July 13, 2009
TPMS: It’s Here, and It’s Still a Challenge
Tools and Education Top Our Experts’ Lists
Once found only on a few high-end models, tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) are now a mainstream item. While they’re not mandatory in Canada—and Transport Canada says it currently has no plans to make them so—their requirement on all new vehicles sold in the U.S. means they’re increasingly common north of the border.
But common doesn’t always mean easy. There are still a number of challenges, including tools, training, access to information, and most importantly, consumer understanding and acceptance.
Educating on maintenance
“The biggest challenge is education, for both the end consumer and for tire dealers,” says Brian Rigney, general manager with Dill Air Controls. “With the end consumer, we’re trying to work more with TIA and our federal government to educate people so they understand why they have it. That’s where the tire dealers need to come in. They automatically replace the rubber valve stem on new tires, and that’s standard, but we’re now telling them they must replace the key sealing valve components: the seal itself, the valve core, the hex nut and the valve cap. Any time you disassemble the tire from the wheel, you need to replace the components in the service kit.”
Dill has also designed a countertop display, containing a dummy sensor, to show consumers what’s in the tire. “Dealers can show customers the sensor, what we’re replacing, or why you need a new one,” Rigney says.
Doing what the dealerships don’t
Susan Hitchon, national sales manager for Tomkins Industrial and Automotive, agrees that consumer education is of prime importance. “In our experience of conducting training seminars across the country, the resounding response to this question [of challenges] is that the consumer education piece of the puzzle is missing,” she says. “While some Canadian consumers are well aware of the new TPMS safety feature on their vehicle, the majority are not.”
Hitchon says that education should ideally start at the new-car dealer level, but this doesn’t always happen. “If a new-car owner is unaware of these features, the retailer or tire dealer performing the repair or selling new tires can also ‘sell’ the features of TPMS,” she says. The dealer must also explain the importance of replacing the sensors’ service parts with OE-equivalent parts.
Opportunity for everyone
So once the consumer is educated, what’s next? That would be tools, according to Scot Holloway, general manager of Bartec USA. “The challenge has always been to be able to design tools and solutions to work with the broad variety of sensors that are in the marketplace,” he says. “We’re not going to see standardization in the short term. [Bartec is] at the OE level and we’re seeing four new protocols and/or sensor types being introduced right now. At the same time, there’s opportunity for everyone. If you equip yourself with knowledge and tools, you’ll set yourself apart.”
Putting off tools and training won’t work anymore, Holloway says, because many TPMS-equipped vehicles are now five years old and are out of factory warranty. “The biggest challenges right now have to do with the Asian vehicles,” he says. “When the domestic OEs started out, as long as you had an activation tool, you could re-register IDs for two sets of wheels for winter or summer. The Asian vehicles made that more challenging, because you need a scan tool connected to the vehicle to complete that, more like the OE process at a dealership or even at the plant.
“A solution that allows the most flexibility is a tool that is a TPMS tool and a scan tool all in one package. A combination tool is easier to operate and keeps the learning curve simple.”
It’s all about the toolbox
The Tire Industry Association (TIA) was the first to combine relearn procedures for each make and model into a quick reference chart, and offers training on the system. But senior vice president of training Kevin Rohlwing believes that many dealers have the education they need, and now it’s all about the toolbox. “It’s hard to be in the tire business and not deal with TPMS to some degree,” he says. “It’s not a matter of them putting off training; if they’re putting off anything, it’s investment in tools. Either the retailer or service provider is deciding to spend the money on the electronic diagnostic and relearn tools, or they do the best they can, and send the customer to the dealer.
“Technically, any vehicle can be relearned without a tool, for standard tire work. The tools come into play when the relearn procedure for that vehicle doesn’t work. The time that it would take to relearn is significantly reduced with electronic tools.”
Tracking your requirements
Rohlwing believes that dealers should base their training on the shop’s requirements, rather than schedule refresher courses automatically. “The biggest urban areas in the provinces will see the most TPMS, because the highest concentration of new cars will be in that particular area,” he says. “In the rural areas, they don’t see a lot of TPMS. A refresher is a good idea, but it will depend on the market and how many you see. If a dealer’s not having any problems, they may never need training again.
“With any training, [track] how much trouble you are having, how much time you are wasting in the bay doing relearns, how much that is costing you in productivity. If you’re breaking sensors, or tying up the bays for long periods, I would suggest you get training right away. If there’s no problem and you’re managing it well, focus on other areas. My advice to retailers is to become the expert. If dealers are just going to take the approach of sending it to the new-car dealer, they’re going to run out of customers; it’s just that simple.”
Customer confidence is everything, says Dave Lottridge, president of Prema Canada. “If a customer goes into one shop and they tell him how to maintain it, why it’s there, what’s the benefit, and the other shop says, ‘You don’t have to worry about it,’ I’d have more confidence in the shop that’s engaged in it,” he says.
“Traditional tire dealers have not been involved in complex electronic systems,” he says. “Before, you had a tire changer and valves. Nothing was electronic on a tire. These things cost more money, and the key is to educate the customer with the value you’re providing. You also need to do a pre-service check to make sure the sensors are working properly, so that you have documented evidence that they were working when they came in and when they went out.
“From our perspective, we’re trying to encourage tire shops to get the tools and be prepared. If they wait until 50% of the vehicles have a system until they learn about it, that learning curve is going to be very steep. It’ll be like going up over a cliff to learn what they need to service these vehicles. If shops are aggressive about promoting the information and selling the service, they’ll gain the customer’s confidence.”