Auto Service World
Feature   September 18, 2015   by Tom Venetis

TPMS Service, Education Offer Profit Potential

Tires, wheels and TPMS don’t seem like a big part of a jobber’s regular line of profit-making products, yet these items can become a lucrative profit centre if jobbers become a service operation’s first choice not only for the products, but also for education and materials to educate vehicle owners on the importance of the right tires and of regular TPMS maintenance.
Tires tend to be items that the vehicle owner only changes when needed, and winter tires are not yet mandated across Canada, dampening potential sales when the weather changes. While TPMS is now a standard vehicle technology, many drivers overlook regular maintenance, and most shops don’t habitually push this maintenance.
For most jobbers, these realities mean they forego carrying much stock in tires, accessories, or TPMS replacement kits, compared to other high-volume and profit-generating technologies such as brakes, struts, or lubricants and oils.
Susan Chura, co-owner of Beausejour Tire Ltd. in Beausejour, Manitoba, straddles both sides of the issue. Her operation serves both as a jobber to many local service operations, and maintains an active service operation as well.
From that unique vantage point, Chura finds that when it comes to tires and accessories such as rims, for example, what service operations and vehicle owners need is someone that they can trust and that will give them information that is accurate.
Chura adds most vehicle owners are not fixated on price when it comes to tires and accessories. What they want is information on what’s best for their vehicle. “We don’t have a problem with [a customer] saying to us, ‘I’m going to go somewhere else because you are ten dollars more per tire.’ Our clients come to us because they trust us and we offer a high quality of service.”
The same goes with rims, Chura says, where sales have grown significantly over the last year. Again, the secret for moving rims is making sure you can offer a choice of different high-quality rims for the customer’s vehicle. Many vehicle owners do not know that there are options for their vehicles. If given a choice, Chura says, many will upgrade to higher quality rims or purchase rims for winter tires.
“The vast majority of people who come to us will go for it,” she says. “If a person wants a fancier rim for their vehicle, and you offer such a rim to them, they will go for it. But they have to be given the choice and you need to be able to get it for them.”
Chura says one thing that has helped with tire sales and rims is Manitoba’s recently introduced low-cost winter tire purchase program. Run by Manitoba Public Insurance, it provides loans up to 48 months at prime plus two per cent for up to $2,000 per vehicle, to purchase and install a set of four winter tires.
Sue Latino, owner of Scarborough, Ontario-based Redline Automotive, agrees that vehicle owners need information so that they can make informed decisions, and that service operations rely on jobbers to give them that information just as much as having product available. Information about the newest tires, accessories, and TPMS are invaluable to service writers and technicians.
“We are very much focused on educating people on the technicalities of tires, on safety, and on making sure we recommend the right tire for their vehicle,” Latino says. “For example, we will educate the vehicle owner on making sure the tire is rated correctly for speed, load, and performance for their vehicle.”
When you have that information, it becomes easier to make a tire sale to a vehicle owner, and you can move the conversation away from price to what is best for them. “Sometimes, what people want is not what they actually need,” Latino observes.
Another aspect of tire service jobbers need to be expert on is TPMS. What was once a luxury feature for high-end vehicles has now become standard and is considered a safety feature. Both Sue Latino and Susan Chura say there are aspects of TPMS service and maintenance service writers and technicians need to be kept informed of, which creates a natural opportunity for jobbers to provide both TPMS service kits and expertise.
Steve Landis, head of product management, TPMS & Electronics Innovations – NAFTA and Interior Division/Commercial Vehicles & Aftermarket Business Unit with Continental Automotive Systems Inc., says that jobbers and technicians need to first grasp the difference between indirect and direct TPMS systems and how that impacts such service as Vehicle Reset and Vehicle Relearn when the tires are rotated or TPMS sensors are replaced. “Indirect TPMS works through the use of wheel speed sensors to indirectly monitor changes in tire pressure through the spectrum of anti-lock brake signals, but predominantly relying on tire diameter evaluation versus properly inflated tires; lower pressure tires have a smaller diameter and therefore rotate faster. Indirect TPMS does not contain tire pressure sensors inside the tires. Direct TPMS contains tire pressure sensors inside the tires, provides more accurate monitoring, and offers many service opportunities for the automotive technician. Run-flat tires require Direct TPMS.”
“There is a great deal of importance that the Vehicle Reset (Indirect TPMS recalibration after changing air in the tires/changing tires) and Vehicle Relearn (Direct TPMS radio frequency (RF) communication between sensors/vehicle receiver after sensor replacement or rotation) procedures be completed after TPMS service,” Landis continues. “Only through the Vehicle Reset (Indirect TPMS) procedure does the vehicle have an accurately established baseline for proper pressure and therefore can accurately warn of low pressure situations. The Vehicle Relearn (Direct TPMS) procedure is required to learn sensor IDs, sensor locations, clear prior malfunction codes, low pressure codes, diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs), and to confirm full system functionality.”
Landis adds there is considerable legislation in the United States mandating the use and maintenance of TPMS. Why? Simply, a well-maintained TPMS will not only improve mileage and overall tire life; it will help in reducing stopping distance and hydroplaning in wet weather, and will help in the overall handling of the vehicle.
Landis outlines one such TPMS procedure that needs to be followed to comply with the legislation.
