Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2011   by Nestor Gula

Training Lags For TPMS Systems

Car makers starting to standardize on TPMS systems for vehicles

Tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) are now found on most new vehicles. They have been mandated by a series of legislative moves in the United States, the most notable being the TREAD Act, as a result of a series of rollover deaths that occurred on highways. These accidents were eventually blamed on under inflation of the tires.
“Since 2008, 100 per cent of the new vehicles in the United Sates have tire pressure monitors,” said John Rice a director at 31 Inc., a manufacturer of tire repair products and distributor of TPMS service kits. “In the States, there are over 75 million cars on the road that have TPMS. Some shop owners and technicians think that TPMS will go away. Well it’s not.”
Due to the lack of major publicity about the introduction of TPMS into vehicles, there has been a lack of information and training provided to technicians on the ground.
“Training is just not being provided to the small shops,” said Rice. “The larger chains are being trained by the larger organizations like the tool manufacturers, component suppliers or even the sensor suppliers.
“Everybody wants Canadian Tire’s business. Everyone wants Costco’s business. Everyone wants the big guys business. For the small shop, they are still not getting the training.”
Jeff Rees, president of ATEQ Canada, agrees that not enough training is going into the shops. His company provides a full spectrum of TPMS solutions. “We are in the OEM assembly plants all the way down to selling tools to the end users.”
The challenge for small shops, according to Rees, “as a general service station, anything can come in. Two sources of information are invaluable – one is the Mitchell guide and then there is the TIA chart.
“Personally, I prefer the TIA chart because it is very concise. It is not a training manual in a sense, but it is a very good way to describe the vehicle. It’s broken down into Exports and Imports.”
He said that the chart will help reset the TPMS map.
“This is to associate the vehicle with the sensors. Your car needs to know your tire sensors from the vehicle beside you. The sensors all have a unique ID.”
Rees said the procedure to perform a service check is very quick taking just a few minutes but requires training. “It used to be fairly straight forward. You could swap your four tires for winter tires without much problem. Now you have the added complexity in that you need to associate the IDs that are in each of these tires with the vehicle. The truth is that it is real easy to do this if you have the right tool.
“In the very early days of TPMS, the market was very dynamic and there were tools that are now just useless. The tools we sell they are programmable. The sensors stay the same the manufactures just sometimes change the protocol that has to be updated in the tool.”
There is a lot more work to do and a lot more things to keep in mind when working on cars and vehicles with TPMS installed said Sean McKinnon, director of automotive training development for the Tire Industry Association.
“The service kits have to be installed. These sensors have the rubber grommets that have to be exchanged. They wear out with time and need to be replaced,” he added. “You have to have the technicians inspect them. They can corrode, especially in the north east of North America. It will add a couple of minutes to the service time. It is a little more labour intensive than the rubber valve stem. We are finding though, once the technicians are trained, the more they do it, it becomes more like second nature to them.”
One of the main drawbacks of the TMPS devices that are installed in cars is that there is a plethora of different and incompatible systems.
“There are over 100 OE sensors in the marketplace today,” according to Rice. “There is very little standardization when TPMS was introduced. Even with GM, the sensors that were being used on a Buick were different than the ones that were being used by GM on a Cadillac. And they were different than the ones that were being used on a Hummer.
Even Chrysler was using different sensors on their products and different ones for Dodge. There was very little commonality, even within the individual makes of vehicles.”
He said that this is starting to change as manufacturers are settling in of some standards.
“Every manufacture is different but the manufacturers are starting to get standardized so it is getting easier,” said McKinnon. “There are also many aftermarket replacement sensors out there that are programmable. It is getting a lot easier for technicians now.”
When a vehicle with TPMS pulls in front of a shop there are a few things a technician should do. “What the technician should do initially is look at the dash to see if the system has a warning or a malfunction already before doing anything so you can inform the customer immediately,” said McKinnon.
“You should check the functionality of the sensor to see if it is sending the data correctly,” Rice added. “Use a tool to check the sensor before the car gets into the shop. Inform the customer about the TPMS system and explain that more service will be needed. Do this because if a sensor is already damaged or bad they want to identify it before they get it in and the technician starts to work on the vehicle. To protect yourself, check the sensors before the vehicle enters the shop.”
Rice continued that the technicians “Need to take care not to damage the sensor when they are disassembling the wheel.”
Checking for corrosion and replacing worn parts is important according to McKinnon. Another thing to watch for is to use the correct torque settings as damage to the expensive sensors may occur. All the torque settings are available on the Tire Industry Association TPMS Relearn chart.