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TIA, tire dealers and SEMA take on TPMS: With the government mandating it by 2008, tire pressure monitoring still has issues

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TIA, tire dealers and SEMA take on TPMS: With the government mandating it by 2008, tire pressure monitoring still has issues

“I don’t see any way around tire pressure monitoring systems,” said Vic Wood, SEMA director of Councils & Membership Services, “so standardization is the big wish.”

Wood’s simple statement at the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) Show in Las Vegas speaks volumes about the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) rule proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA.

Because of the requirements of the TREAD (Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation) Act, a system that monitors when a tire is “significantly underinflated” is inevitable. The government, however, is still reviewing industry comments on its proposal, which is anything but clear in its treatment of aftermarket installers. Standardization is the “big wish,” but not the only one.

Preparing for TPMS

In September, NHTSA published its "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" regarding the establishment of a new federal motor vehicle safety standard mandating tire pressure monitoring systems. Although there are still points of contention between NHTSA, the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA), the final rule is expected to go into effect during the summer of 2005. NHTSA hopes to begin the phase-in with 2008 model-year vehicles.

“We have to deal with it as an industry at this point,” said George Finch, chairman of the Wheel Industry Council (WIC), at the SEMA Show.

TIA took a proactive approach to tire pressure monitoring systems. In conjunction with Delphi Integrated Service Solutions and the RMA, it is in the process of developing a comprehensive TPMS training program for the tire industry.

"Providing tire dealers with training and information on tire pressure monitoring systems will help provide customers with more choices of where they can receive tire care services," said TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield.

During its annual meeting at the SEMA Show, TIA passed a resolution to initiate a fund-raising event through the TIA Foundation to help pay for such a training program.

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Aftermarket confusion

At the WIC’s TPMS seminar, Claude Harris, director of the Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance for NHTSA, said tire pressure monitoring systems’ compatibility with replacement tires was crucial.

NHTSA seemingly addresses that issue in its proposed rule. “We note that some vehicle manufacturers authorize their dealers to replace the vehicle’s factory-installed tires with other tires, including ones with a different size and/or recommended cold tire inflation pressure,” it wrote in Vol. 69 of the Federal Register. “The TPMS would have to perform properly with any such tires, because the vehicle could be equipped with those tires at the time of initial sale.

“Of course, the manufacturer would not have that responsibility if the dealer installed other tires without manufacturer authorization. However, the dealer would violate the Motor Vehicle Safety Act if it installed tires on a new vehicle that prevented the TPMS from functioning properly.”

In other words, straying from the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended tire list passes government inspection as long the TPMS could work if the driver so desired.

“It’s up to the customer to decide if he wants to maintain the system or not,” said Harris. “We don’t regulate consumer preferences. But the dealer can’t take it off-line.”

John Maxgay, lead engineer, chassis electronics, for General Motors North America, said GM’s direct system features a radio frequency (RF) transmitter. The TPMS has memory, an application-specific chip, a sensing element and a battery with a 10-year life. Maxgay indicated GM’s TPMS would work with tires not authorized by the company.

“As NHTSA has indicated in their comments attached to the September 16 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, direct tire pressure sensors will work with a large percentage of aftermarket tires. In the event that the tire does affect the RF transmission from the sensor, the malfunction indicator… will make the driver aware of that situation.

“The size of the wheel and tire can be a factor, but typically does not have a large impact on RF performance. Tire construction -- specifically the amount, pattern, and location of metal in the tire -- is usually the primary contributor of RF signal attenuation.

“Unusual difficulty in reprogramming can be an early indicator that the tire may be affecting the sensor´s RF performance,” he added.

What happens to TPMS sensors when tires are either replaced or rotated? Charlie Gorman, executive manager of the Equipment and Tool Institute, said he was optimistic companies would have no trouble getting the information necessary to make the aftermarket tools needed to reset or reprogram them. “I’m convinced that the aftermarket information providers will at some point consolidate all this information into a condensed TPMS book or database.”

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‘They’re a good idea’

Independent tire dealers checking out SEMA’s "Performance Tires & Wheels sponsored by TIA" section generally favor the use of tire pressure monitoring systems. They had varying opinions on TPMS issues, however.

“I think they’re a good idea,” said Russ Boughman, owner of Discount Tire Outlet, a single-store dealership in Massillon, Ohio. “People don’t check their tires.”

“I don’t have a problem with tire pressure monitoring systems,” said John Kuhlman, owner of Midtown Tire & Auto Service Inc. in Springfield, Ill. “We service (vehicles) that have (them). It’s almost an everyday thing anymore. Any (system) will be of some help to the consumer.”

That may be true, but Ed Tuck III, president of T&T Tire Factory in Tacoma, Wash., isn’t sure that the average customer will deem the technology cost-effective. “The consumer doesn’t seem to be interested or concerned,” he said. “They’re not willing to make the $200 investment to protect their tires.” (T&T Tire Factory sells Nokian’s RoadSnoop TPMS system at that price.)

Tuck favors direct tire pressure monitoring systems. “Installers will know exactly where the monitor is within the tire.” In addition, “the ABS (indirect) system leaves a lot to be desired when you’re plus-sizing.”

TPMS recalibration is another concern. “Right now there’s no standard between one auto manufacturer and another.”

Mark Eagleston, director of retail development for Ganin Tire in Brooklyn, N.Y., also believes that direct tire pressure monitoring systems are the way to go. “The (indirect) system is inaccurate. It won’t isolate the tire.”

Eagleston said NHTSA should force auto manufacturers to place a sticker or label on the wheel “telling you that a tire has a TPMS. The customer isn’t aware. Do you think the car dealers will tell them?

“There should be an industry standard -- everyone using the same (system). We all know how important tire pressure is. Eighty-five- percent of customers who come into our stores have the wrong air pressure in their tires; it’s either too high or too low. The government should get its act together.”

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Davis Rosen Jr., owner of Davis Tire & Auto Care Inc. in Mt. Jackson, Va., said his shop does not work on many cars with tire pressure monitoring systems since it’s located in a rural area. “But we’ll take them on. We aren’t against them.”

John Marshall, vice president of Dayton, Ohio-based Grismer Tire Co., said his dealership isn’t working on many systems at the moment. “I’m surprised that it’s become such a controversy. And I’m surprised it’s gotten so complicated and difficult to implement.”

Bill Beer, manager of Schierl Tire & Service Centers’ Stevens Point, Wis., store, thinks tire pressure monitoring systems are a good idea. “There’s a place and a need for them.” He said the only thing NHTSA’s TPMS mandate will do is “change the price of the mount and dismount because you’re going to have to be more sensitive” to the complexities of servicing the system.

One thing Beer would like to see is TPMS standardization concerning whether the monitors will be attached to the wheels or part of the valve stems.

Mark Przybyszewski, president of Mark’s Tire Service Inc. in Fairview, Pa., has some experience with the technology. “I don’t particularly care for (tire pressure monitoring systems) because they’re a pain when you change tires. We strive to have the more experienced technicians changing the tires, the ones who (understand) the monitoring system in them.”

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