Earlier in 2011, the Tire Industry Association (TIA) sent an inquiry to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on behalf of its members requesting clarification on certain scenarios related to the Motor Vehicle Safety Act’s Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TMPS). NHTSA sent back its responses to this inquiry in mid-November. These concerns are real and could impact you. Make sure you and your technicians understand them clearly and that you follow them. These scenarios deal with certain everyday scenarios that you face in your shop and the act of making the TPMS system inoperative.
The first scenario is as follows:
TIA Scenario #1: If a motorist is made aware of an inoperative TPMS sensor and declines to purchase a new one, does the service provider knowingly make the system inoperative and violate 49 USC 30122(b) by removing the dead or damaged sensor and replacing it with a standard snap-in rubber valve stem?
NHTSA Response: For the purpose of this response, we assume that you are referring solely to TPMS sensors that are integrated with the valve stem. Moreover, we assume that the sensor was inoperative before a customer brought the vehicle to the repair business. An illuminated malfunction indicator lamp could be an indication of an inoperative sensor. We also assume that you are describing a part within the TPMS system that cannot be repaired. In that event, a motor vehicle repair business would not be violating 49 USC 30122(b) by removing an inoperative or damaged TPMS sensor and replacing it with a standard snap-in rubber valve stem. The removal of a malfunctioning TPMS sensor that is integrated with a valve stem would not violate the “make inoperative” provision because the element of the system was already inoperative. However, a motor vehicle repair business that goes on to make any other element of the TMPS system inoperative, for example, by disabling the malfunction indicator lamp, would violate the “make inoperative” provision.
On the surface, it sounds like its ok to remove a “dead or damaged sensor” and replace it with a snap-in rubber valve stem. However, NHTSA’s response is based on the assumption that the part in question cannot be repaired. If replacing the sensor makes the system operative, does that constitute the act of repairing? It would appear that if you are going to replace a defective sensor, that you should replace it with one that isn’t defective and will potentially make the TPMS system operable. Otherwise, if the customer refuses to have you replace the broken sensor with one that isn’t broken, it might be best to leave the broken sensor in place and advise the customer. In all cases, you would be well suited to document the situation and your actions and have the customer sign off on them.