“Understanding the differences between a Direct TPMS low tire pressure light (solid on) and a malfunction indicator lamp ‘MIL’ (flashing 60-90 seconds upon malfunction detection, followed by a solid light, with the process repeating during subsequent vehicle start-ups until the malfunction is corrected). For the low tire pressure light, simply adjust the tires to the proper placard pressure,” Landis continues. “For the malfunction indicator, there is something more in-depth that requires attention. Either a sensor has gone bad due to battery failure or sensor damage, or the sensor radio frequency (RF) transmission is being blocked.”
One issue facing both jobbers and service operations is keeping an adequate stock of TPMS replacements at hand. Some TPMS are OEM-specific and one can only replace a system with another OEM-specific replacement that is tailored for one make and model of vehicle. This potentially means having to keep a large number of SKUs on hand. In the last several years, however, there have been a greater number of aftermarket TPMS replacements that can be fitted to a wider range of vehicle types and models, reducing the number of SKUs that have to be kept on hand. The challenge comes down to having the right mix. That is going to be influenced by which vehicles are coming into the service bays.
“It depends on your business model,” says Tyson Boyer, sales manager at Dill Air Control Products, LLC. “If you are strictly a niche service provider for a select make of vehicle, you may consider OEM sensors. For example, if you only work on Land Rover and use OEM parts, then you may only carry three to four OEM sensors. If your business model includes most vehicles, it is suggested to select an aftermarket sensor program that is OEM-validated. TPM sensors are broken down into three buckets: direct, OEM one-for-one direct fitment; multi-application, where the sensor is pre-programmed with a wide range of vehicles for maximum coverage; and programmable, where the sensor comes blank and must be programmed for the car it is being installed into prior to installation.”
“Multi-application TPMS service solutions like the VDO REDI-Sensor lead to a hugely beneficial reduction in both sensor SKUs and overall investment cost for the entire distribution channel, while maintaining sensor coverage for a wide selection of domestic, Asian, and European vehicles,” adds Landis. “Cataloguing complexity is also largely reduced due to the large consolidation of sensor part numbers. And because VDO REDI-Sensor is pre-programmed and ready out of the box like an OE sensor, it is immediately ready for vehicle installation and the OE vehicle relearn process. To further help manage the TPMS service challenge, VDO is additionally offering VDO REDI-Sensor Starter Kits and Fleet Kits that cater to the specific needs of our customers that are first getting started in TPMS service, and for those that have a specialized grouping of vehicle applications they regularly service.”
To avoid comebacks, Boyer says that it is important that jobbers have accurate information to give to service writers about TPMS and replacement kits. “We all know comebacks can really hurt a business fast. We equip service providers and their teams with information as soon as we receive it from all of our OEM partners. This includes new valve stems, changes in technology as new vehicles roll off the line, recalls, part numbers, etc. Another strong advantage Dill brings is that our complete TPMS program is managed in our manufacturing facility in North Carolina. Design, quality, testing, tech support, all of it is in-house. That allows us to make decisions and provide expert support without calling a third party or trying to search through different databases for answers. We offer a comprehensive vehicle look-up and Techline support for free. No sign-up or requirements. Our website look-up provides part numbers, pictures of each component, relearn procedures in a printable PDF, notification when a relearn is required, torque specs for proper installation, and training videos for the technician and consumer.”
One area where jobbers can help service operations and service writers is to emphasize how important it is to sell TPMS maintenance and service. Too often, service writers are not selling the service as part of a regular maintenance routine. Jobbers are not pushing TPMS service and replacement kits and tools when a service operation calls for tires or tire-related accessories and tools.
Landis offers some tips that can be placed top-of-mind both for the jobber and the service writer. “Identify any potential TPMS system concerns to your customer prior to taking the vehicle in for service.” Landis says. “Review the condition of the sensor stems and check the dashlights for a possible TPMS MIL. But, be aware that there are many varieties of Direct TPMS systems. Valve-type includes clamp-in sensors (threaded metal valve stem with hex nut) and snap-in sensors (rubber valve stem with sensor). Valveless sensors are typically banded (metal wheel band around drop centre of wheel), but tire inner liner (glue-in) styles have recently been developed.
“Attempting to visually identify a TPMS-equipped vehicle by the exposed valve stem type alone can be misleading due to these sensor varieties. Remember to replace the TPMS service kits during every tire service. If there is more TPMS service required than simply service kit replacement, be sure to perform the OE vehicle relearn process. And, don’t forget to check the spare for a fifth TPMS sensor if the spare is full size.”
“Inspection should occur during any vehicle service,” adds Dill Air Control Products’ Boyer. “If TPMS is not on your inspection sheet, you are missing opportunities and not providing the full service your customers need. It is the same concept if you provide brake and tire service. If you do a rotation, you are checking brakes and probably more. If you are performing a brake job, you are inspecting the tires too.
“Bottom line that jobbers and garages must know is that this system is working and saving lives all the time. Facts cannot be disputed. By not embracing and taking full ownership of this category, they are exposing themselves for competitors to steal their customers, losing a revenue category since traditional rubber valve stem replacements have declined so much, and risking their customer relationships due to not doing what is correct maintenance for the vehicle.”

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