Most companies that operate vehicles under 10,000 GVWR are receiving a mandatory education on how to adapt to the vast array of tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS). In some cases, the lessons are relatively quick and painless. On the other hand, for some it's become a nightmare where components and relearn procedures depend on the year, make and model. As I've said in this column and in numerous presentations over the years, fleets must band together and demand standardization among truck and trailer manufacturers to ensure that equipment can be interchanged and easily serviced without exception to avoid these problems.
While consumers were not given a choice when it comes to TPMS, trucking companies have yet to experience even a whisper of a federal mandate. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been working on new truck tire testing requirements for years and as of July 1, nothing has been released. Beltway insiders continue to hint that TPMS for vehicles over 10,000 GVWR will be on the radar screen soon, but history has shown that NHTSA will likely need years to produce a standard that accounts for all of the variables.
That being said, the tsunami of escalating diesel prices and tire/retread costs may force the hand of the industry before the government even has a chance to consider a mandate. Since improper inflation pressure reduces both fuel and tread mileage, it would appear that fleets should have unbelievable incentive to at least investigate the benefits of TPMS. The facts indicate that trucking companies have been incredibly slow to embrace this technology. One of the leading aftermarket manufacturers reported second-quarter earnings for FY 2008 decreased when compared to the same period in FY 2007, and most of the tractor and trailer OEMs have yet to offer TPMS as an option for new equipment.
The lack of inclusion for this technology in the trucking industry is both mind-boggling and shortsighted. With increased global demand for oil and natural rubber, two of the key materials needed to build tires, it's highly unlikely that prices will ever decrease. So a hypothetical $100 investment in TPMS per tire today essentially protects an asset that may cost hundreds more to replace in a few years. To make matters worse, the same hypothetical $100 investment will continue to protect the next set of new tires or retreads so the lifetime cost would actually be measured in pennies.
Fleets need to get over the sticker shock and realize that TPMS will save money in the long run by reducing the number of underinflated tires that rob fuel mileage and steal tread life. There are going to be some short-term growing pains and at a time when profits are virtually nonexistent, a million-dollar investment in TPMS is probably the absolute last item on the finance department wish list. However, if tire manufacturers continue to raise prices 7-8% annually, new tire prices could double in less than ten years. For fleets on the leading edge, future tread mileage and fuel savings from the immediate implementation of TPMS will lessen the blow down the road. But companies that continue to sit on the sidelines and wait for the government might discover that thousands of dollars have been unnecessarily wasted because a few hundred were never spent in the first place.