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Under pressure: Importance of updating TPMS tools

Sept. 25, 2023
While tire pressure management systems can work wonders for a tire's working lifespan, the tools needed for these systems need to be maintained with consistent updates, a job which sensor manufacturers worry is slipping through the cracks.

Maintaining proper tire pressure while on the road is critical to any fleet’s uptime, as the American Trucking Associations Technology & Maintenance Council has reported that a continuously underinflated tire can halve its useful lifespan. Luckily, fleets and technicians have more advanced processes at their disposal than the old baseball bat method to ensure their tires stay at the proper PSI, such as tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) that can notify the driver or back office when a tire’s pressure dips below a programmed threshold. But when systems become more complicated, so do the tools to maintain them, which, in the case of TPMS maintenance, can lead to seemingly faulty TPMS sensors and tools and frustrated technicians who can’t do their jobs. 

Read more: The case for TPMS and if it will be made mandatory

A coalition of TPMS manufacturers composed of ATEQ, BartecContinental, and Schrader, along with the Tire Industry Association, reported in a press release that up to 35% of technicians have not updated their TPMS tool software. This led to the manufacturers launching the “Update Your TPMS Tools!” public service campaign in June 2023. Here’s what can occur if shops and dealerships let their TPMS tool updates lapse, why some shops may have struggled to stay up-to-date, and how they can avoid doing so in the future.

Consequences

When shops and dealers allow the software they use to program and diagnose their TPMS sensors lapse, this can cause the functionality of their tools to decrease. Whether by losing coverage on certain vehicle makes and models or by being unable to access new features, an out-of-date TPMS tool impacts a fleet’s safety on the road. Representatives for both Bartec and Schrader noted that many of their service help line calls could be solved with tool updates. Mariam Lochoshvili, global marketing communications manager at Sensata Technologies, estimated that more than half of the company’s service calls could be solved this way.

“Safety is the biggest concern–failing to update your tools can potentially result in false or incorrect tire pressure readings, which may lead to under or overinflated tires, increasing the risk of accidents and impacting other components of the vehicle like vehicle handling and braking performance,” said Duane “Doc” Watson, a technical trainer with Bosch.

Additionally, Scot Holloway, CEO, Bartec USA, noted that a lack of updates can make a TPMS technician’s life more difficult because they can’t access new features on their tools which could streamline their work.

“We're always adding a new feature here or a little bit better way to do this, as a continual way of adding value to an investment you made, a significant one in some cases,” Holloway noted.

For Bartec, such features include sensor reconfiguration to match new tire pressure thresholds, or the company’s Rite-Sync application, which allows technicians to handle sensor programing and relearning at the same time.

“That's just a couple of examples of features that we've created along the way that were added to your tool through an update,” Holloway explained.

Barriers to TPMS tool updates

If TPMS tool updates can have such a critical effect on a vehicle’s safety and a technician’s productivity, why, then, do they sometimes fall to the wayside? For many shops and dealerships, and especially larger organizations, the problem may be communication. Although TPMS tool manufacturers often notify their customers whenever an update is available through email, there are several ways the notification can get lost en route.

“I think the main part of it is that whoever's being notified and is responsible for the notifications of the updates is not connecting with the shop and getting the tools,” said Kevin Rohlwing, CTO for the Tire Industry Association.

But even if it’s a technician who’s notified when a tool needs updating, the contact information may not be current or the technician might have moved to another shop, leading to the email bouncing or ending up in a spam filter.

In other cases, Bosch’s Watson theorized that the tight schedules in many shops work against them, where the job of maximizing vehicle uptime puts tool updates far down any technician’s list for the day. This can be especially complicated for an operation with several stores and several tools in each store, all of which need to be updated. However, this lack of urgency could also come from a lack of understanding of the consequences and benefits of keeping a shop’s TPMS tools updated.

“I think in a lot of cases, people don't understand why they need to update the tool,” Lochoshvili said. “Many times, I've heard technicians say ‘Oh, I didn't know that I had to update. I thought I bought the tool, it's working, and then I'm going to get a new tool and that's it.’”

Keeping TPMS tools updated

With these barriers in mind, the members of the TPMS manufacturer coalition offered some suggestions to stay on top of TPMS tool updates, including centralizing the job of managing the tools and their software.

“I would recommend that someone be responsible for being notified by the manufacturer when updates are available,” TIA’s Rohlwing advised. “And then that same individual being responsible for making sure that all of the tools are updated.”

This job would include following up with additional stores in a network to make sure that they were all notified, and then again to ensure that someone took care of these updates, so that no tool slipped through the cracks.

Other manufacturers are working to streamline their communication attempts so that their emails don’t end up in the spam-box limbo.

“One thing we're pretty sure of is that everybody that's using one of our tools probably has a phone in their pocket,” Bartec’s Holloway said.

To capitalize on this, Holloway explained that Bartec is currently working on a text program where they’ll invite their users to connect, with the hope that the technician or manager buy-in will make their notifications reach the right person at the right time.

Finally, the “Update Your TPMS Tools!” campaign itself can be part of a larger shop solution to keeping tools updated. With the campaign raising awareness for the need to update, the site also provides links where technicians, shop owners, and dealers can check common TPMS tool update pages to see if they’ve fallen behind.

If shops can make sure their TPMS software is always up to date, both their technicians, and their fleet tires, will thank them.

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. 

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