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Technical: Recalibrations – Are You Aiming in the Right Direction?

Scanning is about clearing a code, whereas recalibrations are about making sure everything is aimed or that all components can talk to each other when activated. Know the difference.

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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]

The need to diagnose electronics in new vehicles has created a lot of confusion. The need for a pre- or post-repair scan has people scratching their heads. What are shops supposed to do?

Now, let’s add a wrinkle into the equation: vehicles that require a recalibration or reprogramming. These procedures require a scan tool capable of accessing these procedures. This is not about clearing a code, this is about making sure everything is aimed or that all components can talk to each other when activated. Everyone in the industry has seen or had to do some sort of scan, but recalibrations can be much more extensive. I’ve run into many companies that think as long as the scan is done, it’s all complete. That could not be farther from the truth.

First Step

Realizing how important it is that all the new driver-assist features in today’s vehicles work correctly before releasing the vehicle back to the customer is a critical step in repairing it. Not following through could place a lot of liability on your shop. Because all this is so new and unfamiliar to all, it’s hard to learn what to do. I recommend looking into some new I-CAR classes, such as Vehicle Technology Trends and Diagnostics (VT117L01). There are also some online classes that offer a great deal of knowledge to anyone wanting to learn more.

Identifying what needs to be done as to electronics and their diagnostics is the next step. When the vehicle comes in and the pre-op is being done, the procedures for the repair should be accessed. If you see a vehicle that has unfamiliar features, such as cameras and sensors in the part that must be removed or replaced, that should be a hint to you that a little closer look into the repair details is required. A simple bumper R&I could require a procedure to verify that all components are working properly. This procedure could be as simple as a scan or as complex as testing with targets.

Even the simplest procedure such as the R&I of a driver mirror may require a system scan or a recalibration. This seems crazy, but the issue is that all these components work together. Not only do they need to be checked to be sure they communicate correctly with each other, but also that they’re aimed correctly. It’s like Christmas tree lights – if one bulb doesn’t work, it affects the whole string. Also, think about a motion detector alarm. It doesn’t work if it’s not aimed correctly. The DTC lights on the dash will not be an indicator of any problems. Be sure to understand that just because there is no light does not mean it’s right.

This aftermarket bracket wouldn’t accept the camera mounting, causing the camera to be aimed incorrectly and the recalibration to fail.

You can find what’s needed to complete the repairs in the estimating systems, ALLDATA or OEM websites. Whichever is easiest and best to use, please do so. Whether you should buy a tool package capable of scans and recalibrations or sublet out is a topic for another article.

Scan vs. Recalibration

The difference between a scan and a recalibration is night and day. So is the level of diagnostic tools, in many cases.

A scan is a level of diagnostics where fault codes set by a computer are read. The codes identify where the parameters of operation are not functional or in spec with manufacturer requirements.

A recalibration is a level of diagnostics testing the function of components in a static or dynamic mode of test. It tests the ability of the components to recognize or function as designed. It’s also used to establish proper function and orientation to the vehicle.

A scanning operation involves plugging in a tool with the proper ability to access the MCM into the on-board diagnostics port and record any fault codes in the vehicle. These fault codes can stem from a variety of issues, from simple electronic glitches in communication between components to recording a designed event such as airbag deployment. It’s all based on the communication between components and how the computer sees these inputs. These codes can pinpoint where service of the components may be needed or required.

The code will be recorded. Once the code is identified, a technician can look up the flow chart to diagnose and repair that code designation. In some cases, depending on the vehicle manufacturer, the codes (when set) will have a mileage stamp, or the ability to show at what miles on the odometer the code was set. This can be helpful to distinguish between what is crash-related and what is a reoccurring problem. Once repairs are completed, the code can be cleared and the vehicle test-driven. The vehicle will be scanned once more to be sure no codes reoccur.

Scan tools offer the ability to diagnose individual systems, not just the entire electronics package.

A recalibration does a similar scan to start to be sure all components are communicating. But there’s a difference. A scan tool can tell you if the electronics work, but the scan cannot tell you that the sensor is aimed or out of spec. So essentially the eyes work, but a scan cannot tell you if those eyes are out of focus. Think of a person with glasses. Your eyes work, so there is no light to tell you there’s a problem. Then you put on your glasses, and now you’re recalibrated. When parts are removed or replaced, the orientation of the part to the vehicle centerline is critical to its effective operation. A sensor that is not mounted correctly will give a wrong input or no input, changing the vehicle’s response or response time.

However, it’s not just that shops need to check. A sensor could also be blocked by a repair process such as too much mil thickness in paint on a bumper, a plastic repair that now interferes with the radar system in the quarter panels, or the camera angle on a roof replacement. The recalibration verifies the proper vision of the sensors. Keep in mind a sensor could be connected and hanging from the vehicle and a scan tool will verify that it’s functioning properly, but obviously it might not be if it’s not aimed.

Recalibrations: Static and Dynamic

Static recalibrations are probably the most unfamiliar procedures to the collision repair industry. These tests require targets outside of the vehicle measuring points, which may involve anything from a post to aim at to a series of target boards required for cameras and lasers.

