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Published on December 7, 1998

MONITORS NOT JUST FOR RUN-FLATS

Tire pressure monitoring devices have been linked in recent years with run-flat tires. But they don't have to be sold only with run-flats to help improve driver safety.

Maintaining proper air pressure is sound practice for all pneumatic tires.

Now that the prices of tire pressure monitoring systems are starting to come down to a more consumer-friendly level, tire dealers should take a close look at how selling such systems, even without run-flats, can boost profits and customer satisfaction.

Most consumers rarely check tire pressure. Yet proper inflation pressure is necessary for both the vehicle and its tires to perform to their capabilities.

Pressure monitoring systems provide the opportunity for making consumers more aware of their tires, which should translate into better performance and overall vehicle safety. This assumes owners heed the monitors' warnings.

Tires are designed to operate at an optimum pressure. When pressure falls below that recommended level, it changes the tire's load-carrying capacity and results in irregular wear, according to Bill Vandewater, manager of consumer products, sales engineering, for Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.

Tires lose about 1 psi of pressure every month due to leakage around the bead, valve stem and elsewhere, he said. They lose another 1 psi of pressure for every 10-degree drop in temperature.

This has consequences that affect every vehicle. Mr. Vandewater gave the following example to illustrate this point:

A typical family is planning a winter vacation but hasn't checked tire pressure since June when the temperature was 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Six months later, the temperature has dropped to 30 degrees.

Assuming the tires lost six psi over the six months and another six due to the temperature drop, the tires on this family's vehicle could conceivably be 12 psi below the recommended level.

``The tires have lost a lot of load capacity,'' Mr. Vandewater said, ``just when they need it the most.''

Underinflation also changes the tire's footprint resulting in rapid shoulder wear, alters handling characteristics and impacts fuel economy, Mr. Vandewater said.

Tire underinflation of as little as 3 psi can significantly reduce fuel economy, said Phil Potter of SmarTire U.S.A., one of the companies offering monitoring systems.

Motorists aren't necessarily ambivalent about tire pressure. They just don't have a handy way to check their tires.

The new tire pressure monitoring devices tell drivers when air pressure is low and prompts them to do something about it.

Tire dealers shouldn't overlook the opportunity this technology offers for safeguarding and prolonging their customers' tires while generating profitable add-on sales.

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