TPMS is here to stay. Get ready: TIA unveils TPMS training program. System identification, sensor batteries and re-programming remain hot issues

Dec. 1, 2005

"There are about four million cars on the road today with tire pressure monitoring systems," Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services for the Tire Industry Association (TIA), told tire dealers at last month's SEMA Show.

Twenty percent of new vehicles sold in the United States over the next nine months will be equipped with some kind of tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).

"That number jumps to 70% for the 2007 model year. And for the 2008 model year, all vehicles must have pressure monitoring systems.

"Ten to 15 years from now, every vehicle on the road will have tire pressure monitoring systems. There's no way out of this. It's reality. And we have to be able to deal with it.

"If you are in the tire and wheel business, you're going to have to be prepared to service these vehicles."

TPMS training

To help dealers, TIA introduced its TPMS training program during the show. The module "will help both technicians and customer service personnel understand the guidelines for servicing and maintaining these systems," according to TIA President Bob Malerba.

It covers TPMS recalibration and includes an appendix with installation torque values for valve stem sensors. The program will supplement TIA's Automotive Tire Service certification course.

"As tire pressure monitoring systems come in, we'll have to update the program," says TIA Executive Vice President Roy Littlefield.

TIA has invested some $200,000 in the TPMS course's development. "Our members are considered tire experts," says Malerba. "We don't want them scratching their heads when customers come in."


Tire dealers must accept that tire pressure monitoring systems are here to stay, according to Rohlwing. What's more, he says, TPMS technology will continue to evolve.

"In the meantime, you need to change your business model. The days of the tire buster are over. You have to educate your techs -- those $9- and $10-an-hour employees who have a $160 (tire pressure) sensor in their hands."

No need for speed

Due to the complexity and cost of tire pressure monitoring systems, tire dealers should focus on accuracy rather than speed when servicing them, says Rohlwing.

"Speed is what it's always been about in our business. Every tire man thinks he's in a pit crew. This technology requires the exact opposite approach. It's going to require some care and precision.

"If you're trying to get a lot of customers in your shop every day, tire pressure monitoring systems are going to slow that down."

The first step in the process is identifying that a tire contains a TPMS sensor. Most OEMs are using a valve stem sensor, according to Rohlwing.

"Every one of these sensors is going to have a large collared net on the metal valve stem. This nut will indicate that (the tire has) a valve stem sensor. The tech also can check the dashboard display. When you turn the key on and all the bulbs do the bulb check, there will be a light that indicates you have a TPMS."

In addition, he recommends investing in TPMS sensor tools, which "help you identify if the system was working before you touched it and after you worked on it. You don't want to be held responsible for something you didn't break."


Power balance

Sensor batteries present another potential problem area, says Rohlwing. Sensors use different amounts of battery power at different times.

"When the sensor is sitting on the shelf in the warehouse or in your storage area, it's basically in what you'd call 'sleep mode.' It's drawing a minimal amount of power off that battery. Once the sensor is installed in the tire it's drawing a little more power. When the vehicle is in use, it's going to be drawing maximum power."

Sensor batteries will last seven to 10 years on an average vehicle driven under average conditions. "A taxi cab running 12 to 24 hours a day in New York City can expect to see that drop considerably. The reason this is important is that you can't replace the battery; you have to replace the entire sensor.

"As batteries wear down, systems are going to start acting up. You're going to get flat tires registering that aren't flat."

Drivers may think they're having TPMS problems when, in fact, their sensor batteries are running low. "When the average motorist sees a dashboard light, what do they think? 'Take it to the car dealer.'

"This is one of the few lights that every tire dealer can address. There's no need for a motorist to go directly to a (car) dealer when this light comes on.

"You're in the business of selling tires. The last thing you want is to send every one of your customers to a car dealer. New car dealers are already telling their customers, 'Hey, you don't want to take your car to a tire dealer. They don't know what they're doing.' This could really hurt our industry."


No baseline yet

Tire dealers are currently at a disadvantage when it comes to re-programming TPMS threshold levels after plus-sizing tires, according to Rohlwing.

"How many vehicles will allow the re-programming of the inflation threshold? Even if the answer is 100%, our point is this: The independent tire dealer has to work with all makes and models.

"There's no standardization. Ford has several different (standards), GM has different (standards)... they all have different protocols. We can't be like the Ford dealer who says 'All I have to worry about is Ford.'

"You can imagine the amount of investment for a tire dealer to service all of these models if they have to (use) different procedures, different equipment and different materials," says Rohlwing. "It's going to put an unfair burden on our industry."

TPMS point-counterpoint: TIA and NHTSA debate 25% threshold, warning time and replacement tire coverage

Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services for the Tire Industry Association (TIA), and Claude Harris, an official from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), discussed tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) issues as part of a special forum at last month's SEMA Show. (The panel also included officials from SEMA and General Motors Corp.)

On the TPMS standard's 25% under-inflation threshold:

Rohlwing: "The tire industry has been collectively against this threshold since the beginning. Our fear is that you're going to have tires that are overloaded and that the TPMS will not alert the driver. TIA and the tire companies (involved in the lawsuit filed against NHTSA last June) have asked that the under-inflation threshold either be at 20% or tied to the gross axle weight rating of the vehicle, so there is no chance that the vehicle can be operated on tires that are under-inflated."

Harris: "We looked at this issue back in 2002. If we used the 20% criteria... it would essentially eliminate possible use of all indirect systems. (Note: NHTSA's final TPMS rule allows any system that complies with the standard.) We established the 25% (level) because it gave manufacturers who produced indirect systems an opportunity to apply performance criteria within the standard."


On the time it takes for a TPMS to alert drivers to under-inflation:

Rohlwing: "In the initial ruling, the regulation was to warn the driver within 10 minutes of operating the vehicle. This has been increased to 20 minutes. We feel there will be a large number of people driving on under-inflated tires (who) will not be notified because of the 20-minute rule."

Harris: "Indirect systems, depending on how they're configured, cannot operate properly within the 10-minute cycle. The main reason why is that they require a vehicle to be driven for a minimum of 10 minutes. That's difficult, in many cases, to do."

On TPMS and replacement tires:

Rohlwing: "The current (TPMS) regulation does not require systems to work with replacement tires. Systems should be required to work with all replacement tires. There are a number of consumers who are running older vehicles. You're going to have a large number of vehicles (in which) motorists will be at risk.

Harris: "Initially in the 2002 rule, the TPMS had to work with replacement tires. What (NHTSA heard) from the vehicle manufacturers was, 'You are now asking us to design a system so robust that it could essentially accommodate any size tire and wheel that an aftermarket vendor chooses to put on it.' That made the cost of designing such a system escalate dramatically... to something way beyond the envelope we had anticipated.

"In order to address that issue, we felt that it should be limited to OE tires. The OEMs believe, in most cases, that TPMS will work with replacement tires, assuming you stay within design (parameters)."

Concerning “the whole issue of information exchange in the industry... the parties have to come to the table and have a willingness to do this," added Harris.