A good example is a hail job on a 2017 Honda Accord. You’ve replaced the roof, which required an R&I of the windshield and backglass. Once the vehicle is all put together, a recalibration of the FCW camera mounted to the windshield is required. It’s not about whether it was disconnected or not; the installation has changed the angle of the camera to the centerline of the vehicle. One millimeter can make a tremendous change 50 feet in front of the vehicle. This is also required any time a windshield is replaced or any time the camera is removed from the mounting.

So what needs to be done? Car manufacturers have a specific set of parameters that must be met for recalibrations of crash-avoidance features and systems. Here are some:

  1. Ride height –The vehicle must be on a level surface, and measurements with either targets or lasers will be needed to establish ride height.
  2. Alignment –Some vehicle manufacturers use the wheels to establish the left and right boundary. In some cases, an alignment is required before starting any procedure. Once this is done, the left and right parameter can now be set.
  3. Centerline –The exact centerline must be established. This is done by either measuring or using a laser from the left or right boundary that was established.
  4. Setting targets –A target board must be established a specific distance from the front of the bumper or the center of the front wheels. This target board will have a pattern that the cameras and lasers can pinpoint to tell the computer where center, left and right are and also give the computer depth perception.
  5. Triggering –Using the required tool or scan tool, the MCM is triggered to recalibrate. This can take from minutes to hours, depending on the vehicle manufacturer.
  6. Once complete, a dynamic test may be needed.

Dynamic tests require moving the vehicle. In most dynamic tests, a proper diagnostic tool is used to trigger the main control module into dynamic test mode. While connected to the diagnostic tool through the OBD port, the vehicle must now be driven until the computer has recognized all parameters and symbols. This means that many vehicles will need to be taken on a test drive on well-marked highways. Dynamic tests are generally done above 35 mph down a highway with distinct lines on the roadway and signs. Once the test is complete, the vehicle and/or diagnostic tool will beep and confirm complete. At completion, the vehicle may be returned to service. I do want to warn you, though: Some tests may take two technicians, depending on the diagnostic tool used. And some dynamic tests may take up to 70 miles to complete.

Combination tests consisting of both static and dynamic procedures may be required. This would consist of the aiming of lasers and cameras and then driving so the cameras and lasers can acclimate to the vehicle. Now you know that just a scan can do only so much; there is much more needed.

Some procedures requiring recalibration (depending on the vehicle manufacturer) include:

  1. R&I or replacement of any crash-avoidance system components
  2. R&I or replacement of windshields
  3. Adjustment of alignments such as toe or replacement of suspension parts
  4. R&I or replacement of sensors, bumper covers, grills, lasers or radar
  5. Taillights and headlights
  6. Blind-spot systems such as those found in Ford vehicles require azimuth recalibration on quarter panel replacement
  7. Doppler radar removal or replacement
  8. Plastic repairs on bumper covers

Dynamic tests must be planned into repairs or cycle time can be thrown out of whack.

Purchasing Diagnostic Tools

If your plan is to purchase a diagnostic tool or to use a service that’s cable-based, you’ll need to learn more about the recalibration processes and what needs to be done. The tool needs to be mobile and go with the vehicle, which will create problems with some companies’ products. Education is the key. I-CAR offers a lot of answers. Stay tuned for more info.

Sidebar: Diagnostic Tools – Be Sure You Get What You Need

Many shops are looking into what they need to be able to diagnose and repair the new electronics features. This may involve pre-scanning and post-scan, but remember that there are two other functions to consider that must not be left out.

If you buy a tool or use a service to do your diagnostic scans, you only have half the solution. Many diagnostic tools or services may not be able to do recalibrations and reprogramming. These procedures are more extensive and require targets or a dynamic test, which involves driving the vehicle.

I recently sent a vehicle to a dealer and asked for a recalibration. The dealer said they could scan the vehicle, but asked, “What’s a recalibration?” Not everyone knows that there is a tremendous difference between these operations and also the training and tools required. A simple scan does not do a recalibration. A tool that can do recalibrations can do a scan. Educating yourself on these differences will save you from wasting time and money.

Many operations involved in today’s repairs require recalibrations, such as bumper cover R&I and replacement and glass R&I and replacement. Many sensor R&I or replacements will too. The fact is that recalibration will become more and more of what a shop must perform. Do not just fall into a scanning train of thought. Look up procedures and ask for the right procedure to be done. If you sublet a vehicle out and say you need a diagnostic scan, that is what they’ll do. Asking for a recalibration is a different thing entirely.

Many recalibrations will require a static test, dynamic test or both. As static test is a stationary test with targets required to aim components correctly. This means it isn’t just about plugging into the OBD port; you need a lot more to complete this procedure. A dynamic test requires a diagnostic tool to be hooked up and the vehicle driven until the computer completes the test parameters. Many online companies offering scan tests cannot perform these functions.

Be sure you’re getting what you need. Look at the services you need as to the vehicle models you repair, then choose wisely. There’s a lot of confusion out there.

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