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Calibration Centers: Creating a New Business

As many charge into this electrifying world of automotive electronics, they need to figure out what services they want to offer and what the market demands.

Mitch Becker has been a collision industry trainer for 30 years and an I-CAR instructor for more than 25 years. Contact him at (763) 585-6411 or [email protected]

The explosion of electronics in the automotive repair industry has opened the eyes and doors of some shops to expanding their line of business or creating a new business altogether. These needs have always been there, but the ADAS piece has added so much more opportunity.

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The influx of even more electronics besides ADAS also gives it a boost. As many charge into this electrifying world of automotive electronics, they really need to gauge what they’re getting into and what they’re competing against. What do you want to do as far as services, and what does your market demand?

Determining the services you will offer is a critical consideration. Also of concern is how much space you will need and what type of equipment. The biggest factor, though, is who will be doing the work. There is way more to this industry than many realize. Some of you reading this have learned the lessons already. You need to calibrate your thoughts on what you want to do.

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Variables

First let me say this, I will not draw you a diagram. I am not going to tell you how to build a business or choose a company. That would be ridiculous as there are so many variables to consider and each market and company are different. But that’s the point. What is the best option for your business? Only you know that answer. The truth is the answer may change for your business as equipment and vehicles are changing that quickly.


If you do not believe in doing it right, then you need to rethink what you are doing.

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I will give you some variables to think about and try to weed through some of the misinformation out there. These will only be a few of the variables you need to think about as I cannot write a 200-page document detailing all the things I’ve learned and today am still learning – which is another point. Nobody has all the answers on every variable for you and your business. Everybody has different considerations and needs. That’s why they’re called variables. You need to carefully think through some of the variables I’m going to give you and why they’re important. If you don’t know the why, then you need to do more research.

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There is such a big picture to see and understand before you go head-over-heels all in. If you don’t understand what you’re getting into, you’re going to have some serious headaches and liabilities.

No Shortcuts

People trust you to repair the vehicle correctly. They bet their lives on what we do. It’s not just the driver, it’s their kids and other people sharing the road with that vehicle. This includes your family too.

If you do not believe in doing it right, then you need to rethink what you’re doing. I’ve said this before and I will say it again: You are trusting your customers’ lives and your livelihood that you know better than the vehicle manufacturer, and you may have to prove that you know better than the vehicle manufacturer in front of 12 people who could not get out of jury duty. You may be required to prove that having a calibration done in a parking lot or wash bay with a slope to drain water is just as good of a space as a level surface required by vehicle manufacturers. The vehicle manufacturer has directions and procedures; what you chose to disagree with, ignore, change or not follow is called liability.

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What Do You Want to Do?

“What do you want to do?” is really an interesting question. I ask this question of people and the answers vary. It really depends on what part of the automotive repair industry you’re in or want to be in.

There is so much crossover between auto body, auto glass and mechanical as far as electronics is concerned. The problem is, do you know what customer base you desire to serve? You also need to think of what level of service you want to provide.


You are trusting your customers’ lives and your livelihood that you know better than the vehicle manufacturer, and you may have to prove that you know better than the vehicle manufacturer in front of 12 people who could not get out of jury duty.

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An example would be an auto glass company wanting to do calibrations for body shops. With the proliferation of ADAS features applying to the forward crash warning camera, it would be natural to think that would be all that is needed for ADAS calibrations. But then you realize there is also blind spot, adaptive cruise control, parking assist, AVM and so much more to learn about. Also, that bumper covers will need to be removed to do calibration procedures and programming will also be involved. And let’s not forget troubleshooting wires and connectors along with diagnostics on modules and computers.

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That’s just for ADAS features. What about the other vehicle systems? Many shops want companies that can do it all, not just bits and pieces. Are you going to work on ABS and SRS and do dash removal or coding? Are you going to recode keys or security systems? What are your competitors doing? By now you should be realizing that doing ADAS calibrations is only part of the job.

This really involves evaluating what your market is asking for or is accustomed to. Are shops willing to bring vehicles to you, or has the shop documented it has a level floor and the space to have procedures done at the shop? Will they drive by a dealer on the way to you? Who will be transporting vehicles if needed? What kind of insurance will you need? Who will order parts or connectors when needed? Where will you be doing your drive validations? Are you going to carry all the OE equipment for certified shops? This list goes on and on.

