Auto Focus — February 18, 2010

Don’t change my tires without an electronics degree!

by JON STELLEMA

There’s one thing that never changes; that is Change itself.

The horseless carriage compared to your modern automobile has morphed into a technological, 3,000-pound computer on wheels. And, yes, even the tires are now computerized! Well, monitoring the pressure in your tires is handled by your vehicle computer. Inside each wheel of vehicles produced since January 2007 is a tire pressure monitor that sends information to the vehicle’s computer, and the computer can know if the tire pressure is okay or not. Amazing, isn’t it?

From my point of view as an auto technician for more than 40 years and an auto repair business owner, it is one more technology to learn and buy the essential equipment to service the system. Even if you rotate the tires to a different position on the car, each wheel must be reprogrammed to let the computer know in which position that each tire is currently located. The tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), in part, was birthed in the 1990s out of the problems the Ford Motor Company had with their Explorer model and the Firestone Tire Company tires. Due to low tire pressure, the tires would overheat, delaminate and blow out, causing many fatal rollover accidents.

The government has taken matters another step further by legislating shelf life for tires. A tire could be in a supplier’s business for long periods of time before being sold, sometimes years. The rubber compounds by nature will deteriorate or evaporate with age. The most obvious of this conundrum is travel trailers and motor homes seen with covers over the tires while parked for an extended period of time. The sun will dry rot the rubber.

This is, of course, going to affect the cost of new tires. Much of the base materials used to construct a tire have risen lately. We have recently seen a wholesale cost jump of 10% to 12%. An outdated tire cannot be sold, so they will either be destroyed or shipped overseas.

For the time being, we will have to put up with another amber warning light on our instrument panels.

Jon Stellema is an eight-time national finalist for the ASE Auto Technician of the Year. He owns AUTO-LAB Car Care Centers in Jenison and on Plainfield.

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