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TPMS experts wanted: Get up to speed NOW on tire pressure monitoring systems, or it will end up costing you money (and maybe customers)

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TPMS experts wanted: Get up to speed NOW on tire pressure monitoring systems, or it will end up costing you money (and maybe customers)

By now, you've probably figured out that the sky is not falling, since tire pressure monitoring systems haven't put independent tire dealers out of business.

Over the past few months, I've traveled all over North America to train technicians and educate owners and managers, yet I still haven't found one person who is quitting because of a tire pressure monitoring system (also called a TPMS).

In fact, most of the people I've met are taking the opposite approach. They recognize this as an opportunity to make their companies the experts when handling this new technology, giving them a significant advantage in their market.

The tire buying demographic hasn't changed in decades, so a certain percentage of people are going to take the cheapest route. They'll probably ask you to disable the warning light or replace the sensors with standard rubber snap-in valve stems (both are violations of federal law). Quality and safety are the last things on their minds as they shop from place to place looking for the best price. If your survival is dependent on these customers, keeping them happy could come back to haunt you.

Even with rising costs and more budget-conscious consumers, a much larger segment of the tire buying market is going to take more than price into consideration. As the motoring public becomes aware of the advantages that TPMS technology provides, more of them will insist that it is properly serviced so it remains operational. And the even more important thing to remember is that every vehicle under 10,000 pounds GVWR will eventually include a tire pressure monitoring system. If you can't imagine that, look at the carburetor, muffler and radiator industries today versus 20 or 30 years ago.

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Becoming an expert is not an easy or inexpensive process. It's going to take vision at all levels of management to allow for the additional time and make the necessary investments in equipment and training. This will be an ongoing and never-ending process, as new technology is released with each model year. But eventually, technicians will get more proficient at demounting and mounting tires without damaging sensors, and (we hope) the recalibration procedures will be simplified or standardized.

Then there's the liability factor. We all know that it is illegal to intentionally disable a TPMS, but what about those situations where the customer refuses to pay for a broken sensor or replace one with a dead battery?

The simple answer is to install the spare, but very few customers will be in favor of that policy and it doesn't solve the problem of more than one sensor with a dead battery. So the dealer must recognize that intentional disablement can have a wide variety of interpretations in a court room.

During my travels, I remember one seminar where I was accused of trying to scare people because I gave them an example of how a TPMS creates additional exposure to a lawsuit. I would never resort to such tactics to make a point and didn't in that instance, so I'll let you decide for yourself.

Here is one example: A customer comes in for a set of four tires and the technicians install them not knowing that the TPMS had to be reset. About a year later, one of the tires runs over a nail and begins to leak air until it fails, which causes an accident. The driver says the dashboard warning light never came on. During the investigation as to why the TPMS didn't warn the customer, the plaintiff discovers that the tire pressures stored in the vehicle's memory do not match the position of the tires.

While I seriously doubt this constitutes "intentional" disablement, it won't keep the dealer out of court.

I'm not an attorney, but I can definitely recognize risk when I see it. And while the statistical likelihood of a lawsuit is miniscule at this point in time, it will only increase as more vehicles in need of replacement tires contain a TPMS. Nobody has to work in fear as long as steps are taken to make sure that vehicles with tire pressure monitoring systems are properly serviced. But consumers must be informed that there are going to be cases when the aftermarket scan tools and published procedures don't work, so the new car dealership will be the only one that can fix it.

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So dealers can either start the process of becoming a TPMS expert now or wait for it to cost them money and maybe customers. With each new model year, the industry is going to run out of options when it comes to servicing these vehicles.

For those who refuse to acknowledge the inevitable changes that are coming down the road, I wish you the best of luck. For those who are already on the journey toward expertise or want to begin, there is a gathering in Las Vegas beginning on October 31 and ending on November 3 that will give you ample opportunities to educate yourself on the subject of tire pressure monitoring systems.

