Opening a Vehicle Calibration Station: Will You Be a Partial or Total Solution?

Opening a Vehicle Calibration Station: Will You Be a Partial or Total Solution?

Before opening a calibration station, you need to ask, “What services do my shop customers need and want?” The answers may surprise you.

When I was recently asked what it takes to open a calibration center offering services to collision and glass companies, I had to stop and think hard about all the variables and the way the repair industry works. All the years of working in the industry and what I’ve seen and learned from that experience has left me a little jaded. 

I can look at it from the optimistic perspective of a person eagerly wanting to pursue this business venture, or I can look at what the industry is currently doing to complete the repairs and perform calibrations and find a solution to help my customer (be it a collision shop or glass shop) achieve a goal that mutually benefits their shop and the calibration center I want to build. 

You need to ask yourself, “What do the businesses I want to provide services to need and want?” The answers might surprise you. You may also find yourself doing way more than you thought — and then figuring out how that works into your business model. 

So when asked what it takes to open a calibration center, I concluded that there was no cookie-cutter response to this question. Depending on the geographic market you wish to enter, you need to know what that market or your customer needs. This is not the same as a mobile tech going from shop to shop working on repairing vehicle electronics. You have to feed the overhead that comes with buildings and people, and you need to show the value of your business. The business aspect of real estate, ROI and business numbers is something an analyst can provide you. 

If there hasn’t been a book written yet about how to open this type of business, there should be. The rest of this article is a partial look at what I, as a shop owner, need from you. 

Calibration Station or Diagnostic Solution?

First, I do see the clear need for a solution for the auto repair industry. Vehicle electronics have become so much a part of the vehicle repair that a new classification of technician has been created and an entirely new industry within the repair industry has become enormous due to shops’ needs — with good reason, I might add, as this is a whole new skill that in the past was only relevant to the mechanical repair industry. Now, the collision, glass, mechanical, trucking and transportation industries are all in need of a new breed of problem-solving technician for the networks of sensors, modules and computers in vehicles. The proliferation of ADAS features and other electronic systems has changed the repair process and the automotive repair world forever with not just calibrations but the need for diagnostic and repair solutions for vehicle electronics. Calibrations are only part of the need. 

After a vehicle has been in a crash or disassembled in any way for whatever reason and is then repaired, calibrations fail for many reasons. Even with the 80/20 rule (that 80% of vehicles will calibrate correctly after repairs — which is awesome for the shop), it’s that 20% that will be the issue and will take the majority of the time you’re working on vehicles.

If you’re doing the calibrations and can’t fix the vehicle’s problem, you’re only part of my solution.

Troubleshooting failures is a major component of the business. If I send a vehicle to a calibration station and the calibration fails, are you going to fix my problem or send the vehicle back to me to find someone else to fix the issue? A diagnostic trouble code (DTC), if there is one, only tells me so much; I need to know how to diagnose what’s causing that DTC or failure. If you’re doing the calibrations and can’t fix the vehicle’s problem, you’re only part of my solution. 

Programming, coding, wire repair, harness repair and replacement, removing bumper covers and using a digital volt-ohmeter (DVOM) is only a short list of what I as a shop owner need you to be able to provide if I send my vehicle to you to be calibrated. Driving or towing back and forth does not provide my solution as a shop, and neither does finding someone else to fix the problem. A calibration station is only part of the solution; a shop needs a diagnostic solution that does calibrations. That topic in and of itself could comprise a whole other article for me to write.

Recognizing There’s a Problem

To open a solution center to address repair shops’ calibration needs, we need to recognize an issue that’s causing many repairers concern. You may want to perform calibrations, but you’ll find that you’ll first need to be an educator. 

I work with many shops around the U.S., from single shops to multi-shop operators (MSO), and a common issue we face as an industry is knowing when a calibration is needed to complete or validate repairs and that the vehicle sensors are aimed correctly. 

The most common question I get almost daily is, “Why calibrate?” Or, “Why do I need to calibrate the sensors? I did not unplug the wires; I just R&I’d [replaced and installed] the mirror. There is no light on the dash and there are no DTCs in the scan.” I hear this so much that I can’t be the only one who’s asked this question. 

