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Tools of the trade: Eight (at least) aftermarket TPMS devices are readily available

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Tools of the trade: Eight (at least) aftermarket TPMS devices are readily available

Whenever new vehicle technology is introduced, there is always a period of adjustment for service providers who must sort through the inevitable list of tools and equipment that accompany the demands created by change. Until now, only those companies who offered complete automotive repair have been affected.

From on-board diagnostics to fuel injection systems to a cornucopia of electrical components, the average tire dealer has historically maintained a comfortable seat on the sidelines as the various tool and equipment manufacturers flooded the market with all of the necessary items to service new vehicles.

Of course, all of that changed with the introduction of tire pressure monitoring systems. Former spectators are now being thrown into the technology game with little or no preparation. Some still choose to clutch to their seat like an old bubble balancer, but the harsh reality is that it's going to be extremely difficult to maintain that position for much longer. Like it or not, tire pressure monitoring systems are here to stay.

But participation is a lot more than just writing a check to the first supplier who shows up with a price list. Keep in mind, salespeople are paid to sell whatever is in stock, and they are not much different from tire dealers who tell their customers that a particular tire is the best value for their vehicle based on the fact that there is plenty of inventory which must be purged.

While trust is a major factor between tire dealers and suppliers, business is business, so today's "must have" can still become tomorrow's paperweight and it's not anyone's fault. It's also important to note that technology always changes, which means more advanced tools and equipment are in development.

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Torque tools: here to stay

One area where it's highly unlikely that obsolescence will become a factor is torque. Valve cores require the proper torque and valve core torque tools will always have a place in the tire dealership where tire pressure monitoring systems are concerned. Obviously, a loose valve core will result in air leakage and given the propensity of valve caps to disappear, the end result will be an increased number of flat tires. But over-torque has equally negative consequences as the nickel plating can be damaged, which may lead to valve cores that become a permanent part of the valve stem. When the unsuspecting technician attempts to remove the over-torqued valve core and insists on using a little extra muscle, a new sensor is inevitable.

Likewise, over-torquing the hex nut on metal "clamp in" style sensors can also lead to unexpected expenses. A simple torque wrench with a 20-120 inch-pound range can handle most sensors on the market. Suppliers have responded to the needs of dealers and even have developed a flip socket with the two most popular hex sizes so technicians don't have to search for the appropriate size.

The latest entry into the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) torque sweepstakes is a special T-10 Torx torque wrench for the new two-part rubber snap-in sensors introduced by Schrader Electronics on 2007 General Motors vehicles. This wrench ensures that the screw has the proper torque so the connection between the electronics inside the sensor body and the valve stem is maintained.

Since the valve stem itself serves as the antenna, insufficient torque on the screw can result in a sensor that does not transmit properly.

Readily available TPMS tools

Before a dealer can decide which tool to purchase, the ability of the technicians must be considered. Some devices are "one-button" designs with simple operation that require little or no need for advanced training or skill.

Others feature scroll-down menus that require some computer literacy and force technicians to navigate an internal map of commands.

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So if technicians have difficulty programming numbers into their cell phones, the "one-button" tools might be the best solution. On the other hand, dealers also must recognize that these easy-to-use tools are limited from a diagnostic standpoint, so pinpointing a problem is difficult if not impossible. But the bottom line is none of the current aftermarket tools can do everything, since replacing sensors on certain vehicles requires a factory scan tool.

But when it comes to tools and the TPMS, nothing is more frustrating than the confusion surrounding electronic devices that serve a wide variety of purposes.

In my position with the Tire Industry Association (TIA), I am inundated with requests from dealers who want to know which one they should purchase.

Since most, if not all, of the tool manufacturers are members of the organization, I cannot put TIA in the position of endorsing or recommending one over another. We also must stay away from demonstrating the usage of any of these devices, as the mere presence in a training class is often viewed as an endorsement. Therefore, TIA has and will continue to sit in the stands and watch the TPMS electronic tool battle from a safe distance.

Even though my articles in Modern Tire Dealer are not associated in any way with my employer, I cannot escape the reality that my opinions still reflect my affiliation with TIA. Therefore, I will continue to maintain my neutrality when it comes to these tools, so you won't see any endorsements throughout the remainder of this story. And I also must point out that I have selected eight tools by four popular manufacturers (the order of their appearance is alphabetical, so it does not reflect a ranking).

