Every day, drivers depend on Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) to get them safely from point A to point B. These systems offer significant safety benefits, not just to a vehicle’s operator, but to pedestrians and other drivers as well. But, just like every other component of a vehicle, these systems must be restored to pre-loss condition after an accident.
Although the technology is widespread, there are still many misconceptions in the industry about repairs. The biggest one? That scans are generally enough to determine whether an ADAS is functioning. In reality, the opposite is true. In most situations, a scan will not tell you if an ADAS sensor is calibrated and if the safety system will function as designed. Calibration is required to ensure optimum vehicle safety.
Scans and calibrations are both instrumental parts of the ADAS repair process, but many repair shops are not conducting them. Only about 67 percent of body shops are performing pre- and post-scans on every repair and even fewer are performing calibrations. A CCC research report found that only 1.9 percent of vehicle claims had an entry for recalibrations. The fact that these necessary operations are not taking place in repair shops is a substantial safety concern.
Collision repair shops have a responsibility to determine that a vehicle is functioning completely before it’s delivered to the customer. This requires knowledge of scans and calibrations and determining when one or both are necessary. So, what are the key differences between scans and calibrations? And why are calibrations needed in addition to scans?
When a vehicle first enters a shop, the first step in the damage analysis/blueprinting process is a pre-scan.
Cars are full of Electrical Control Units (ECUs). These are the computers that control vehicle operations. A “scan” refers to the process of reviewing the code within the ECUs. It checks the hundreds of lines of code within them and returns a report of the Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) afflicting a vehicle. These codes eliminate some of the guesswork by indicating systems in the vehicle that have been damaged prior to it entering the shop.
A vehicle repair technician can then take this knowledge and review the affected systems on the vehicle, moving into the repair stage.
Following the repair process, a post-scan is performed. The same scan that was run in the beginning is run again. In an ideal situation, the report will display the same error codes as it did before and these can be cleared now that the repair is complete.
The Missing Component
If there hasn’t been a collision, but a car is brought into a repair shop, it’s often because the vehicle’s owner has been alerted to a problem by a light on the dashboard. These Malfunction Indicator Lights (MILs) receive data from the same ECUs discussed earlier. If one of these lights turns on, it’s clear that there is an issue. But there isn’t a light for every system fault in the vehicle.
In 2015, the owner of Big Sky Collision Center kept a log of repair shop orders and compared the scans collected to the MILs triggered on each repaired vehicle. Of 216 vehicles scanned, only 14 percent of those with DTCs had a correlating MIL. This example only illustrates the point: dash lights can not be depended on when determining what repairs must be completed.
Scans are better, but still can’t be depended on to consistently diagnose problems. This article from Fender Bender describes a situation in which a Toyota Prius was damaged in a collision. During the repair process, a radar unit located behind the Prius’ grill was accidentally pushed out of alignment. When the car was taken back out on the road it would automatically apply brakes whenever it approached a bridge.
In rare cases, scans will pull a DTC for a mis-calibrated or misaligned system. However, the vast majority of ADAS do not have this capability. Currently, fewer than 25 percent of ADAS-equipped vehicles are capable of “in car” (Dynamic) diagnostics and self-calibration. This means that a majority of ADAS systems are not able to tell us when they’re mis-aligned or mis-calibrated. How do we address the disparity? The answer is when a sensor is moved, removed, or replaced, a calibration is required.
What is calibration? To put it simply, calibration is the alignment and relearning of ADAS sensors in a vehicle. There are many components to this process and the way that it’s done ultimately depends on which ADAS sensor you are recalibrating. For example, recalibration of a blind spot sensor often requires targeting: a procedure where a target is set up to test if sensors are able to detect it. Recalibration of a camera or light sensor would require a similar, albeit significantly more precise process.
There are two categories of calibration:
- Static Calibration — Static repairs occur in-shop. This type of calibration includes the use of targets, lasers, radar, reflecting cones, scanning tools, aiming, and other procedures that can be tested while a car remains static.
- Dynamic Calibration — Dynamic calibration is done on the road. The vehicle is driven at specified speeds and conditions to reset the function of the ADAS sensors.
Calibration serves a few purposes that give it an advantage over scans. It allows a vehicle to be tested under specific conditions such as light and weight specifications. It can guarantee that a sensor has been aligned properly because the system itself has been observed and adjusted.
With a calibration, a vehicle’s system is put through rigorous testing that ensures its functionality, as well as functionality between systems. Because we know that DTCs cannot always detect when a system is experiencing issues, this is the only way to confirm a quality repair.
The Bottom Line
ADAS were developed to save lives, but they cannot fulfill their purpose if they aren’t functioning correctly. Scans and calibrations are the only way to determine this and the fact that they are not regularly being performed in many repair shops is an immediate cause for concern.
This is a reality that affects every driver on the road, even those who are not driving an ADAS-equipped vehicle but are encountering them in their daily lives, such as pedestrians and other drivers. As auto repair technicians, it is our responsibility to confirm the proper performance of vehicles that leave our shops. If we aren’t able to determine when calibration is needed and complete the process, then we aren’t doing our jobs.
At Car ADAS, knowledge of ADAS calibration is our specialty. Contact us for ADAS solutions to help your business ensure the safety of your customers.