The Ins and Outs of TPMS in Today's Shops

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Scot Holloway, CEO and general manager of Bartec USA, LLC, led an education session at iFLEX 2016 on Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) and the proper ways to manage this technology. He spoke about the history of TPMS, the different types that are available and some best practices to implement in your shops today. We’d like to share the valuable information he presented and hope you are able to apply some of these practices in your shops.

TPMS started in the ‘90s on a very limited basis, landed in America in 2000 and a Chrysler minivan was the first to have it.  Shortly after, the first hand-held testing unit was developed. Later, the government got involved after a large number of blowouts occurred. In the year 2000, Bridgestone recalled 6.5 million of its Firestone tires, which was the second largest tire recall in U.S. history. The recall was in response to unnerving complaints that the tires could have been linked to fatal crashes involving SUVs. This recall led to the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (or TREAD) Act in the fall of 2000. This law was designed to increase consumer safety through mandates assigned to the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA).

The government later said there needed to be a system that would directly alert the passenger of low tire pressure; a system that would let the customer know when the pressure fell 25 percent below the recommended psi. To ensure this was the case moving forward, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST) was enacted on December 4, 2015.

The number of cars with TMPS is steadily growing. As of 2015, more than 50-60 percent of vehicles on the road have TPMS.

Two Types of TPMS

Indirect: A methodology of measuring tire pressure by monitoring wheel speed in different positions. This is the less common type. An example of this is when an underinflated tire spins faster than an inflated tire. These systems require less parts and pieces, but they are not the majority.

Direct: There’s a monitoring system in the wheel, the control module and the receiver and display. When the TPMS light illuminated on the dash is solid, it means the tire pressure is low. When it blinks, that means the TPMS system is experiencing a problem.

Three Different Types of Sensors

There are not only two different variations of TPMS systems, but there are also different types of sensors themselves.

Direct replacement sensors: These are the least flexible sensors. When one of these needs to be replaced, there is a specific part number associated with the sensor that must be used as the replacement. If all sensors were like this, you would have to have a huge inventory of sensors.

Multi-protocol sensors: There are two to five SKUs that will fit all vehicles. You don’t need a programming tool with these, and you don’t have to do anything to program them.

Programmable sensors: Some companies have been able to get all of the protocols into one sensor body. These are the most flexible sensors, but you need a programming tool for these. If you want to cover 100 percent of the vehicles, this is probably the best way to go.

It’s important to decide which inventory model is the best option for you and what you want to provide.

Points of Service

Points of service include everything a technician should do while servicing the TPMS system. Each shop should have a system in place in order to set a standard and avoid negligence. According to Holloway, these points of service include:

·       Pre-inspection: Test before touch. You have to inspect for leaks, sensor problems, corrosion, the right dust cap and the correct valve stem.

·       Test power: The real risk is in not testing the sensor for battery power. If the customer leaves and a few days later the TPMS light comes on and flashes, they’re going to be right back in your shop with the assumption that it’s your fault. Test the sensor to make sure it has power. (Most TPMS batteries usually last five to 10 years.) If it doesn’t have power, let the customer know the light could be coming on anytime due to a lack of power. This way, you’ve given yourself a get-out-of-jail-free card.

·       Sensor replacement: If you take the tire off of the wheel, make sure you’re checking or replacing the grommet, the retaining nut, the valve core and the cap. These items are exposed to the elements and experience the most wear and tear. Physical damage, failed components or corrosion can also be reasons to replace the sensor.

Get Connected to the Vehicle

You should always perform what’s called a relearn if you’re doing anything with a TPMS sensor. There are three types of relearn procedures.

1. Stationary: When you are using the car’s receiver to activate the sensor.

2. OBD application: You have to connect the sensor to an OBD port to initiate a programming sequence.

3. Auto learn: You drive the vehicle for a period of time, and the vehicle automatically performs the relearn.

When Does Touching TPMS Mean Fixing It?

On September 1, 2010, the Tire Inflation Regulation took effect in California. It was put in place by the California Air Resources Board, which required techs to check and inflate each vehicle’s tires to the recommended tire pressure rating, among other things. Soon after, in 2011, the Tire Industry Association determined what shops were responsible for when it comes to TPMS systems. Holloway explained a few scenarios to help operators determine whether or not their shop is responsible for fixing a malfunctioning TPMS.

1. If a vehicle with a non-functional TPMS comes into your shop is the service provider responsible for making sure the system works?

 No; therefore, you are not responsible for fixing it.

2. A motorist purchases an alternate set of wheels and tires from the service provider. What’s necessary for the provider to do in this case?

If the system is functioning when the car comes in, then the service provider is responsible for either transferring the system or putting in a new one.

3. What if you’re servicing the vehicle and the system breaks?

You’re responsible and must fix it.

4. You perform the requested service and the car leaves the facility with everything working. Then, the customer comes back a week later with the TPMS light on.

You’re not responsible, but you should do your due-diligence to make sure you’re covered from these accusations.

The FAST Act, signed in 2015, updated the procedures for checking tire pressure. Because of this, TPMS cannot be overridden and should not be serviced to prevent it from working. This procedure was primarily targeting new technology that was coming out for indirect systems.

Best Practices

The best way to avoid mistakes and to ensure that your shop runs smoothly is to adopt a list of best practices. Here is a short list to get started:

·       “If you’re touching tires on a regular basis, you should develop a code of best practices,” Holloway said. “Make sure you’re testing the tire before you touch it, and test for diagnostic trouble codes. This is the actual information coming from the car that will support what you see in your initial inspection, whether there is a light on the dashboard or testing a sensor. Make sure you’re looking at the placard (on the doorjamb) as well, so you know how much air pressure to put in the tire.”

·       Cold air inflation pressure is also important. Tire pressure increases by one PSI for each 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Meaning, if someone pulls into your shop and their tires are hot, don’t check the tire pressure right as they pull in. If you’re going to adjust the tire pressure when the tires are hot, adjust accordingly so the sensor doesn’t think the tires are underinflated once they have cooled off.

·       “Using the proper air chuck when adding air is extremely important, especially when corrosion is involved. If you’re using a long-necked air chuck on a corroded sensor, it will act as a lever, and you will likely break it,” Holloway said. “It doesn’t take much pressure with a long lever to break these.”

·       Even though TPMS systems have been a part of the auto industry for more than 10 years, there is a big misconception plaguing customers.

Many customers out there will say, “I never had any problems with tire pressure until this TPMS technology was implemented.”

“The truth is, the majority of these drivers did have tire pressure issues at one point or another, but they didn’t know it because these sensors weren’t there to tell them about it,” Holloway said.

How TPMS Affects Your Business

If you service tires in your shop, you need to start informing customers about what you do and the services you offer. Let your customers know you’re checking the sensors and checking the tire pressure.

“Documenting what you see and educating customers is the best way to cover yourself,” Holloway said.

It’s also a great idea to advertise that you service TPMS. According to Holloway, if customers don’t know you service TPMS, they might just go to the dealership and you may lose that customer. 

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