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Electronic Blueprinting: Necessary for Today’s Vehicles

How many times are you missing scanning, reprogramming or recalibration procedures?

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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]

I am not going to sugarcoat or whitewash a problem I see in our industry: the explosion of new electronics (advanced driver-assistance systems or ADAS) in vehicles that either assist or take control of the vehicle when an event is detected. This includes computers, cameras, radar, sensors and modules that have inundated the collision repair industry. Included in that are modules for headlights and rearview cameras along with a host of other components that need reprogramming and/or initializations to operate correctly. How do you know what needs what? How do you even know what is in the vehicle? How many times do you think shops miss procedures that should have been done to verify or complete repairs? How much in labor or services are you not doing or missing?

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Are You Liable?

This does not just involve auto body repair shops. The problem has crossed into the mechanical repair, auto glass replacement and transportation (buses, commercial trucking, etc.) industries as well. If an alignment shop performs an alignment on a vehicle and changes the toe, does that require a recalibration of the forward crash warning system? If you disconnect a headlight on a vehicle during a collision repair, will that headlight need a reinitialization? If a sideview mirror is removed for paint (not even disconnected), will a blind spot recalibration be required?

Let’s be dead honest, if you miss a procedure or fail to do a recalibration, is anybody going to tell you that it was not on the estimate or invoice? You may be told, “We don’t want to pay for that.” Or, you may be told, “We are only going to pay this much.” But one thing you probably won’t be told is, “Please be sure to add this procedure you missed and the cost.” You have to look out for your own shop. Nobody else will.

Confusion

There is so much confusion as to what safety systems or electronics are actually in the vehicle. How do you know what needs to be done to complete the repairs? I know there are elite shops out there that have researched and spent a great deal of money and time training and being prepared for these changes in the repair industry, but these shops are few and far between. The majority of estimators and adjusters are unfamiliar with what electronics systems are in the vehicle, much less how to repair and verify correct operation – and these are the people who are going to decide what and how it is going to get repaired. This is the stuff that keeps me up at night! Having a dent in a car seems so easy to deal with. Now, the electronics involved have made that a more complex issue.

Given the number of sensors in vehicles today, a  simple dent repair is not so simple anymore.

Adding to this confusion is the “dealer effect.” Dealers are independently owned companies that, like body shops, have equipment and training issues. An OE repair statement may not be understood by your local dealership. The bad news is that this creates more confusion as a shop can have in their hand a procedure from the OE website verifying a service procedure requirement, but the dealer may contradict that OE statement. Then, the dealer is taken as the expert on the subject and is used to determine if the procedure is needed or not. I’m sorry to say that, with changes happening so fast, I’ve lost faith in relying on a service writer or manager at a dealership to determine if a procedure is necessary. I’m a firm believer in following OE procedures, as the automakers are the experts on their vehicles. I’ve had too many instances of dealership personnel not having the correct information and then being relied on as the determining factor.

Electronic Blueprinting

Blueprinting repairs is one of the best disciplines to be introduced in the auto repair industry. The increased productivity and savings for shops as well as reduced frustration is priceless. The introduction to shops was fairly easy, as we were all familiar with parts and repair procedures. New electronics have changed the way we need to look at today’s repairs as we are dealing with so many new systems and procedures that are unfamiliar to our industry.

Advanced driver-assistance systems include computers, cameras, radar, sensors and modules.

Blueprinting helps find procedures you previously didn’t know you needed to do too. People who think a pre-scan is hooking up a tool and verifying if any codes are present could not be more incorrect as it involves so much more. Verifying what is damaged and related to the collision is critical; otherwise, a shop could end up replacing some very expensive parts. “It worked before I brought it here to be repaired,” the customer will say. How many times have we heard that one? Shops need to be more diligent than ever before. To conduct a pre-scan correctly and get the right information, you must consider all the variables and factors. Lots of shops are using scan tools that haven’t been updated in three years. Remember, a tool can’t tell you if it can’t access a system; it just isn’t there and will not show codes.

