With new technology often comes new headaches for tire dealerships.
While not yet commonplace, more and more vehicles are coming equipped with tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) and run-flat tires-and they're showing up in tire service bays across the country.
TPMS-equipped tire/wheel assemblies, in particular, are growing in number and soon will be standard under the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandate requiring TPMS on all new light vehicles by September 2007. TPMS require more care during tire mounting and demounting to avoid damaging the sensors and, afterward, the sensors need to be recalibrated with the receiver inside the vehicle.
Dealing with these systems can take more time.
When adding in the cost of special equipment and training, tire dealers may want to consider raising their prices for servicing TPMS and run-flats, according to Steve Akridge, executive director of the Virginia Automotive Association (VAA).
``A lot of folks haven't given it a lot of thought,'' he noted, based on talking to various dealers in his state.
The VAA has been sponsoring six TPMS training classes around the state. ``They haven't seen much TPMS but dealers are gearing up for the future because it's inevitable,'' Mr. Akridge said. One of the important points made during the training classes is consumer education-communicating to the customer why TPMS are more involved and possibly more expensive to service.
Will adding the variable of TPMS-and, likewise, run-flats-to tire service mean a ``30-minute tire change'' guarantee will be a thing of the past?
``It's going to be tough but not impossible,'' said Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services for the Tire Industry Association (TIA). ``It will depend on the level of training and the quality of the equipment. Training and proper tools are more important than ever.''
TIA unveiled its TPMS training program at the recently concluded Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas.
How much more time is involved than the typical tire change is hard to say, according to Mr. Rohlwing. ``If a trained technician has the right tools and equipment, it's not going to take that much more time.''
While not many tire dealerships offer a time guarantee on tire changes, Mr. Rohlwing said the emphasis should shift from speed to precision. ``Get it done right,'' he urged.
At Grismer Tire Co. in Dayton, Ohio, its 24 stores are seeing more vehicles with TPMS this year, an average of two or three a week at each store. The TPMS don't add much more time to a typical tire change, but run-flat tires-especially Michelin North America Inc.'s Pax tire/wheel system-can take a lot longer, usually 45 minutes per tire, according to owner John Marshall.
He hasn't raised prices on tire changes for these systems, but he said he is considering it.
Big O Tires Inc. promotes a 20-minute tire change service once the vehicle is in the service bay. TPMS haven't added that much more time to the service, according to John Schreckengast, Big O's manager of franchise training.
While Big O offers free tire changes, which Mr. Schreckengast said is driven by competition, ``from an industry standpoint I think we're hurting ourselves by not charging for our services. In the past we've not charged, so people expect free tire repair.''
Sun Tire Services Inc. in Jacksonville, Fla., offers a 45-minute tire change guarantee or the customer gets $20. Owner Dick Erickson said 45 minutes gives the technician a reasonable amount of time to check over everything.
The dealership also is looking at raising prices or adding a diagnostic fee when dealing with TPMS. As customers become more aware of what is involved in servicing the system, ``they'll see that we offer a definitive service and are not trying to rip them off,'' said David Mills, Sun Tire's director of retail operations.
Craven Tire & Auto in Fairview, Va., however, doesn't guarantee a time on tire changes. ``We tell the customers we want to be as efficient as we can. We're not going to sacrifice quality of the job for speed,'' said President Steve Craven.
The dealership focuses on servicing high-performance cars, so each of its seven locations works on one or two TPMS-equipped vehicles every day. Mr. Craven said that since the systems are new, the service time is longer, but he expects that to change as the technicians become more familiar with them.
He said TPMS typically add 15 minutes to a tire change but run-flat systems-particularly the Goodyear system which he services the most-can take up to an hour.
At this point, he said, he is not charging extra to mount a TPMS-equipped tire, but he does charge $5 per TPMS wheel to rotate and recalibrate the sensors and $7.95 per wheel to change the grommets.
Cleveland-based Conrad's Total Car Care and Tire Centers recently began offering at its 30 retail outlets a guarantee of four tires installed in 30 minutes-or the customer gets $20 taken off the invoice. General Manager Dominic Umek told Tire Business the chain is taking a wait-and-see approach to how TPMS might affect installations.
However, since most vehicles eventually will be equipped with TPMS units, he didn't see how they could be excluded from the 30-minute pledge.