The Tire Industry Association (TIA) has announced that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has responded to a letter written earlier this year regarding questions related to the servicing of tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS).
The letter outlines four different TPMS scenarios that tire retailers regularly face and how the "make inoperative" provision of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 USC 30122(b)) applies to each situation.
The 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."
In the first scenario, TIA asked if a retailer can replace an inoperative TPMS valve stem sensor with a standard rubber snap-in valve stem and still comply with the "make inoperative" provision.
NHTSA's response was that as long as the TPMS part was inoperative before the customer brings the vehicle to the repair business, "a motor vehicle repair business would not be violating 49 USC 30122(b) by removing an inoperative or damaged TPMS sensor and replacing it with a standard snap-in rubber valve stem. . . However, a motor vehicle repair business that goes on to make any other element of the TPMS system inoperative, for example, by disabling the malfunction indicator lamp, would violate the ‘make inoperative’ provision."
"This is exactly why our training programs have always stressed the importance of checking the status of the TPMS prior to service," said Kevin Rohlwing, TIA Senior Vice President of Training. "If a valve stem sensor is not functioning prior to servicing the tires and wheels, then the retailer cannot violate the "make inoperative" provision because the system was already inoperative.
“This increases the importance of documenting an inoperable TPMS prior to any work being performed on the vehicle, especially now that the batteries in the sensors are starting to die."
The second scenario focused on the purchase of aftermarket winter tires and wheels and the customer's refusal to purchase new TPMS sensors or pay for the labor to transfer the original sensors to the aftermarket wheels.
NHTSA responded that if the TPMS is functioning at the time of the aftermarket tire and wheel purchase, "a service provider would violate the "make inoperative" prohibition of 49 USC 30122(b) by installing new tires and wheels that do not have a functioning TPMS system.
To avoid a "make inoperative" violation, the service provider would need to decline to install the new tires and rims, use the TPMS sensors from the original wheels (if they are compatible), or convince the motorist to purchase new TPMS sensors and ensure that the sensors are properly integrated with the vehicle's TPMS system."
"We are admittedly surprised by NHTSA's response that aftermarket tire and wheels must include TPMS sensors," remarked Roy Littlefield, TIA Executive Vice President.
"Based on the language in the April 2005 Final Rule, we believed that the presence of the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) would notify the driver that the TPMS was not operable as a result of their decision to decline new sensors or pay for the additional labor to install the original sensors in the aftermarket tire and wheel assemblies,” he said.
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