Of course, I'm talking about the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) and the Performance Tires and Wheels (PTW) Show sponsored by the Tire Industry Association (TIA) at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Tire pressure monitoring systems are the hottest thing in the tire industry, so it's a safe bet that recalibration tools, grommet kits and other products will be displayed throughout the exhibition.

As I said earlier, diving off the cliff into the TPMS river is not an inexpensive proposition, nor is it one you can rethink after you've jumped. But that doesn't mean dealers should just buy the first tool that their local salesman brings in the door. Since all of the major players in this market will be at SEMA and PTW, make the time to see them so you can compare the features, benefits, and lifecycle costs.

But tools and supplies are only part of the picture. You cannot become an expert without training. Whether it's in the form of a packaged program like the standard video and workbook offered by TIA or an in-house tutorial on how to handle and service these assemblies, technicians must understand the differences between vehicles with tire pressure monitoring systems and those without. Besides demounting and mounting tires without damaging sensors, the technicians also need to know the recalibration status of the individual year, make and model. This is where it gets tricky.

On some vehicles, the TPMS automatically resets itself following a tire rotation, repair, or replacement. All the technician has to do is demount and mount the tire without damaging the valve stem sensor. On everything else, the technician must initiate the relearn mode on the vehicle and follow a specific procedure for re-establishing the connection between the sensors and the on-board computer. These steps will vary within the same manufacturer, so you can imagine what it's like when every year, make and model is factored in. We're talking hundreds of different procedures, specifications and part numbers in the very near future.

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So while you're in Las Vegas for SEMA and PTW, you should definitely stop by "Tires at Two" in the South Hall. TIA has sponsored these 2 p.m. seminars for years so attendees to the show have educational opportunities during their stay. Typically, it involved a series of daily seminars (at 2 p.m.) on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. While the days haven't changed, TIA scaled back the number of seminars to focus on specific topics that are of the most importance to independent retail tire dealers.

Tire pressure monitoring systems will be included each day during Tires at Two with seminars that feature different original equipment vehicle and valve stem sensor manufacturers. On Tuesday, October 31, General Motors Corp. and Schrader Electronics will each make a 30-minute presentation on what the aftermarket can do to properly service the TPMS on their platforms. They also will address a number of other issues such as aftermarket fitments and current technology.

On Wednesday, November 1, DaimlerChrysler and Siemens VDO will repeat the focus of the previous day with their views on the subjects. And to wrap everything up on Thursday, Beru and EnTire Solutions will join GM, Schrader Electronics and Siemens VDO for a panel discussion on the current state of tire pressure monitoring systems and what their companies project for the future.

Three days in Las Vegas is not going to make you a TPMS expert. It may be the first step in the journey or just a few more steps along the way, but you can be certain the steps will be in the right direction. The type of expertise that independent retail tire dealers need to stay independent takes years of education and experience. Anyone who suggests I am a TPMS expert is immediately corrected because there is so much more for me to learn.

Granted, my knowledge on every aspect of the subject may be greater than most, but I'm still a long way from expert in my eyes because I will always lack the experience. I'm not in a service bay working on these vehicles so I might not hear about the "exceptions to the rules" or the "field solutions" that I learned changing tires years ago.

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I recently heard from someone who decided years ago that his company should become a TPMS expert. They invested in tools and training immediately so they would be able to service these vehicles and before too long, the new car dealers starting sending vehicles back to them to service the TPMS. The new car dealers either didn't want to deal with it or they didn't know how. Regardless, TPMS service has become a profit center and another valuable marketing tool for his company.

To me, that is the dream scenario for TPMS and the independent tire dealer. But there are a lot of new car dealers who see this as the perfect opportunity to get into the tire business. They have the advantages of factory support, software and scan tools, not to mention the single focus on one make of vehicle.

If tire dealers want to maintain their current advantages over new car dealers, TPMS service is the sole determining factor in the future of the industry because servicing all makes and models is paramount to survival.

Expertise is not an option unless you're still making a living selling P195/75R14s.

This article is part of a regular series written exclusively for Modern Tire Dealer by Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services for the Tire Industry Association.
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