An incorrect calibration may have serious consequences; this is not where a technician gets to “make it work.”  

If you’re going to offer me a solution for calibrations, you need to be there with me before the repairs even start. You need to be able to teach and guide me and my people on what repairs I’m going to be performing and what calibrations I’ll need to perform so I can get the calibration on the estimate at the beginning. I do not need wash bay diagnostics to learn that I need a calibration after the fact and lose money because my personnel didn’t know it was needed. 

I, as the shop owner, need to know up front. I see numbers and statistics on how many calibrations are never done on vehicles that have been repaired. As a shop, I need a solution that will help me keep up with all the changes, additions and new features coming out. I need to know the value of doing business with you, and I need to trust that you’re working in my best interests. My customers have become dependent on these ADAS features, and they need to work correctly after repairs, as I am staking my reputation on you as a solution. Educate my shop, and help me keep up with the changes. 

What’s In It for Me?

You want to build a solution for my shop? Well then tell me what’s in it for me. Are you going to offer me cost-saving solutions to my calibrations? Are you going to be able to work on all years, makes and models? Are you offering me an OE solution when needed? How much time will the vehicle be away from the shop? How will it get there? What if the vehicle is not drivable? Are you going to be pulling bumper covers when required? Who’s responsible for damage during parts removal? Why you? These are all questions you’ll be asked and need answers for. 

To answer these questions and more, you’ll need to understand the choices shops currently have for getting their calibrations done:

  • Mobile service to shop
  • Dealer
  • In-house services.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Understanding each shop’s individual needs will help you understand what you need to offer. 

You can offer space that a shop does not have to do the calibrations — and not just space but the right space. Preparation of the space needed and vehicle preparations prior to any calibrations is critical to success. Plus, you have the equipment, saving the shop from purchasing and keeping up with it. Also, you can service all makes and models. These are some of the advantages you’ll have, and you’ll need to sell them.

A short list of critical pieces you’ll need to provide include:

  • Correct service information for all prerequisites of shop and vehicle prior to any calibrations being performed
  • Proper datum plane or level floor on which to do calibrations 
  • Correct amount of space, especially for surround view features
  • Proper lighting to not interfere with cameras when in calibration mode
  • Proper targets for calibrations to be completed  
  • Correct software to perform calibrations
  • Correct VCI or J2534 pass-through to communicate to vehicle for each year, make and model
  • Training to follow procedures correctly
  • Documentation of procedures and need for calibration
  • Staff to perform calibrations and transport vehicles
  • Wi-Fi for services to be correctly performed.

Most Important Piece

The biggest critical piece is the technician at the vehicle — properly trained and with the experience to perform the task and troubleshoot any problems when calibrations fail. I cannot stress how important it is for the technician to set up targets correctly or even driving for a dynamic calibration. As I said before, the 80/20 rule applies here. 

A large portion of a technician’s time doing calibrations is the diagnostics of why the calibration failed. How many instances do we see in the industry of sensors that are switched right and left? Or a sensor that was not aimed correctly before putting the bumper cover on? Or even parking sensors mounted upside down, radars mounted backwards or paint thickness interfering with sensors? These examples happen every day, and most will not set a DTC in the vehicle.

The technician doing the calibration will need training and experience; to know how to read a pre-repair scan; and to know DTCs, where to research for the solution and how to resolve them for the shop he or she is working for. The target placement during the relearning procedure or calibration is critical. You can have a successful calibration and the vehicle be dead wrong because of targets not placed correctly. 

Without a technician who can troubleshoot through any challenges, you only have 80% of what you need during the calibration. Remember, it’s the 20% that consumes your time and creates stress. Also, remember that an incorrect calibration may have serious consequences. This is not where a technician gets to “make it work.”


There is so much more to cover than what I’ve talked about in this article; this is just the tip of the iceberg. 

I can see calibration stations in the glass industry, but for collision, I think the needs are much higher. Cost of equipment, subscriptions for software and OE service information, updates, training, technicians …. The list goes on and on for what a station will need. The first thing is knowing your customers and what they need. Then decide, “Will I be a partial solution or a total solution?” and “What makes my service of value to that shop?”

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