Finally, I sincerely apologize for any TPMS electronic tool manufacturer that is not listed in this story. As far as I know, the manufacturers featured are the ones with the most readily available tools. (Editor's note: If you have a TPMS tool that is not mentioned in this story, please send it to MTD. We will be happy to publicize it.)

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Bartec USA LLC

Bartec has three aftermarket TPMS electronic tools. The Wheelrite Tech 100 is the introductory model that works with approximately 80% of the sensors on the market. It has a simple one-button operation; therefore it is easy to use. The power source for the 100 is a nine-volt battery.

The Wheelrite Tech 300 utilizes a two-button keypad, operates on a nine-volt battery, and can be upgraded via an annual Web site subscription with the first year included in the original purchase price. The 300 also includes the ability to print reports using a standard USB cable and is designed to operate with all major sensor manufacturers.

The Wheelrite Journeyman is Bartec's complete TPMS repair tool that can display the sensor identification number, tire pressure, tire temperature and the battery status. It uses a scroll-down menu and is capable of activating replacement sensors on certain makes and models. The Journeyman uses a rechargeable battery with quick-charge capability.

For more information, dealers can go to the Web site www.bartecusa.com or call (586) 685-1300.

K-Tool International

The KTIp.s.t. (Positioning Sensor Tool) and T.I.P.S. (Tire Inflation Positioning Switch) Pro Service Tool are very popular one-button devices that almost any technician can operate. Unlike other TPMS tools that must be used with a separate magnet, both the KTIp.s.t. and T.I.P.S. Pro have built-in magnets that are powered by either a single nine-volt or six AA batteries.

In order to be upgraded, a Programming Interface Module (PIM) must be purchased separately so the tool can be connected to a standard USB port on a computer. The PIM includes a one-year software license, and dealers only need to purchase one PIM for multiple tools -- but must purchase additional licenses for each additional tool.

To receive more information on the KTIp.s.t. or T.I.P.S. Pro, visit the company's Web sites at www.ktipst.com or www.tipstool.com or call (800) 762-6002 or (800) 359-9855.

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OTC/SPX Corp.

The OTC Tire Pressure Monitor Kit is a complete tool that can perform both reset and diagnostic procedures. Technicians must be able to navigate the on-screen display using three buttons on the keypad in conjunction with the accompanying reference manual. The manual includes reset procedures for most makes and models as well as torque specifications for hex nuts on metal "clamp-in" style sensors.

The OTC tool displays sensor data such as pressure, battery level and identification number. It is powered by three C batteries and can be updated with a serial cable and a PC.

To receive more information on the OTC Tire Pressure Monitor Kit, visit the company's Web site at www.otctmps.com or call (507) 455-7000.

Schrader Electronics

Besides being a leading manufacturer of TPMS sensors, Schrader Electronics also offers the AirAware learn and test tools that work with most vehicles sold in North America, including those that do not utilize Schrader sensors. All Schrader AirAware tools include free upgrades to registered tool owners via the Schrader Web site.

The 21210 has a simple two-button keypad and can output sensor data using the USB port so it can be printed into reports. Powered by a single nine-volt battery, the 21210 is lightweight and compact. For dealers who are interested in a diagnostic tool, Schrader offers the 21211. The 21211 includes all of the features of the 21210 but also has an audit feature that allows it to be used as a memory stick when plugged into a computer.

By using the scroll display, technicians can retrieve tire pressure, tire temperature, battery condition and the original equipment part number. For more information on the tools, visit the company's Web site at www.schrader-bridgeport.com/tpms.

The best advice I can give to a tire dealer who is considering the purchase of an electronic TPMS tool is to contact all of these manufacturers so you can decide for yourself which one is best for your company and your technicians. In some cases, they can be purchased directly from the manufacturer; in others, they will direct you to a distributor.

Regardless, dealers must do some research so the purchase decision is well-informed and not based on the opinion of a salesman who is just doing his or her job.

Again, I cannot stress enough that none of these tools can do everything. In some situations, a factory scan tool is necessary, particularly when replacing sensors. But all of these tools will handle a majority of the vehicles that the typical retail tire dealer will see in North America.

It's also important to recognize that all of these tools will require regular upgrades to reflect the latest technology with each new model year.

Like it or not, tire pressure monitoring systems are changing the replacement passenger and light truck tire industry. Dealers who refuse to accept that they need more than a tire changer and balancer to service new vehicles will eventually run out of customers, as older pre-TPMS vehicles are continuously replaced with vehicles that include this new technology.

If you don't believe me, take a look at the market for center-post tire changers and bubble balancers. I hear sales of both have fallen off in the last few years.

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