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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


TPMS topic lingers

Every time I discuss Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems lately, I stir up additional debate.  When the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ruled that service providers would violate the law’s “make inoperative” provision if they installed wheels without TPMS sensors, Tire Industry Association VP Roy Littlefield guaranteed consumer backlash. He wasn’t kidding.

Both of my previous TPMS columns generated umpteen emails from surprised and disgruntled car owners faced with unexpected costs associated with winter tire/wheel changeover.

Consumers wishing to use an extra set of wheels for their winter tires on their TPMS-equipped vehicles (some 2007 models and all 2008 and newer) have limited choices:  1) Install the wheels themselves and live with the TPMS warning light; 2) Find a shop willing to do it without installed sensors (in violation of law); 3) Have OEM (original equipment manufacturer) sensors installed at a cost of $400-$500; 4) Have their existing sensors reinstalled on the winter wheels at an average cost of $75 (can shorten sensor life with multiple exchanges); or 5) Buy cheaper aftermarket sensors that have been known to sometimes leak and/or cause nuisance TPMS warning light signals.

And the hidden costs don’t end there.  After my last TPMS column, reader B.R. reminded me, “Thank you for the article on TPMS but you didn’t mention the cost of integrating new sensors with your cars TPMS. $50 in winter and an additional $50 when you take the winter tires off and put the original wheels/sensors back on. That is $100 above the cost of the new sensors for your winter wheels every year.”

Yes, though how much it will cost depends on whether your system is “direct” or “indirect” and which variation you have within those classifications, resetting the system to read the new sensors upon wheel swaps or tire rotations will cost you.  Some systems require reset tools while others employ specific steps and procedures for reset; without these tools or knowledge, vehicle owners must pay to have it done at a shop.

This is all in the name of consumer safety, but at times there may be side-effects to safety efforts.  For example, it is theorized that consumer substitution of driving over flying due the regularly humiliating procedures of TSA airport screening actually costs lives.  Many people opt for driving to avoid the inconvenience of airport security, but driving a car long distance is statistically incredibly more risky than flying on a plane.

Reader R.T. has applied similar thought to mandated TPMS.  He expressed his cogent theories when he wrote, “…I think that there will be a strong negative reaction from the public. In my thinking, what creates the problem is the question of the balance of cost/affect on the public against the safety gain. I am sure that there is some safety gain but to what degree and does it offset the cost to the public? I think the public understands the degree of the safety gain of seat belts but the degree of the safety gain of tire sensors is not there, at least not in my mind. One counter affect may be that people may now stop putting on their safer winter tires/wheels which may have more of a negative affect on safety than the sensors give. Also more individuals putting on their own tires (especially individuals who are not mechanically inclined) could result in “home” accidents. Also how many individuals properly torque their lug nuts, which is another safety problem. If the cost of sensors and installation came down to a more reasonable cost, such as less than $25 per tire, then the public may accept it.”

So, as often is the case, for every solution there may be a new problem (or two, or three).  I think that the requirement for TPMS formulated in the 2005 Motor Vehicle Safety Act had some merit and plenty of good intent; keeping tire pressures at proper levels is an important safety issue.  However, due to the costs of system implementation (both apparent and theorized), as I’ve stated before, a mandated TPMS system falls into the “more than I wanted or asked for” category of built-in vehicle safety features.

Readers may contact Bill Love via e-mail at