Welcome to the ever-changing and advancing world of automotive technology. How many of you remember the day when we in the repair industry used to say to ourselves, “Is it a two-hour or three-hour dent?” Those days are gone, and now we have to do a whole lot more thinking.
In the automotive world today, we need to look at all aspects of our repairs. We also need to think of our sublet repairs, too. A shop is responsible for making sure all repairs are done correctly and completely – and that means a lot more today than it did yesterday. We’re talking about systems in vehicles that are designed to take control and assist drivers or automatically perform the functions of driving. I want to be sure we do not take this lightly.
The advancements in electronics in new vehicles, particularly the advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS), have the entire industry confused and frustrated. The time it takes to write the estimate and research all procedures required to complete the repair is increasing every day. Figuring out if a pre-repair scan, post-repair scan or recalibration are needed can be confusing and raise certain questions:
- Where do you find information on what procedures are needed?
- Does the shop have the equipment to do electronic procedures?
- Who do I sublet to if I do not have this equipment?
- If a problem is found, does the shop have a tech experienced enough to fix the problem?
The first step is to find out what is required. This can be so frustrating to shops. The vehicle manufacturer says a recalibration must be done, yet you call the dealer and they say it does not need to be done. You call another dealer and they say a recalibration is required. How do you deal with that? I run into this quite often. It’s frightening that the dealerships are so confused and often contradict the vehicle manufacturer. What a legal mess! Also, it creates confusion on getting approval and/or payment for services. The vehicle manufacturer saying this procedure is required or recommended trumps a dealer service advisor saying, “You don’t need to do that; we have not seen a problem.” What fun the world of liability is!
Researching procedures is not just required for the body repair of damaged metal and superstructures. It also includes replacement of computers and control modules. Mechanical repairs such as alignments and replacement of suspension parts all may have considerations as to post-repair scans or recalibrations. Whether you do mechanical repairs in-house or farm them out, you as the shop must know what how and when to do the electronic procedures associated with ADAS.
Please note that a pre-repair scan and post-repair scan are completely different operations than a calibration or recalibration. Scans only access electronics to determine if they’re communicating correctly. A recalibration sets the vehicle to operate or “see” correctly, kind of like putting glasses on. Your eyes work but are recalibrated when you wear your glasses, helping you to see and react to variables around you correctly.
ADAS operates by using the vehicle’s computers and sensors. These sensors and computers operate on the basis that the vehicle is in compliance with parameters and tolerances set by the vehicle manufacturer. In many cases, a cameras and radar is used. The proper alignment of the devices establishes how they “see,” how far they react and reaction time. The attitude or angle of the vehicle itself has a large bearing on how ADAS operates. Some of these tolerances or specifications may include but are not limited to:
- Vehicle steering wheel centered. Steering wheel angle sensor must be correct.
- Ride height. Considerations of fuel in the gas tank and proper tire inflation are critical, as are correct suspension specs.
- Toe is in specification. Change in toe may alter the ride height or angle of the vehicle.
- Steering axis inclination (SAI) is in specification.
Some vehicle manufacturers require an alignment prior to doing a recalibration. In the case of windshield replacements, a recalibration would be required after glass installation and wheel alignment. Numerous vehicle manufacturers also state that a recalibration is required after wheel alignment.
Car manufacturers also require recalibration to be done on an alignment rack, using the alignment in the recalibration itself. Whether you do this in-house or sublet it out, it is the shop’s responsibility to research and know these issues and be sure they were performed. Many sublet alignment shops may not be aware or trained on recalibration issues. We’ve found that dealers have been poorly informed about recalibrations, so it may also be a problem throughout the entire aftermarket.
Be sure to verify or research any repairs done requiring vehicle alignment. Good sources of information include:
- Vehicle manufacturer websites
- Estimating systems
- I-CAR website or RTS
I’m going to put a warning out there to research heavily on what happens with vehicles that are modified. Today, people want to change the vehicle from its stock features, not knowing that also changes many safety features in vehicles:
- Modified suspensions either lowering or lifting
- Tire or wheel changes in height and/or width
- Snow plow or other attachments to the front of the vehicle
- Trailer hitches or accessories
- Excess cargo weight
- Aftermarket steering wheels
These features and or issues may make recalibration difficult or impossible, leading to non-functioning or improperly aimed systems. Do your research and due diligence before modifying or changing any components.