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Space

Do you have the space to do all procedures? Square footage is a concern, but is that square footage level to manufacturer specifications? Remember, you can have a successful calibration and still be wrong. When this incorrect procedure occurs, the vehicle will be back soon with problems you must figure out and correct.

Another reason why parking lots are not recommended is, are there any metal surfaces that can interfere with processes? Do you have the internet speed necessary for procedures to download updates for programming? As with many calibrations, you need to address the fact that most of what will be happening is closely related to a photo shoot. Shadows and backgrounds make a big difference in the success or failure of camera calibrations. Also, bright lights and reflections play a big role in the success or failure of static calibrations and dynamic calibrations when driving.

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Speaking of driving, how will you test that the vehicle operates correctly? Do you have a roadway nearby where you can achieve the correct speed that has all the roadway markings? Will weather be an issue? How about traffic to get to correct speeds? Space is not just about indoors but also outdoors when verifying that repairs are complete and correct.

Technician

To me, the technician is one of the most important factors to consider when it comes to scanning and recalibration. Diagnostics and troubleshooting vehicles take a great deal of understanding of electricity and all the components that connect in the vehicle. Computers, control modules and sensors all have specific functions. With today’s vehicles integrating all the different electronics systems into each other and including the legacy systems such as ABS and SRS, understanding how they communicate and finding where they fail to communicate is a very specialized skill.

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The vehicle manufacturer has directions and procedures. What you chose to disagree with, ignore, change or not follow is called liability.


When a car is undamaged and has a DTC, you can and do have a starting point to work with. But the minute that car gets hit or smashed in a collision, the game changes and shock damage, damaged wires and connectors all come into play. Knowing how to read a wiring diagram and use a DVOM or oscilloscope just became important. Knowing how to read and diagnose using livestream data may be the difference between completing the job or sending it to a dealer or – worse yet – your competitor. Now, let’s add the ability to troubleshoot accessing the modules with a scan tool, using the proper software for shops that have OE certifications and using aftermarket tools if that’s your choice. All of this requires a technician who is skilled, detail-oriented and enjoys the challenge.

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All diagnostics and troubleshooting takes time and, as Murphy’s Law dictates, rarely does an electronic repair go perfect. You’re sent a car with just one procedure needed and learn there is five required to complete the repairs correctly, four of which were not even known about. This can produce a scheduling nightmare. Technicians repairing electronics have learned through experience how to be efficient, but that experience and dedication to excellence is becoming harder and harder to find, just like finding any technician.

Equipment

Like any computer you buy, you’ll notice that any equipment you purchase for scanning will be outdated by the time you open the box. There is always a new or improved version from somebody else. Whatever you purchase, know that you will spend money and time on things such as:

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  • Keeping software current
  • Pass-through equipment (vehicle communication interface or VCI)
  • Accessing OE information
  • Keeping up with all the changes on current models as well as new technology

In this fast-paced industry, you’re facing a daunting task. I’m not saying you can’t do it, it’s just that you will work for it. There are so many companies and tools out there to choose from. The truth is there is no one tool that does it all. You’ll have to have a variety of tools and software to work with vehicles, and you’ll also need people who can efficiently use all the equipment.

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Reality

If you’re a smart business person and have experience in vehicle electronics, I have not told you anything you did not already know. In fact, I’ve only touched on the very surface of what this industry is about.

There are individuals who have made very successful businesses for themselves, and I commend them. They researched and worked hard to get there. In fact, they have paid some serious dues. Like any business, the variables I described are common. The electronics in vehicles will only increase in the coming years and we are short on the people to do the work. Like a body technician, everyone wants a person who is experienced. The same goes for electronics and automobiles. The challenge is where to find this talent.

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There is tremendous opportunity in this industry to build a great business. You will learn a lot. If you’re already in the electronics game, I commend you. If you’re currently using someone to provide the service to your shop, depending on what level of service they can provide, I will tell you this: those who offer full service on all your electronics and ADAS needs busted their behinds to get there. Sometimes, like the auto body repair industry, you need to appreciate how a shop or business gets there and what it takes to do it right.

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