January 30, 2009

By Scott Holloway. As a vehicle service and maintenance provider, you are no doubt aware that with the model year 2008 all cars and light trucks sold in the United States have a Direct Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS). These systems actually have been in use for better than ten years and have only recently shown up in the repair centers with a resounding thud! We all know that with change comes opportunity, and TPMS represents huge opportunity for the tire service centers and auto repair garages alike.

People tend to be lazy (myself included) and will only deal with a problem when it hits them over the head. Well TPMS is designed to be that hit over the head. When one of your vehicles tires falls below 25% of placard value, a warning light will be displayed on your instrument panel, letting you know to take action. This is a unique feature because in most cases you cannot visually detect the difference between a fully inflated tire and one that is only 75% inflated.

Maybe you’re thinking “…that’s kinda cool, how does it work?” Well how it works is the cool part. Direct TPMS utilize what’s known as a TPMS Sensor. This device is located INSIDE the wheel and tire assembly. It is usually part of or attached to the valve stem. In some models, the TPMS sensor is banded to the drop center. In either case, the sensors work in a similar manner. Complete with a processor, power supply and a transmitter, these “miniature computers” sample pressure and temperature inside the wheel and then periodically transmit the data back to the vehicle’s receiver. Once received, the data is decoded and processed by a control module. When a low pressure condition is detected (not by the sensor, rather by the control module) a warning indication is made on the instrument panel. Some vehicles have a warning light, others display pressure. All vehicles must flash a warning when pressure is low.

Why have such a system, why TPMS? I refer back to my earlier point, people are lazy, and so we typically do not check the air pressure of our vehicle’s tires. There are many factors to consider with a low tire pressure situation, not least of which is safety. Under inflated tires roll at higher temperatures, handle poorly, and require longer vehicle stopping distances. Under inflated tires also reduce gas mileage. There are also economic factors. As gas prices hover around $4.00 per gallon, it has never been more important to do everything we can to increase mileage. Properly inflated tires help get better fuel economy. Finally, TPMS help maximize tire life. Since tires are also rising in cost, it pays to get as many miles as possible from them, and properly maintaining tire pressure does just that.

The reality is that properly inflated tires monitored by a properly maintained TPMS will make the vehicle safer and save money. Since it is believed that the TPMS (including the sensors) may last as long or longer than three sets of tires, the value to maintaining them is high and will save the consumer considerable operating cost over the life of the vehicle.

The role of today’s technician is to help consumers keep their vehicles performing well and maximize their return on investment that is their car or truck. TPMS is an opportunity to do just that! A properly functioning TPMS will drive business to the repair shop. A repair shop ready to handle TPMS will increase customer satisfaction and profits.