Tool Q&A: Addressing updated TPMS requirements

While no one can argue that today's vehicle's keep bringing newer technologies, the reaches of those technologies go far beyond engine, transmission and chassis controls. Even seemingly simple tire service has taken on a high-tech twist, where you should never assume that the procedures and methodologies used for decades still prevail.

The universal requirement of the Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) along with other changing technologies make modern tire service a whole new ballgame. In fact, the way you approach tire service, from repairs to rotations, and all the way to replacements needs to be rethought. You might say you're in for a bit of reprogramming yourself. Let's find out why.


Q: Some of the older cars we see with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) are experiencing problems with sensors and other components. Sometimes, owners ask us to disable the system to save money. Is this OK?

A: No way. First, understand that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 USC 30122(b)), which includes a "make inoperative" provision. This provision "prohibits manufacturers, distributors, dealers, or motor vehicle repair businesses from knowingly making inoperative, in whole or in part, any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard."

Essentially, this means that you can't perform any service that makes the TPMS inoperative, regardless of an owner's request. So, always advise your customer of what's needed to bring the system back into working order. If that customer chooses not to have the system repaired, have them sign a repair order stating as such. The bottom line: It's illegal for you to disable the TPMS, either at the request of a customer or on your own.

Q: What if a car comes in our shop with a damaged TPMS valve stem sensor and the customer chooses not to replace it with the same type? Would it be illegal to replace the TPMS sensor with a standard, rubber snap-in valve stem?

A: Given this example, it wouldn't be illegal to replace the bad TPMS sensor with a standard rubber valve stem as long as the TPMS sensor failed prior to the customer bringing the car into the shop. The key part here is that you played no role whatsoever in making the TPMS inoperative, since the failure occurred before the car rolled in your door. However, if the owner requested that you disable the TPMS warning lamp, and you fulfilled that request, then that would be a violation of the NHTSA "make inoperative" provision.

Q: During tire replacement, one of my techs damaged a TPMS sensor that had been functioning normally. We weren't able to find a replacement right away, so we had to order one and install it at a later date. Was this OK, since we planned to replace the sensor later?

A: No, releasing a car with an inoperative TPMS that was working previously could present liability problems for your shop. The "sticking point" here is the fact that the TPMS worked fine when the car came into your shop, but was rendered inoperative during service at your shop. To keep yourself from getting into this position, make sure your techs are properly trained in the use of your tire service equipment, that you have a good TPMS service tool combined with service information, and that you have a fast, reliable and comprehensive source of TPMS sensors for the cars you service.

Q: In our area, it's common for some of our customers to have snow tires mounted on separate rims and then just install the rim/tire assemblies when winter approaches. Is it OK to continue this practice, even if the winter rim/tire assemblies don't have TPMS sensors?

A: No, it's not acceptable to install another set of wheels and tires without TPMS sensors. If you did, your actions would violate NHTSA's "make inoperative" provision, which could pose a liability for your shop. Under such circumstances, you have three options to keep things on the up-and-up:

  1. Inform your customer as to why you won't install the new tires and rims
  2. Use the TPMS sensors from the original wheels, if compatible; or
  3. Sell the customer new TPMS sensors for the other rims and ensure that the sensors are properly programmed into the vehicle's TPMS system.

Q:  We're looking for one or more TPMS tools for our shop. How do we make the right choice?

A: Before looking for TPMS tools, consider the amount of usage you may have for one or more tools. How much tire service do you perform? Factor in tire replacements, rotations, tire repairs and repairs to the TPMS system itself.

For instance, with a sensor's internal battery life expected to be 7-10 years, some of those cars will need sensor replacement and will be on your doorstep soon. When they arrive you want to be ready. Next, consider the applications that the tool manufacturer promises and how updates are made. As a related topic, ask about the availability of TPMS-related service information.

You'll also want to be ready for the new EZ-sensors, which will cover roughly 90 percent of the TPMS sensor applications. To help streamline their programming prior to installation, a programming "pad" is available that enables you to simply lay the new sensor on the pad and reprogram it. When combined with a standard TPMS tool, this can help streamline some of the sensor replacements that are no doubt headed your way.

Q: We've encountered conflicting recommendations on the proper method to ensure a good tire repair. Bearing our customers' safety in mind, what's the best way to go?

A: According to the Rubber Manufacturer's Association (RMA), 88 percent of tire repairs are performed improperly. That's a scary statistic when you consider the safety implications. To repair a tire properly, the following rules apply:

  1. Repairs may only be made to the tread area; this does not include the outside shoulder, nor the sidewall.
  2. The puncture can't be larger than 6mm (1/4") in diameter.
  3. The tire must be removed from the rim/wheel assembly for a thorough inspection to check for any damage.
  4. One repair cannot overlap with another repair.
  5. A rubber stem, or plug, must be applied to fill the puncture injury and a patch must be applied to seal the inner liner. A one-piece "patch plug" is the perfect solution for this application; a plug by itself is not an acceptable repair.

Q: We plan to replace our ancient wheel balancer this year. What factors should we consider for that replacement?

A: When searching for a balancer, remember that you're buying it to make money. It may sound obvious, but it means you should look for a machine that will work reliably with consistent results. Consider the following when shopping around:

  1. Reliability - Ask your rep for the names of other shops in your area that are using the balancer in question. Get testimonials from those who use the balancer who can point out various advantages and disadvantages about the balancer. Getting an opinion from an experienced user can go a long way towards preventing a misguided decision.
  2. Features - Give this some serious thought. Carefully review your needs so you don't over-buy or under-buy.
  3. Standard and optional equipment - Make sure you know what's included with the balancer. You may want to negotiate a package with the balancer and the options you need. 
  4. Capacity- Make sure you consider all of the types of tires and wheels that you intend to balance.
  5. Warranty and service - Make sure your rep clarifies exactly what's covered and for how long. Also ask about downtime and response time to your service needs. Does the machine need to be serviced from a regional service rep? Can they generally make the fix on the spot? If not, how long will it take to get the machine back? Can they provide a loaner?

Q: We need a quick and reliable source of information to handle TPMS service more efficiently. Can you give us some direction?

A. TPMS tool manufacturers know that they'll be a lot more successful with the tools they sell if they also provide related service information. So, that's a good place to start. You can also look to the publishers of repair manuals for their guidance on TPMS. One other place you might want to take a look is at the Tire Industry Association (TIA). TIA offers a service called TPMS Manager, that provides comprehensive approaches to sensor information and relearn procedures. For more information about the service, go to www.tpmsmanager.com/TIA.


As we close out this month's column, we'd like to pass on a word to the wise. Since NHTSA has now spelled out some of the intricacies related to certain service scenarios, it would be a good idea to document the status of the TPMS before and after any tire or wheel service. Better to be safe than sorry. See you next month.

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