AKRON (Aug. 1, 2005) — Crack! That noise you hear while dismounting a tire could cost you a couple hundred dollars if it was an interior sensor for a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
It can put a store at risk if a person jams a tire iron into the tire (with a TPMS), said Phil Pacsi, executive director of North American consumer brand marketing for Bridgestone/Firestone. “It can cost $200 to $300 for a new system because they didn't take note up front (if the vehicle was equipped with TPMS),” he said.
TPMS-equipped tires are growing in number and soon will be commonplace under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandate requiring TPMS on all new light vehicles by September 2007.
To address this service issue, a few companies provide tire technicians with instructions, which range from service bulletins to on-site training.
The Tire Industry Association (TIA) soon will unveil a TPMS training program it began creating about a year ago to meet an industry need expressed by both manufacturers and dealers, said Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services.
He said that unlike many TPMS training programs available, the TIA program addresses all the different TPMS models. “We offer a step-by-step program—one step after the next for the technician to understand,” he said. “It's comprehensive from a process standard.”
Sensor damage is a huge problem during the mounting/demounting process, according to Mr. Rohlwing. The TIA workbook and video will focus on servicing run-flat tires, since they are the stiffest and hardest tires to work with and usually come with a TPMS. “If you can handle this, you can handle anything,” he said. The program also will address maintenance, inspection and installation of sensors and will discuss various models of vehicles that require specific handling.
A technician completing the training program can receive a certificate of completion after sending in the test and skills sheet. Mr. Rohlwing noted that a technician cannot receive certification on TPMS, but TPMS training will be part of the association's overall ATS (automotive tire service) certification program.
Since TPMS technology is an evolving industry, the TIA program “will be outdated the date you print it,” Mr. Rohlwing admitted. “What you see today may not be what they have in the next models (of vehicles).” So TIA will be offering annual updates, in the form of short booklets or videos, for a nominal fee.
“It's a bear of an issue,” said Scott Blair, technical trainer for AutoWare Technologies L.L.C., echoing the frustration over inconsistency in the TPMS market. He offered the example of valve stem sensors made by competing companies. They all fit in the wheel the same way, but each manufacturer has different specifications for torque on the outside nut.
The inconsistency within the industry “is horrible,” he said. Even some auto makers use different TPMS suppliers for their various models.
Last year AutoWare, which provides software and training for the automotive aftermarket, added TPMS information to its tire service video and on-site training programs for dealerships. The module addresses the differences between the direct and indirect systems and provides information on three different technologies currently being used for direct TPMS.
Mr. Blair said the AutoWare training program complements the upcoming TIA program because AutoWare's one-day training doesn't have enough time to devote to TPMS. The details get covered in documentation.
One of the major manufacturers of OE monitoring systems is Schrader Electronics Ltd. of Rochester Hills, Mich. It offers training to OEM customers of its products and to trainers of other companies and approves training guides for firms that sell tire-changing equipment.
Schrader has made a training video, documentation and repair cards discussing how to service its products and how to avoid damage. The company also issues service bulletins and service kits.
Carl Wacker, Schrader's vice president of sales and marketing worldwide, admitted the training is not a huge program but an effort that has developed over the years. “As an OE supplier, it evolves over time, and we see what effect we have. We got the material together. Now we are addressing it to people who really need it.”
Mr. Wacker said there is some grumbling about the lack of consistency among TPMS technologies. But, he said, it's not an industrywide problem. “People recognize the products are there and learn to deal with it,” he said. “It's surprising to see how many people address this through their own channels with training.”
Another TPMS manufacturer, SmarTire Systems Inc. of Richmond, British Columbia, offers its customers training on its own systems. The company, which equips RVs, motorcycles, commercial and passenger vehicles, has encountered damage to its sensors during tire changes.
“It happens,” said Richard Whitehead, marketing coordinator for SmarTire. “But we anticipate a reduction in that in a couple of years as more OEM systems are serviced.”
Bridgestone/Firestone includes TPMS information in its run-flat service training, since the company recommends that vehicles equipped with its run-flat tires also have a TPMS.
“One of the challenges with run-flats and TPMS is the difficulty in mounting and dismounting,” said Bridgestone/Firestone's Mr. Pacsi. The tire maker offers technical bulletins and videos describing how to understand the systems and how to take care of them. The training is also tied to the company's run-flat certification program for its company-owned stores and independent dealerships.
Goodyear doesn't offer training but refers its retailers to Mitchell Repair Information Co. L.L.C., a publisher of online and printed auto repair manuals, and Alldata L.L.C., which also provides electronic diagnostic and repair information and services.
On the other hand, Big O Tires Inc. of Centennial, Colo., began offering TPMS training for its affiliate dealerships in May.
The franchise dealership chain provides information on direct and indirect systems, the different manufacturers, the theory of how the systems work and how to diagnose problems. The trainees also can practice on tires equipped with fake TPMS sensors.
“The biggest problem is people breaking the sensor. We show how to recognize when a vehicle has (a TPMS),” said John Schreckengast, manager of franchise training for Big O. Since its affiliate dealerships are independently owned, the company cannot mandate the training. “We just offer the training so they are aware of it,” he said.
“An advantage of training is that when you do have a vehicle, you understand you need to test the sensor before you touch it,” Mr. Schreckengast said. “The cost of replacement is the liability,” he added, noting it can take several days to receive a new TPMS part.
Tire technicians should “buy into the philosophy that every tire is a TPMS tire,” according to Mr. Schreckengast.
Bridgestone/Firestone's Mr. Pacsi said before servicing a vehicle, the technician should ask the customer if the vehicle is equipped with TPMS and whether it is a direct or indirect system.
Direct systems have an air pressure sensor/transmitter inside the wheel well or tire air chamber. A receiver inside the vehicle warns the driver if the pressure in any one tire falls below a predetermined level.
An indirect system has no parts inside the tire but works with the antilock braking system's wheel speed sensors to compare the rotational speed of one tire with the others. If one tire is low on pressure, it will roll at a different number of revolutions per mile than the other three tires and alert the vehicle's onboard computer.
A direct system involves either a banded sensor attached to the inside wheel rim or a sensor attached to the valve stem.
The technician should learn what type of sensor is used and take special precautions when mounting and dismounting.
Mr. Pacsi said valve stem TPMS is predominant among OEMs, while banded sensors are more popular in the aftermarket.
It is important to check the vehicle's system before servicing, from a liability standpoint, so if a sensor is malfunctioning, the technician can inform the customer before he does anything, advised Mr. Pacsi.
After dismounting/mounting a tire and rotating it, the TPMS sensors need to be recalibrated with the receiver inside the vehicle, the difficulty of which can range from simply turning on the engine to dropping air pressure in the tires or using a sensor tool.
AutoWare's Mr. Blair said working with TPMS can double the usual labor time and thus the cost for tire service.
“You're talking an extra 20 minutes, beyond rotation, to reprogram the receiver head unit,” which is unique to every vehicle, he said.
But Big O's Mr. Schreckengast contended technicians should spend only about 10 minutes reprogramming or, with a handheld sensor tool, it should take only three minutes. The handheld tool uses a radio frequency transmitter to reprogram the sensors after rotation without the need to drop the tires' air pressure to trigger the sensor adjustment, he explained.
There also would be no added labor for mounting and dismounting TPMS tires if a dealership is using a Euro-style mounting machine instead of a centerpost machine, which requires additional time to reposition the wheel.
He said the goal of training is to make it easier on the technician, who should also be able to fix the TPMS if there is a sensor or wiring harness problem.