Basic Start to a Scan

NOTE: If you’re a certified shop, you must reference the OE for the correct equipment and software required to complete scans, recalibrations, programming and initializations.

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  • Attaching a power source that provides enough power for all of the modules to be accessed.
  • Having the correct interface to be able to access data from all of the modules.
  • Having the correct and updated software to access all of the systems and modules.
  • Performing a scan and accessing all of the features the vehicle is equipped with and noting all of the features.
  • Locating any codes.

Now, we electronic blueprint from the scan following OE procedures and statements:

  • What electronic systems does the vehicle have?
  • What is damaged from the collision?
  • What must be removed or disconnected?
  • What is to be repaired (plastic bumper)?
  • What must be R&I’d?
  • What will be replaced?
  • What can be refinished or painted?
  • What structure is damaged or needs to be replaced and how does it affect the sensor mounting? Will pulling to return to shape be performed? Will an alignment be performed?
  • Research codes found during the scan.
  • Research what must be programmed or initialized due to being disconnected or replaced.
  • Research what must be recalibrated. NOTE: Seat recalibrations may be required. Also, how far and at what speed must the test drive be done after the post-scan?

Variables between different vehicle manufacturers and year, make and model of vehicle will alter this list. Never assume it is the same for all vehicles.

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Research Time

A shop is disassembling a vehicle and researching what needs to be done for the repair. When you look at the list for a pre-scan, you start to see how much more is involved in electronic blueprinting. Many of you have experienced problems during or at the end of repairs when you found out there was an initialization or recalibration procedure needed to complete the repair. This may have delayed the vehicle delivery and created a supplement that hopefully you got paid for.

Another bonus to doing this process properly is avoiding what I call “wash bay diagnostics” or an “I didn’t see that coming” test drive. This happens when nobody throughout the entire repair process thinks about the electronics until the car is in the wash bay or on a test drive. Then, panic sets in. The owner is on their way to pick up their vehicle and you hope and pray that the scan tool will magically fix it. Then, your CSI gets dinged. Would it be nice to know that this could have been avoided?

Done correctly, electronic blueprinting will give you all the information you need and allow you to print documentation needed to get an accurate estimate of the cost and time needed for repairs. Researching codes during blueprinting will also point to problems in electronics that are not visible to the eye. A missed damaged control module could cost much more than you think to replace. Having this information will also help you avoid missing procedures you should be paid to perform. There is a lot to be gained in the pre-scan “electronic blueprint” process when done properly as opposed to grabbing anyone available to push some buttons.

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Employing a person who is experienced in accessing resources such as ALLDATA and OE websites is a must. An inexperienced person may either miss procedures or possibly find outdated information, putting your shop at risk and – more importantly – the family who owns the vehicle. OE information changes every day. Assuming that 2018 has the same procedures as 2019 may, as my mom used to say, “cost you dearly.” Failure to verify that all features and safety systems are operational may bring the vehicle back to your shop with a very unhappy customer. Now, the problem that should have been included in the repair has become a warranty. Avoiding those costly returns for something not working right is vital to your business, shop morale and your shop’s reputation. Just think of all the time and money that’s spent on education to correctly weld, rivet or bond, all in the name of a safe repair. If we don’t guess with structural repairs, why would anyone want to guess at the electronic safety equipment?

Summary

Electronic blueprinting has been proven to reduce the need for supplements for work found after the authorization was given. It has also proven to be a critical component in ensuring that all safety systems are repaired and correct operation is verified. The explosion in the use of these new electronics and safety systems has created a new compounded liability that all shops face in every repair. I’ve seen many instances in which shops have released vehicles that created nightmare situations for the vehicle owners.

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Electronic blueprinting will also help your shop manage time of repair. You’ll need to know when and how electronic procedures will be performed as well as what is needed to verify the operation. You’ll also need to consider that this process will take time, for example time to do the scan and time to research procedures. Factoring a pre-scan as a .5 hour or whatever time is being pushed is excluding all that needs to be done. To know you’ll be spending time researching and test driving is an argument for another article.

Mitch Becker has been a collision industry trainer for 30 years. He can be reached at (612) 865-6229 or [email protected].

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