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What Do I Need to Know About Pre- and Post-Repair Scanning?

Pre-scan, post-scan, recalibration and reprogramming are all different functions and levels of access. Be sure you know what’s called for to complete the repair.

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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]

Q: What do I need to know about pre- and post-repair scanning? In all of the newer-model vehicle collision repairs that we have had in for repair, many different warning lights are present and need a pre-scan to determine if we will need parts to repair any of these issues. We then scan after the repair to ensure that the issues are no longer present.

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— Michelle Anderson, office manager, K&D Body Shop, Three Rivers, Mich.

A: Everywhere I go, I hear people talking on pre- and post-scan issues and problems. Forward Crash Warning, Lane Departure and Blind Spot Detection all are new safety features in U.S. vehicles. I do not say “safety system,” as these particular features are not mandated and can be turned off by the driver or simply not purchased. The lawyers can argue that one, as I’m sure they will. But with any available feature in a vehicle, are we allowed to release a vehicle after repairing it without it having the level of safety the owner purchased it with? That answer, we know, is a solid “no.”

Saving Lives

Electronics save lives. That has been proven. Electronics to replace and repair along with diagnostics is expensive. That is proven, too. The advantage to all these new crash avoidance and blind spot detection or autonomous functions is the improved reaction time to respond to danger. This lowers severity and/or prevents the crash. The savings in personal injury is being calculated to be a major plus to insurers and passengers, which validates the cost of putting these devices into vehicles. Vehicle manufacturers see this value, too. It’s estimated that by 2020, all vehicles built will offer some form of assist or warning feature.

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So these electronics are here to stay. It’s very important that we learn how they work and what they do. The repair and required procedures for operation must also be learned and followed. Nobody wants to put a vehicle deemed not completed or unsafe back out on the road – that we all agree on.

How Do We Deal?

How do we deal with this repair and cost complexity problem? First, we need to make sure we’re all talking the same language. I keep hearing the phrase, “scan to cover all diagnostics.” This creates a problem, as a recalibration or a reprogram is not a scan. There is a huge difference between them.

We also have so many myths floating around out there. The auto glass industry has been dealing with recalibrations for awhile as many newer vehicles require a recalibration after the windshield is replaced. The comments I hear on this aspect are frightening. Now, I hear the same comments from body shops. So let’s address some of the myths:

  • A scan is the same as a recalibration.
  • All dealerships know and have been trained on these features.
  • If there is no light on the dash, everything is fine.
  • If I do not disconnect it, I do not need to scan or recalibrate the system.

Myth No. 1: A scan is the same as a recalibration. There are levels of access that are available through the OBD port. It all depends on the tools being used. A scan is a low-level diagnostic designed to read codes that are set by the vehicle as to faults that have occurred. A little higher level is the clearing of codes. Recalibration is at the highest level of access to vehicle electronics. Here we have access to vehicle programming and can rewrite if access is there. A recalibration is a resetting of sensors to be sure they are not out of “focus.” You can have a functioning system and still not function correctly, as the sensors are not aimed or recalibrated to detect what they were designed for.

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If you’re reading this, you’re not blind, so no red light. If you go to the eye doctor and are tested and found you need glasses, when you put on the glasses, you now see clearly what you’ve been missing. Now you’re recalibrated. The recalibration would be the difference of a vehicle stopping in front of a child suddenly crossing the street or not stopping. It’s the reaction time that’s critical. A scan cannot tell if the system is aimed correctly, but a recalibration does do a scan. Most scanning equipment available today can’t do recalibrations, as they provide a totally different level of functions. Most recalibration equipment requires a laptop with dedicated software and external sensors or a target board to do a static test. The dynamic test involves hitting the road for a period of time. There is no one tool currently available that can scan and/or recalibrate all vehicles.

I want to clarify a point. If you call a dealership or sublet to an outside service and ask them how much it will cost to do a scan on a vehicle, you’ll get that cost of a scan. When you call and ask for the cost of a recalibration, you’ll get a totally different price in most cases. Be sure to ask for the right service. When doing repairs, reference ALLDATA or the new I-CAR RTS website if recalibrations are required. Note that recalibrations are required if stated, not an option. Some vehicles do self-recalibrate, but most do not.

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Myth No. 2: All dealerships know and have been trained on these features. The dealer knows and has been trained. I wish I could tell you this is true. A technician may have been trained, but the equipment may not have been purchased yet or the service writer or manager doesn’t have enough background to know what needs to be done. On many occasions, I’ve literally had to go into dealerships, look up the procedures and teach them what’s required for recalibrations. Be sure to look up procedures and let them know you’re sending for a recalibration, not a scan – those are two different procedures. Driving a vehicle and determining that it seems fine is not a test for proper operation.

