Tire dealers and other aftermarket service providers may have less to worry about than originally believed when it comes to servicing tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), according to speakers on a TPMS panel at the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show.
Aftermarket service providers that make tire fitment changes-changing tires or tire/wheel packages, for example-are not subject to the provision in the federal regulations that states no individual ``shall knowingly make inoperative'' a safety device like a TPMS, according to Claude Harris, director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Office of Vehicle Safety Compliance.
This provision refers only to service providers handling the vehicle prior to its initial sale-i.e., new car dealers principally, Mr. Harris said.
NHTSA's original intent with the TPMS legislation was to make the TPMS tampering issue apply to all aftermarket changeovers, Mr. Harris said. Makers of the monitoring systems made it clear to NHTSA, however, that designing a system to cover all the possible aftermarket fitments would have escalated the cost of a workable system considerably.
Instead, the final rule mandated the addition of a malfunction indicator light (MIL) on the vehicle's instrument panel alongside the pressure monitor indicator. The malfunction indicator lights up when the system determines there's a fault and needs diagnosis.
Now when someone makes an aftermarket fitment change, he/she is not required by law to make sure the TPMS is functioning properly with the new fitment package, as long as the MIL is working.
Stuart Gosswein, director of government affairs for SEMA, concurred with Mr. Harris' position that aftermarket changes are not covered by the regulation, as long as the aftermarket dealer keeps the MIL active.
Although a dealership is no longer required to ensure the TPMS' functionality, the inability to do so could be a hindrance to doing business with owners of 2005 and later model cars, if the owner has gotten used to and depends on the TPMS, according to Kevin Rohlwing, senior vice president of education and technical services for the Tire Industry Association (TIA).
In addition, Mr. Rohlwing cautioned that Mr. Harris' interpretation of the legal requirements of the new regulation has not been tested in a court of law, and he therefore urged dealers to be cautious about making tire/wheel changes that affect the functionality of the TPMS.
TPMS are mandated on at least half of each car maker's 2006 models and ramps up to 100-percent fitment for the 2008 model year (that is, by September 2007).
At the same time, the panelists noted that new car dealerships that change a vehicle's tire and/or tire/wheel fitment to one that carries a recommended inflation pressure other than that proscribed on the OE fitment must outfit that vehicle with a supplementary tire inflation pressure placard indicating the correct inflation.
Another issue still being debated is the ability to reprogram a TPMS to accommodate new tire pressures after a tire/wheel size change.
SEMA has petitioned NHTSA, seeking assurances that aftermarket service providers have access to information from the original equipment manufacturers on how to reprogram a TPMS, Mr. Gosswein said. NHTSA did not mandate reprogrammability, he said, but instead assumed the units would be.
Mr. Rohlwing also spoke on this issue, saying TIA's concern is that each make of TPMS could have different servicing protocols and tools, making the task of reprogramming systems expensive and time-consuming.
Speaking from the OEM perspective, John Maxgay, a design release engineer for General Motors Corp., said, ``It's in our (GM's) best interest to make sure you (aftermarket dealers) are able to service the systems.'' GM is recommending dealers reprogram a system after each tire rotation and/or sensor replacement, he said.
As for reprogrammability, Mr. Maxgay said, ``We (GM) have to make it difficult enough to stop them being disabled too easily, but also easy enough to make it feasible to reprogram them.''