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Thumbs up at the forum: Tire dealers voice their concerns about TPMS flaws

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When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandated tire pressure monitoring systems on all light vehicles sold in the United States, tire dealers had little say in the matter.

Tire and vehicle manufacturers, automotive parts suppliers, vehicle control system developers and industry associations were consulted, either directly or indirectly, by the government. Even the Society of Automotive Engineers voiced its opinion.
Sometimes NHTSA listened, so the resulting tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) standard was a joint effort.

However, Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 138 focuses only on setting enforceable guidelines. NHTSA left it up to the aftermarket to implement the standard.
All through the process, tire dealers had hoped for the best, but the “best” did not happen. Allowable systems differ not only among vehicle manufacturers, but also within vehicle platforms. The cost of buying TPMS sensors and scan tools is a cost of doing business that not every dealer feels he can afford.

After the fact, however, your concerns and complaints are starting to make a difference.That was quite evident at the third Intelligent Tire Technology Conference (ITTC), held recently in Dearborn, Mich.

The conference provided an interactive forum for the industry. Many of the top vehicle and tire manufacturers were represented. So was the Tire Industry Association.

Most importantly, independent tire dealers were there in force. I counted four of you this year, led by Discount Tire Co. Also participating were Belle Tire Distributors Inc., Dunn Tire LLC and The Tire Rack.

With close to 700 stores nationwide, Discount Tire is particularly sensitive to the cost of scan tools and sensor kits. One $1,000 scan tool at each outlet will cost the company $700,000!

Gary Ruede, technical application supervisor for Discount Tire, has seen the aftermarket evolve for the better. For example, he said prior to the advent of tire pressure monitoring systems, 99% of tire valve cores were brass. But because they seize when placed inside an aluminum TPMS valve stem, nickel-plated cores have become a necessity when rubber valve stems with brass cores are not used. He was pleased to hear that Ford is putting rubber TPMS valve stems on its 2009 vehicles. “Rubber is so much easier,” he said.

Uniformity is still a problem, however. Different systems sometimes require different tools. Resetting them also requires system-specific knowledge.

When asked, “If you could standardize only one thing about tire pressure monitoring systems from this point forward, what would it be?” Ruede answered “automatic resetting.”

Plus-sizing can be a problem if you can’t change the psi threshold, which is 25% of the recommended tire pressure on the vehicle placard. “Some manufacturers, like Mercedes, Volkswagen and Audi, will allow you to reset or replace the threshold of the sensor,” he said.

“We have to educate the consumer about the 25% threshold. We have to be proactive,” added Dennis Toman, service manager for Dunn Tire.

Ruede wanted the vehicle manufacturers who were listening to know that something as simple as pushing the “light load” button on a 3/4-ton pickup will change the required air pressure in the tires, and may make it hard for tire dealers to take care of their customers.

John Maxgay, lead TPMS engineer for General Motors Corp., gets it. He has heard the complaints for years, and has done everything he can to take the message back to his company. In response, GM has reduced the number of tire pressure monitoring systems it offers.

He knows about the problems you are having, and insists that the company is trying to make the systems more user-friendly. It’s in everyone’s best interest to please the customer, he said.

“All we want to do is make sure that when the customer leaves our service center, their car’s TPMS is working properly,” summed up Ruede.

Customers will be happy if their neighborhood tire dealers can repair their TPMS when it isn’t working properly. Open dialogue, like that at the ITTC, will help that become a reality. And at least this time, tire dealers are included in the discussion.    ■

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