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Uncharted Waters: Navigating Through Confusing World of TPMS Starts with Awareness


Editor’s Note: This is the first in what will be an ongoing series of articles designed to help you better help navigate the new world of TPMS-equipped vehicles. With your help and input, we will share timely tips, techniques and case studies and serve as a clearinghouse for this vital information. Your personal experiences in how you handle TPMS units, vehicles and customers are encouraged. Please send your suggestions or tips to Jim Smith, editor, at [email protected]

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Doctors and service technicians really have a lot more in common than the ordinary Joe or Jane would realize.

Both professions are essentially in the business of ‘fixing’ things – making things right. And, when it comes to diagnosis of any problem, there is one element, among many, that is essential to doing their jobs right. That element is awareness.

In the tech’s world, a relatively new concern has popped up on diagnostic charts. It is TPMS – tire pressure monitoring system. Still-unsettled NHTSA regulations require these systems on new passenger vehicles, and direct or indirect TPMS are being phased in. By September 2007, all new passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. must come with TPMSs.


Under the new regulation, a system must warn motorists when a tire’s pressure is 25% below the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure. If a tire is supposed to carry 32 psi inflation pressure the dashboard warning light won’t activate until the inflation pressure in one or more tires hits 24 psi.

We aren’t going to recount all of the valid arguments concerning weaknesses in NHTSA’s ‘final’ regulations issued last year. Currently, a group of tire companies, a consumer group and TIA are suing to get the regulation reconsidered.

Regardless of the current state of affairs, there is a regulation and the industry has to deal with it. Several manufacturers and aftermarket entrepreneurs already have begun the weaning process in dealing with both direct and indirect systems.


Because of the delay and uncertainty about the final version of the mandate and the subsequent helpful information that is needed, tire dealers and specialty performance shops that sell and mount tires on customer wheels are ill-prepared to deal with TPMS. Simple tire rotations and tire changes have become more complicated, and potentially more expensive, should a unit be damaged in the process.

With the cost of replacing direct TPMS sensors in the $150 to $300 range – and sensor damage is a very real problem – dealers, sales managers, service managers and tire technicians are treading carefully on this challenge.

Break It All Down

Therein lies the concern for every dealer who has to install tires on a vehicle. Regardless of the type of system installed, the key first step in dealing with this type of malady, says a Boston-area tire dealer, is awareness.


In the 31 years that Direct Tire has been in business, president and CEO Barry Steinberg says he’s never encountered anything like TPMS. But, he believes that the way to handle complex challenges such as TPMS is to break them down into simple, effective tasks – similar to the way in which a doctor handles a patient.

“It’s all about awareness,” says Steinberg. “Awareness of not only the customer’s needs, but also of what’s installed on the vehicle. And, it’s easier if you just follow a few simple steps.”


Steinberg says the first step at Direct Tire starts with the technician physically walking around the vehicle with a check sheet, and looking for, among several things, whether the vehicle is equipped with a TPMS.

This is where Steinberg and his team take control. “We take the customer’s keys and get in the car,” he says almost tongue-in-cheek. “Seriously, we obviously do this with all cars, but you have to get inside the car, turn on the ignition and see if a TPMS indicator lamp is on.

“Many customers don’t even know if they have TPMSs on their vehicles, so the first part of the awareness is to let them know if they have a TPMS if they don’t already know.


“Then, if they have a TPMS, and the yellow light is on, you fix the problem. If not, you operate in the way you always operate with a non-TPMS-equipped vehicle,” Steinberg says.

One of the culprits, says Steinberg, is the tire’s valve stem itself. “In many cases, the customer might be aware of the presence of a TPMS, but are unaware of the ironic complexity of such a simple device.

“Actually, the valve stem in a direct system can be the first problem that a tire tech might encounter,” says Steinberg. “That’s why, too, we put the problem down in writing and – as part of the awareness – we give the customer a copy of what’s going on.”


Direct Tire’s communique, over Steinberg’s signature, tells customers of problems it has found with TPMSs and that they may face an added charge.

Training is the Goal

Steinberg says that his shop has seen an increase in TPMSs only in the last couple of years. In fact, a TIA survey estimates that, already, there are 50 different TPMSs on more than 60 different types of vehicles, and that number will certainly grow.

“We first saw them in the 1990s, primarily on Corvettes,” he says. “But today, you don’t know what kind of a vehicle is equipped with TPMS.”


Awareness notwithstanding, Direct Tire service people all have had the additional benefit of TIA’s new TPMS training program.

Launched at last year’s SEMA Show, TIA’s educational program is designed to help dealers and tire techs successfully navigate dealing with the devices and includes training on mount/demount and resetting the system after tire service.

“Our goal is to make sure TIA members have continuous access to the latest information on servicing all types of original equipment and aftermarket TPMS,” says Kevin Rohlwing, TIA’s senior vice president of education and technical services. “Our new TPMS training program is just the start of the learning process, and members who jump on board right away will be better prepared to service the tires and wheels of the future before the ‘future’ is actually here.”


“It’s an excellent program,” Steinberg says. “We’ve had all of our technicians go through the training, and it’s something I’d highly recommend.”

There’s one other thing that Steinberg recommends: “Go to Staples and buy a big red ‘TPMS’ stamp. Use it when a system is identified, and stamp it all over your check sheets,” he laughed. “That way, everyone will know that the vehicle is equipped with a tire pressure monitoring system.”




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