Tool Q&A: Addressing updated TPMS requirements

Regulations and technology raise the bar for today's tire and wheel service

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:

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