a tiring week or so

A few things going on.  None of them frustrating (because of my overall lowered stress level and flexibility offered by mobile living).  I might say frustration-adjacent.

Tire Pressure Monitoring

I damaged three TPMS valve stems when I got deeply stuck in gravel in Big Bend.  I am no great fan of TPMS anyhow, judging it to be a regulatory cost imposed on everyone due to the automotive cluelessness of some.  <– rant for the day

That should have been no issue, because the stems are in most designs a replaceable part found in a TPMS service kit.  $2 instead of $90 to replace the sensor, big win.  Except this particular service kit is not available in the usual places, and is not well documented.  I was able to find Qty (1) in two cities.  Since I am often alone in remote places I vowed to replace the OEM sensors with units that had commodity service kits.

Documentation online was sparse and contradictory.  The OEM ones usually last 5-6 years but the vehicle has only been sold here for 4 years.   So there are not enough failures yet to get a good discussion going.

I did the best research I could and rolled the dice on a set of Schraders since they made the OEM sensors.  Took them to Discount Tire (my preferred tire people).  Laudably bright and competent counterguy James eyeballed them and said they looked good, but turned out to be unprogrammable for this particular van.  Fine.  I’ll sell them or return them or whatnot.

James quoted a price of $80 per sensor, and we inspected the candidate to make sure it used the commodity service kits.  It did.  Qty 5 @ $80 == $400, which is more than I had.  I told him I could swing 3 at that price (and even that amount made me pucker up).  True to Discount form, the helpful and bright counterman said he could do all 5 @ $40 == $200.   That is exactly what I needed, a good deal from a company I like.

We hit a tiny snag immediately;  there were only 4 in stock and I needed 5.   I’d need to come back the next day for the other one.  Fine.

Before we proceed with the rest of the story, here is a small piece of info that will become important:  the right front valve stem wasn’t just damaged in Big Bend, the stem was sheared off.  I had to change that tire with the spare.  So at the time of my visit to Discount the (full size) spare was in the right front position and the sheared right front was stored under the van in the spare tire well.

Chronology of trips to Discount Tire:

  1. first trip as described above.  We make the deal and the four tires in use are unmounted, TPMS replaced and programmed, remounted, rebalanced and put back in the van.  The Discount worker bee advised it would take 24hrs for the TPMS system to reset (incorrect with this vehicle) and that it still might error because the “spare” (the front right which was currently in the spare position) had no sensor in it (the spare is not monitored in this vehicle).  I get it, he was speaking in generalities for people who don’t understand how it works.  No harm, no foul.  There’s no way he could know the details of how TPMS works in different vehicles.

  2. I return the next day and the part is there as promised.  Non-James counterguy  did not look at the notes from the day before so did not realize the “spare” would need to be put in the front right position after TPMS install.  I interjected this info and he understood.  TPMS is installed and tires swapped to the correct location.  TPMS goes into alarm (failure, not low pressure) later that day.

  3. It’s a few days before I can return to Discount.  In the meantime I traveled at highway speeds and noticed some steering shake, as from an out of balance front tire.  Putting the tire repostioning, wheel shake and TPMS failure together I suspected the tire worked on during visit #2 above had thrown the TPMS sensor.   If correct, that would be a fluke unlikely to occur again;  I had never heard reports of that happening.  I went to Discount and described the failure and OOB symptoms.  The tech checked the front right TPMS in the parking lot with a scanner and it failed.  All the others were good.  At this point I thought my diagnosis was gaining credibility.   After the requisite hour the tech brought the van out of the bay and said it was fixed;  the sensor had not been programmed at all but was now programmed.  [Note:  this hadn’t triggered a fault in the spare position because that is not monitored on the PM.]  I made a couple observations about the fix (like an unprogrammed TPMS by itself would not cause an OOB condition)  but the worker bee had a blank, confused stare.  I had to go to work and it was obvious this bee wouldn’t get it.  So I went to work.  The TPMS fault went away.

  4. Next time I went on the highway the OOB condition was still present, as I had feared.  I looked at the tire and noticed it had no balance weights at all.  I took it back to Discount and was met with James, a great relief.  I explained the situation and was going to suggest he balance both front tires in the off chance it wasn’t the suspicious front right.  Instead James said they would rebalance all of them.  A bit of overkill, but at least it would avoid my having to come back a 5th time.

In retrospect, this is what I think happened:

  • the spare (actual front right) was extracted from the spare hanger, unmounted, weights removed,  TPMS removed, and was going to be the first to get my mailordered TPMS.

  • When programming failed and the decision was made to switch to Discount’s parts, the spare was replaced in the hanger as-is and the four tires on the van got the new TPMS treatment.  So far so good.

  • When I returned to have the ordered 5th sensor installed, something went sideways (shift change, distraction, working too fast, etc) and the new TPMS was physically installed but not programmed.  The tire was not balanced but was rotated correctly to the front right position.

  • When I brought it back in the tech was able to program the TPMS with the tire on the vehicle so the tire, so he thought “mission accomplished”.

One might say “who cares what really happened?”  The customers after me care, if the process continues to lack checklists before delivery to the customer.  The manager/owner care, because some other customer might have been irate when it took 4 tries to get a relatively simple job done.

My instinct is that James cares about such things and will follow up internally to tune counter and shop procedures.  He seems to be that kind of guy.


Interspersed with all that I was trying to get my VA stuff transferred to the El Paso VA.  It’s another slog but this post is already too long.  I’ll tell you about the VA next time.

Same bat-channel.