Auto Service World
News   June 5, 2019   by Adam Malik

Better Selling: Ending the confusion about TPMS

By Adam Malik

It’s enough to make some people want to pull their hair out.

Lighting up support lines at tire pressure monitoring system manufacturers is the confusion around programming and relearning sensors to vehicles. It can be confusing to set up a vehicle’s TPMS, but there are many ways jobbers can help technicians make the process run smoother.

First, when a shop calls its jobber for TPMS sensors, counterstaff should be asking a few key questions: Is their programming tool up to date? Do they know the model year of the vehicle? Do they know all the steps required for a relearn? Do they even know what a relearn is?

Understanding terminology is a crucial first step.

“I was in four shops yesterday. Two of those four shops referenced programming when they were actually talking about relearn,” said Sean Lannoo, sales technical training specialist at Continental in Allentown, Penn., which makes the VDO Redi-Sensor brand. “These are two terms that are highly mixed up in the industry all the time.

“I think it was just misused in the beginning and it just avalanched since.”

Understanding terminology is also critical to having a successful phone call with a support line. Technician calling about programing problems when they really mean relearning creates frustrations on all sides.

A sensor that comes blank needs to be programmed to the specific make, model and year of the vehicle using a properly up-to-date tool. Once that’s done, the sensor has a new ID and the vehicle needs to relearn it so it knows which sensor is where, along with tire pressure.

Whether it’s a programmable sensor or one that is already programmed to the vehicle out of the box – all vehicles need to be relearned.

“I think it goes back to education in the marketplace,” said W Rippetoe, Troy, Mich.-based team leader for technical support in North America at Schrader Performance Sensors, which makes the EZ-sensor.

There’s a lot of confusion out there. Jobbers can help make sure technicians know what to look for. Having a tool with the latest software is essential. It may seem obvious, but it’s not.

“I walked into a shop yesterday and the last update for the tool was a release from 2013,” Lannoo said. “And this is this is a major tire [company]. It’s so critical that they keep their tool updated.”

Since time is money, a lot of both is wasted by missing this critical step.

“Keeping the tools charged with up to date software will dramatically increase the success of TPMS service,” said Lindsay Smith, Continental’s TPMS product manager.

If programming is required, knowing the correct make, model and year of the vehicle is a must. But it’s where most technicians trip up.

Carmakers can introduce split model years; sometimes a 2011 vehicle is actually a 2012. Small changes mean big problems. A technician may swear up and down that a vehicle is a certain year when in fact it’s not.

What they have to do is check the 10th character of the VIN for the vehicle’s model year. It’s a simple task but too many technicians ignore it. Then they end up calling a support line to find out why they can’t get the sensors to work.

“We’ve had some heated arguments over the phone,” Rippetoe said. “And I say, ‘I’m not asking for the world, man, just go check the VIN.’”

After the technician has checked for the correct model year – along with make and specific model – the sensor can be properly programmed.

But that’s not the end of the fun. The relearning can also be a tricky process. There can often be a lot of steps and each one must be followed in order to have the system working properly.

There are three types of relearn – OBD, auto and stationary – and technicians may need to do a combination of all three to complete the relearn of the vehicle. The first two are fairly simple. After IDs are created for the sensors, technicians write them to the vehicle through the OBD-II port. For auto relearn, the sensor is installed and the vehicle is driven at highway speed for 10-15 minutes until the light on the dashboard goes off. This method is falling out of favour since it takes up a lot of time for techs to get far enough out of the city where they can get to the required speed.

“Then there’s a stationary relearn which you have to pretty much do the hokey pokey to get the vehicle in to relearn mode,” Rippetoe said.

This involves taking the vehicle through a series of steps that includes cycling the ignition between on and off, pressing brake pedals, cycling again and waiting for the horn to honk. If it does, success. But that also only indicates the front left one is done. The processmust be repeated for the front right, rear right then rear left. And don’t forget about the spare if it’s equipped with sensors.

“Just GM alone at last count was about 21 different relearn procedures. Ford has about two or three, Chrysler has two or three. So that’s just the Big 3. Then you add in all the imports, which are confusing, to say the least,” Rippetoe said. “Unfortunately, I’ve managed to memorize most of them and I’ve kicked out my child’s first name from my memory. There’s a lot of stuff to remember.”

That still seems to be the easier part of the whole process. It all comes back to getting past the first issue of programming and relearning.

“Getting them to understand relearn vs. program is something that I present on all the time. I even talked about it yesterday. I know on our tech line, we get it all the time. We have done a video on our website to explain the difference between the two. Other companies have done the same thing. Tool manufacturers have done the same thing and we still hear it out there today,” Lannoo said. “I never thought when I started doing TPMS many years ago that you’d still walk into shops and hear the term misused.”

But that doesn’t mean techs should be afraid to call when stuck.

“If you’re standing there looking at a vehicle with a TPMS problem for 10 minutes, standing there for another 10 minutes probably isn’t going to fix the problem – give us a call and we’ll help you out,” Rippetoe said.