Tool Q&A: Tire, wheel service

With an ever-changing landscape of new vehicle technology, there’s always a new twist coming your way when it comes to tools and equipment. So, if you have anything on your mind in that regard, please send your questions to PTEN so we can consider...


With an ever-changing landscape of new vehicle technology, there’s always a new twist coming your way when it comes to tools and equipment. So, if you have anything on your mind in that regard, please send your questions to PTEN so we can consider them for an upcoming issue. There are upwards of 960 million tires on the road; odds are that you’ll be performing tasks in this service area on a regular basis. While some may consider this technology to be mostly static, nothing could be further from the truth. Here, too, technology marches on in an unrelenting pace to make today’s vehicles the most advanced ever.

We’re beginning to see cars with Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems coming in for service. How can we quickly determine whether the vehicle has TPMS?

Some vehicles prior to 2006 had TPMS as an option. Mandatory implementation by federal law started with each manufacturer equipping 20 percent of its 2006 models with TPMS. That rose to 70 percent for 2007 models, and then became universal for 2008 models. To quickly check for TPMS, first look at the tire valve stems and see if they’re metal and retained with a large, collar-style nut. Second, check the instrument panel for an indicator light (usually a U-shaped icon with an exclamation point inside). This light is the Malfunction Indicator lamp for the TPMS system. Look for both metal valve stems and the light because a metal valve stem by itself does not ensure the presence of TPMS. Of course, you can also refer to service information as another means of confirming a TPMS-equipped vehicle.

How much does TPMS affect routine tire and wheel service?

The presence of TPMS on a vehicle has a definite effect on service and the procedures you use. Simple things like tire repair, changing the inflation pressure and rotating the tires can trigger the TPMS indicator, so keep this in mind. When rotating tires, mark the original location of the tires so this can be accounted for during a system reset. To perform this task, you may need to activate a system reset button, drive the vehicle or use a special tool to enable relearning of the TPMS sensors in their new locations. When mounting and dismounting tires, you need to use care not to damage the TPMS sensors with the tire changer and its related tools. You simply can’t avoid TPMS-related issues during tire and wheel service.

What capabilities does a TPMS diagnostic tool give me?

A TPMS diagnostic tool enables you to diagnose and reset the system. For instance, you may need to use a diagnostic tool to communicate with the wheel sensors prior to tire rotation or replacement. Not only does this confirm that they work properly, it may also be required as the first step of a relearn procedure so the system can identify each tire. In some cases, a scan tool may also be used for this procedure. These days, your shop simply can’t afford to be without a TPMS diagnostic tool.

There seems to be a lot of attention given to nitrogen inflation of tires these days. What’s this all about?

Nitrogen inflation is an outgrowth of the vehicle performance industry and promises more stable inflation pressures over a wide temperature range. This can bring improved fuel economy and handling benefits. A green valve stem cap usually identifies nitrogen-filled tires, although it’s no guarantee. To fill nitrogen tires, you’ll need special nitrogen filling equipment that either uses cylinders containing nitrogen or that generates nitrogen on-site.

We’re interested in upgrading our balancing equipment because we have older on-car, spin-balancing equipment. What’s changed with respect to wheel balancing?

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