A Worrying Aspect of TPMS Innovation

John Stone
Posted on July 6, 2017

To say that over the past few years tire safety has become one of the most important (and some would say, very focused) aspects of the market in Europe would be a complete understatement.

This attitude has been primarily driven by the ongoing increase in tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) fitted to new vehicles right across the UK and most European countries. It is no secret that Europe picked up on TPMS from the U.S., where it has been present since the 1990s. Now, however, the U.S. and Europe are at the same level of innovation as it is being produced and implemented by global-oriented companies.

As can sometimes happen, the innovation of TPMS has created its own surprising problems.

The TPMS became a mandatory fitment on all new passenger cars in November 2014, initially in the UK and then across Europe. But during the past couple of years there has been an increasing surge in tire failures in the Ministry of Transport (MOT) test (which is compulsory for all vehicles over three years old) which can be directly connected to the TPMS.

Therefore, new vehicles registered over the past couple of years are now being subjected to their very first MOT test which stipulates that a car “must have a fully functioning TPMS to pass the test.” However, I have learned that recent independent statistics reveal that an extremely high number of vehicles are failing the MOT test due to defects in their TPMS.

More than 23,000 vehicles had to take a re-test of the MOT following the detection of TPMS issues in 2016, compared to just 7,000 failures in 2015 — resulting in a massive rise of 212% in the space of just 12 months. (To the dismay of drivers, the cost for the test runs from $39 USD to as much as $71!)

Safety feature ignored

The TPMS was initially introduced as an important tire safety feature to help reduce the number of vehicles being driven with incorrect tire pressures. It seems very surprising and worrying that such a vital safety feature should cause a serious problem and even more shocking, it appears the reason for this serious development lies with drivers and not their cars.

According to TyreSafe — a leading and influential organization in tire safety procedures in the UK and Europe — the whole point of the TPMS is to effectively reduce the number of tire-related incidents on the roads and allow drivers to be fully aware if their tire pressures are not at the right level.

However, it seems the problem lies in the fact that an increasing number of drivers are ignoring the information and continue to drive on regardless — in many cases on seriously under-inflated tires.

It seems remarkable that despite having such innovative tire technology at their disposal and the convenience of a warning light on their dashboard, drivers are simply not bothering to take notice when the TPMS appears to be not functioning properly or is giving an indication that there is a clear variance in tire pressure.

This shows the results of under-inflated tires, what a TPMS strives to prevent.
This shows the results of under-inflated tires, what a TPMS strives to prevent.
Certainly in the UK, TyreSafe has clearly tried to improve this appalling attitude by drivers toward tire pressures by publishing poster campaigns and media advertisements warning against the obvious dangers of driving on under-inflated tires. But disturbingly, the age-old mentality by vehicle owners that “unless a tire is flat they can still safely drive on it” is still very much in alive and kicking.

In most cases drivers learn the hard way by having to re-submit their cars for another MOT test, but the fact still remains that serious and fatal accidents on our roads are increasingly being caused by under-inflated tires.

At the moment, drivers are just inconvenienced by an MOT test failure, but perhaps one way to make them fully appreciate the very real dangers of a non-functioning TPMS is to introduce a serious fine for anyone caught driving with not just badly worn or defective tires, but also under-inflated tires. This may seem a drastic step to take but just maybe it will make people aware of the importance of TPMS and actually take notice of them. ■

John Stone has been working within the global tire industry for the past 26 years. In 2004 he launched his own consulting company, Sapphire Media Services, which caters to business media clients around the globe.

To read more of John Stone's columns, see:

Bridgestone in Europe! Building on Continued Success

Innovative Tires and More: Manufacturers Speak Out at the Geneva Motor Show

Time to Get Tough on Tire Safety: Safety Messages are Still Being Ignored by Motorists

60 Years of Passion, Experience and Success From a European Tire Icon

Related Topics: European Notebook, John Stone, Tire pressure monitoring systems, TPMS

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