Scan tools used to be needed only when a malfunction Indicator Light (MIL) came on during the crash of a vehicle or during the repair process. However, there is now a host of new OE repair procedures that involve the recalibration of electronic systems and may require the retraining of technicians. In some vehicles, even a certain level of body or structural repairs may require the recalibration of electronics to ensure that all components are working correctly and together as one unit. These repaired, replaced or R&I parts won’t set off a code or a light on the dash but instead may require the use of a scan tool.
Weighing the Costs
How many times has a body shop sent a vehicle to the dealer to clear or diagnose an MIL or computer code? This is what body shops normally do, as most don’t have the proper scan tool. This can often end up being a costly procedure for any shop.
I realize at this point you’re probably saying, “Yes, but I pass that cost on to the customer or third-party administrator.” You can pass on some of the cost, as more and more vehicles are requiring the use of scan tools to diagnose problems, but now we have even more requirements for the resetting and recalibrating of vehicle electronics, so you need to weigh this cost.
When you weigh the cost or labor of the actual procedure by the dealership or mechanical shop, you must also add what the dealership will charge to repair or replace the damaged part. The attitude of, “Since it’s already there, the dealership or mechanic might as well fix it,” prevails throughout the collision industry.
That may be the basic cost we have for this procedure, but there are other costs as well, such as time and effort. The vehicle must be driven or towed to the shop chosen to run the diagnostic check. You must also factor in the time the vehicle is at their facility, not yours. The longer the vehicle is at the mechanical shop, the higher your cycle time. And since insurers are putting increasing importance on KPIs as the basis for doing business with you, increasing your cycle time is not good.
An example of a frequently occurring problem is “High Voltage Service Disconnects” on hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. If the plug isn’t connected all the way in, the dash will light up with a high voltage system warning. At that point, many shops panic. The shop then sends the car to the dealer who, with a simple check with a scan tool, discovers a code. After looking up what the code means, in this case the high voltage service disconnect, the dealer will disable the high voltage system and reinsert the plug correctly. The result is a bill to the collision shop and a lost day of cycle time.
Why use scan tools or try to understand the codes we see? When a code is set, many technicians feel that if there’s a problem, they should start throwing parts at it until the problem goes away. This strategy results in wasted time and money. Using a scan tool can pinpoint a problem and, with the help of a digital volt-ohm meter (DVOM), a shop can spend less time replacing unnecessary components. In many cases where an MIL is set, it may be a wire or ground that’s damaged, and a simple repair or replace would fix the problem.
A vehicle’s safety system relies on inputs from various electronic sensors or control modules. Once the input from these components arrives in a computer module, the proper output as to how a vehicle should react is sent out. If the input is faulty, the output may also be faulty. When this happens, tragic circumstances may occur. To verify that the system is operating within the specifications established by the vehicle manufacturer, a scan tool may be required.
The best example would be the Occupant Classification System, or “OCS” on newer vehicles, identifiable by the passenger airbag disable lamp (PADL). When replacing components or repairing structural damage on a vehicle, a shop needs to identify what type of system is used in that year, make and model of vehicle – either a bladder system located in the lower passenger seat assembly or a strain gauge system located in tracks where the seat is attached to the floor.
Both the bladder system and strain gauge systems measure the weight of the occupant in the front passenger seat. Certain occupant weights identify particular dangers those occupants may face when a crash occurs and airbags deploy. These inputs from the sensors in the seat measure the occupant’s weight, along with other input from other sensors, and determine the response for the airbag deployment that reduces injuries to the occupant from the airbag in a crash.
If the weight sensed is below an established parameter, the airbag is turned off to protect what’s perceived as a child sitting in the front in a car seat or booster seat. If the system is not recalibrated or rezeroed, the seat could read an incorrect weight. The system will be operating correctly, so no MIL will be set on the dash, but it won’t be correctly calibrated. This could lead to an airbag deploying when it shouldn’t, which could lead to the injury or death of a child. Knowing when to recalibrate these vehicles becomes a critical factor.
Finding the Right Scan Tool for Your Shop
Repairing a vehicle using a scan tool is a three-step process.
The first step is having the correct tool and the training to properly use it.
The second step is the diagnostics itself. When a problem shows up, a trouble code will appear. To know what that code is and means, you must be able to access that vehicle’s specific information regarding codes. This can be done through the vehicle manufacturer, scan tool or OEM data provider.
The third step is the repair. These OEM data sources will identify the code and give a flow chart of instructions on either repaired or replaced components, which can make the repairs easier and faster.
This brings us to many of the newer vehicles and the increasing need to use scan tools for recalibration.
Many new safety features are using electronics to avoid and prevent crashes, and these features require recalibration procedures to complete the repair. To identify these procedures, repair facilities need to check the P-pages or access OEM websites or other OEM information providers.
Here are some of the types of electronics that may require a scan tool:
Wheel alignments with new Electric Power Steering (EPS). This may require a scan tool to set the steering wheel angle sensor for proper operation. Failing to do so may cause the vehicle to pull left or right while driving, as well as negatively affect the stability control systems.
Blind spot detection systems. These may need to be recalibrated when removing and installing or repairing rear bumpers. Radars in quarter panels that detect approaching vehicles or vehicles in blind spots may also need to be recalibrated.
Lane Lock or Lane Change and Adaptive Cruise Control. Recalibration may also be required for these new safety features as well, which are designed to reduce severity and/or the crash itself.
Door glass R&I or replacement and/or windshield replacement. These procedures may require a scan tool. Driveability issues that result from disconnecting power may also require scan tools. Unless a shop is looking up information in the P-pages or manufacturer guidelines, these steps could be overlooked or omitted. Getting training from I-CAR, ASE, AVI or other sources becomes
essential to keeping up with repair guidelines.
Some procedures are separate or “not included” in repair estimates and thus are sources of lost revenue. But a vehicle returning to a shop for warranty issues is never a good thing, and the excuse “We didn’t know” won’t sit well with vehicle owners. Looking up the instructions will save time and money and help with the critical factor we all need to focus on: customer satisfaction.
If a scan tool is not in your budg- et, there are alternatives. But not finishing the job you were contracted to do is not one of them.
Dealers, mechanical shops and even mobile techs have popped up to help fill the demand for troubleshooting electronic systems. Talking to your local dealer or mechanical repair shop to see if they do mobile scan procedures could be an option to save you time and money. But before you do that, research the different types of scan tools out there and the needs of your shop to determine if the expense of buying such a tool and paying for yearly updates is worth it. Buying a scan tool that works for your shop or taking the time to find an alternative that works best might be one of the best investments you could make.
Finding the Right Scan Tool for Your Shop
Mitch Becker is a technical instructor for ABRA Auto Body & Glass. Reach him at (763) 585-6411 or [email protected].