Myth No. 3: If there is no light on the dash, everything is fine. Mandatory recalibrations are performed to aim the components and be sure they detect what it’s their job to detect. You can have a totally functional system and still be blind. The light on the dash is for the owner to alert them that service is needed right away. DTCs do not always present a light; it’s just detecting abnormalities and recording them. If a serious abnormality arises, then the light will present itself to warn the driver.

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Myth No. 4: If I do not disconnect it, I do not need to scan or recalibrate the system. Many sensors are designed to work a specific point of a vehicle. When the part is removed or misaligned due to collision and/or repairs, we must be certain that the sensor is realigned to the parameters required. Just because you did not disconnect the part does not mean it’s aimed correctly from the trauma of the crash or work performed. This also applies to the statement that, “Well, I disconnected the battery first then put it back together and hooked the battery up.” You still have to be sure all is aimed and aligned properly. I hear glass techs tell shops, “Just let the camera on the glass hang by the wires. That way when it’s put back on the glass, it’s ready to go.” So the question I have is this: If the bracket is incorrectly mounted 1mm in any direction or the new windshield is set 1mm too low, how will that affect a camera 100 feet down the road when it tries to see a stop sign or pedestrian? This also applies to the R&I of bumpers and other components. If improperly aligned, the sensors will be restricted or blind in function.

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Other Issues

Let’s talk about some other issues that may affect recalibration that a scan will not pick up. For example, plastic bumper repair where there is radar or sensors for blind spot detection. If used in the operating area of the radar, the plastic repair material may or will affect its ability to detect. The thickness change will alter how it sees through material. Another point is painting. How much mil thickness can refinish materials be before limiting certain functions? Both Ford and Nissan have issued bulletins on this.

What’s Necessary?

So now we come to the issue of, what is necessary to repair the car correctly? This question is begging for an answer. To begin with, we need to know what type of repair is being done. Severe collisions will have a great deal of damage, and most understand that it’s necessary to verify all repairs, including that the electronics are all correct. But at what level is it a necessity? Does a light fender bender require a scan or recalibration? The response to this question lies in knowing how the sensors work and react to a collision.

Many people seem to believe that if the light or DTC is not showing on the dash, everything is good. When sensors are used to detect objects or even images farther away than even a meter, alignment of the sensors becomes critical to correct functioning. If a bumper or grill assembly is not correctly aligned, the possibility of interference is high. The simple operation of R&I’ing a bumper or replacing a windshield can have a very definite effect on the operation of these safety features. Using tools such as I-CAR, ALLDATA and OEM websites becomes a necessary procedure on many – and soon all – vehicles that arrive for repair. Researching the required steps on electronics to complete that repair is a necessity. If it states that you must scan or recalibrate, we as an industry cannot really interpret that and say, “Aww, it doesn’t need it on this one.” The instructions are there for a reason. We may not know the big picture, but we do not get to guess.

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That poses the question, if the vehicle is involved in an incident or crash, who’s at fault? The driver? The shop that did not follow all the procedures to be sure all the safety features worked? I suggest that’s a question for an attorney. There is so much unknown in this area as to liability.

Changing the Game

We as an industry have had generally accepted vehicle repair practices. When it comes to non-structural repairs or most refinish operations, we still accept many of these ideas that are different from what is stated by the vehicle manufacturer. Electronics and safety systems and now new safety features change the game. Over the last few years of studying and talking with car manufacturers and scan tool companies, I’ve learned there is much more to learn. And just when you think you understand it, they change it.

Cycle Time

Shops will need to adjust cycle time to accommodate scans and recalibrations. A trip to the dealer may be required for many vehicles. If the shop has the ability to properly scan or recalibrate, I assure you they spent a great deal of money to do so. The computers and software are not cheap. If you’re lucky, a mobile company has invested tens of thousands of dollars on training target boards and software. Please be sure they know how to recalibrate, not just scan a vehicle. The list of requirements to do a recalibration as to the vehicle and the environment to do the recalibration is pretty long. Here are some general ones:

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  • Level floor
  • Target board if needed (static test)
  • Correct lighting
  • Wheel alignment
  • Time (some will take up to six hours to recalibrate)
  • Two technicians for road procedure (dynamic test)
  • Dealer parts (Honda, Subaru require this in windshields)

There are many more specifics depending on the vehicle manufacturer. And much of this cannot be done by a mobile company. Do you have enough room to dedicate a space for this at your shop? All of this requires more thought and research than I can give you here.

The point of this article is to be sure everyone is looking at the same issues. Pre-scan, post-scan, recalibration and reprogramming are all different functions and levels of access. Be sure you know what’s called for to complete the repair.

Read the instructions and follow them. I see this as a long road of liability. As to the cost, I’ve seen scans from $60 to $300 and more, and I’ve seen recalibrations as high as $600 just for a windshield replacement. The scale will be different in every market.

It will take years for these new procedures to stabilize, as all this is so new and coming rapidly. All a shop can do is look up and plan for it in the repair process.

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