’s important to learn each one of them. I know that’s difficult, but each of the manufacturers has some kind of manual, either printed or online.”

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Pennington cites as an example Mitchell1, a publisher of auto repair manuals. “They have a very handy, quick-reference guide,” says Pennington. “It’s got a few mistakes in it, but overall, it’s worth every penny you pay for it.”

The new guide can be purchased from Mitchell1’s product catalog for $95 per copy and, on the company’s Web site, it says volume discounts are available. Mitchell1 adds that private label opportunities are available for quantities of 1,000 or more.

With opportunity and safety in mind, Pennington offers the following tips for dealing with common problems faced in servicing and dealing with TPMS:

• First, determine whether or not a vehicle is equipped with TPMS sensors. Then, take your time. It’s better to do it right the first time than at ‘pit-stop speed’ to get onto other things in the bay or service area.

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• It’s also important to read instructions carefully and thoroughly when working with a new system. It will save headaches during the process. While reading, also learn each vehicle’s system. It may take a while, but it will save you some time in the long run.

• Again, take care of the entire process. For instance, the growing number of sensor monitoring/recalibrating tools will play an important role in every operation. If it is determined that a tire has a TPMS sensor, then a technician must know if the sensor or TPMS was transmitting and operational before he or she even touches a vehicle. It’s equally important to know that the system remains operational after the service has been completed. Then, communicate that to the customer.

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• The secret is in the valve stem. Don’t remove the core. Most service shops recommend changing the valve core. Pennington doesn’t. Through trial and error, he has found that there are too many stems with cores that can’t be removed at all; about 50% are seized in the valve stem.

• Use a rubber grommet. The average mounting grommet life on most sensors is about five years. After that, the grommet must be replaced. To avoid any confusion as to the age of the grommets, replace them with rubber grommets whenever the tire/wheel is serviced. Additionally, TIA says that, when you remove the sensor from the rim, you must replace the grommet.

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• Check inflation regularly. Yes, it’s the same caveat for vehicles without TPMS, but this could save some headaches later in the process of servicing the vehicle.

• Finally, be careful advertising and giving estimates over the phone. Most likely, customers won’t know whether or not they have TPMS on their vehicles. If they do, it will take longer to dismount the tire, reset all the devices and service their vehicles. An educated sales force will ask customers if they have TPMS on their vehicles.

Here are some other general recommendations:

• The TPMS receiver is programmed at the factory to recognize which sensor is at each wheel location. If tires are rotated or a sensor is replaced, the receiver must be reprogrammed, following appropriate procedures.

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• If the receiver is not reprogrammed, the system will continue to report the correct pressures but will assign them to the wrong tires on the vehicle.

• Educate as you service. According to the DOT, Americans are wasting more than 5.4 million gallons of fuel each day due to low tire pressures.

• Remember to tell customers that a TPMS sensor is more precise than consumer-grade tire pressure gauges. It may be necessary to explain this if customers routinely inflate tires with a ‘mini-mart’ gauge.

• Also, tell your customers that if they continue to see the dashboard warning light coming on, it may be due to cold weather causing a decrease in tire pressure. This is normal, but it’s another good reason to check tire pressure regularly and by seasons.

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• As part of the customer-education process, they must know that any time tire pressure corrections, tire/wheel rotations or tire/wheel replacements are done, the TPMS must be reset.

• Avoid using tire sealants or balance beads with any wheel that has a TPMS sensor. They can clog the system.

• When in doubt, follow manufacturers’ instructions. This cannot be overstated, especially when it comes to tightening specs.

If you have any ideas or tips on how to deal with TPMS and would like to share them with us, please send them to Jim Smith, Tire Review editor, at [email protected].

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