Just like with collision repairs, repair facilities are liable for advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) calibrations as soon as they touch the car.
That’s one of many tips a panel of ADAS center owners shared earlier this month when they talked about what they’ve learned from running their businesses. The discussion and Q&A session was one of more than 20 Repairer Driven Education (RDE) classes offered by the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) during this year’s SEMA Show.
The panelists were Andy Dingman, co-founder and partner at Calibration Technologies; Jamie Humphries, owner of Georgia ADAS Calibrations; Tony Morgan, owner of Apex Calibrations, and C.J. Peeters, owner of Fargo ADAS Solutions and Minnesota ADAS Solutions.
All four said their centers are 4,000 square feet, with the exception of Humphries who said his centers vary in size from 4,000-12,000 square feet. The panelists said they operate their centers with two to four technicians and noted the number of calibrations and technicians needed varies by market. For example, Morgan completes 130-140 calibrations per month with three technicians.
The panel agreed that nearly all of the calibrations they conduct are collision-related and, as of yet, they rarely conduct them in a retail maintenance sense. Instead, they either have their own ADAS center in tandem with their collision repair center or provide calibrations for other repair centers.
The initial expense to open an ADAS center is around $185,000, according to the panel.
“You’re building for the future,” said Greg Peeters, Car ADAS Solutions CEO and moderator of the RDE panel. “In a really well-run facility, we’re calibrating about 38% of the repaired vehicles. I think in the next couple of years, that’ll double. Two things [are] changing — the number of vehicles requiring calibrations and then the number of sensors we’re calibrating per vehicle is growing monthly. And we’ve not yet really affected or been calibrating for the tire and alignment industry and all these other segments.”
Similar to a panel discussion during this year’s SCRS OEM Collision Repair Technology Summit, the panelists gave varied answers on the sometimes controversial use of mobile calibrations.
“The reason is not the mobile technicians’ capabilities, it’s the shop’s environment,” Dingman said. “When I’m calibrating something, I’ve got cars, I’ve got metal objects, I’ve got all of these different environmental factors that I can’t control. And frankly, most people have those same problems as well when you’re dealing with something that’s in a shop.”
He added that the same issues can occur inside a facility, such as a sloped floor when calibrations require it to be level, lack of room for the equipment setup, and improper lighting.
Humphries agreed, adding that it’s possible to correctly calibrate vehicles outside although it’s a challenge.
“It is so reliant on being able to control the environment,” he said. “I can tell you from my years in the body shop world and now in the automotive maintenance side of it, I have not seen a body shop that you could go in and properly do every calibration you’ve ever come across… I’m not a fan of mobile because I see a lot of bad things going on in the industry as I’m traveling around visiting my customers. Some of the things that I see that are happening are dangerous.”
C.J. Peeters compared the efficiency and effectiveness of mobile calibrations and a calibrations-dedicated center to changing your own tire on the side of the road or going to a pit crew and getting it done in seconds.
Most importantly, as Greg Peeters pointed out, manufacturers vary in their requirements for calibrations from how level the floor is to the height of the ADAS targets and more.
In response to an audience member’s question, the panel also shared their thoughts on varying OEM and aftermarket scan tools. However, they noted the most important factors are following OEM repair procedures, conducting calibrations on a level floor, and properly placing OEM-specific targets.
Humphries said that every OEM tool he has, without naming specific manufacturers, contain outdated user interfaces that haven’t been upgraded in decades.
“The OEMs have to do a better job of getting their act together. They’re dealing with new technology and trying to blend it with some very old stuff because they don’t want to spend the money, or whatever the case is, to try to update what they’re asking us to use. When you look at what some [in the] aftermarket are building, the user interface of that is so much simpler and does such a better job than what they’re [automakers] actually building for their cars.”
Greg Peeters explained that aftermarket scan tools are built off of OEM software and the difference in how they operate compared to OEM scan tools is evident in post-scans.
“The calibration itself already resides in the module of the vehicle that is operating on sensors and it is unique to that car and those sensors,” he said. “The diagnostic tool used for that calibration is only requesting that module goes into calibration mode and begins doing the calibration. That being said, when you do a post-scan on a vehicle, it wakes up all of the modules on that vehicle that it knows about based off of the scan tool and requests that module starts to self-diagnose itself.”
He added that he’s observed there isn’t one tool that can conduct calibrations for every ADAS-equipped vehicle.
Similar points Peeters made about OEM versus aftermarket scan tools were also shared during SEMA Week in a separate RDE session by Chris Chesney, Repairify training and organizational development vice president. He said one of the most important things for repairers to know is that their chosen scan tool returns accurate information in line with OEM repair procedures, in addition to using the most accurate targets and placing them correctly.
Chesney emphasized that repairers need to look up OEM service and repair procedure information for every ADAS calibration because they’re updated often, as quickly as within hours of each other.
“They’ll put in their instructions of where to place their target, defining the distance from the center line or the front of that sensor,” he said. “You do the plumb bob drop, make the mark on the floor — the distance from that point to maybe the front edge of their stand. That may not be the same as the tip of the trihedral.”
When picking a calibration target, Chesney said research compiled through Rules Engine has found that a trihedral is the most accurate while the brand doesn’t matter as much. Rules Engine is ongoing research compiled by asTech, a Repairify company, that tests the performance of aftermarket scan tools compared to OEM scan tools. asTech has completed test scans on hundreds of thousands of vehicles — varying in make, model, and trim level — from model years 2014-2023.
Accuracy begs a question about liability that Peeters asked the panel: if an aftermarket ADAS tool is used and the repairer and/or repair center ends up in court, for whatever the case may be, is their case weaker before a judge? The panelists agreed that the answer hasn’t been determined yet.
They also agreed that liability on the repairer doesn’t change regardless of whether aftermarket or OEM scan tools are used. That’s where the importance of documentation comes in — not only to prove the calibrations were done but that they were done correctly, to OEM specifications, along with labeled photos and time stamps.
In addition to documentation, post-scans should be done after dynamic system verification test drives, when the technician takes the vehicles on a test drive to ensure the systems are calibrated and working correctly. Most systems require a five-mile drive and some take more, according to Morgan.
Contrary to what some may think when ADAS calibrations look daunting, the panelists said on-the-job training is sufficient. In fact, Humphries said he prefers his new hire technicians not to have an automotive background.
“What I’ve known over my years in the industry is that there are a lot of bad habits created over time and I didn’t want those bad habits. I only wanted them to know what I showed them. When you look back at even the dealership environment, to that type of electrical diagnostic technician, is very, very expensive and they are very hard to come by.
“We train and train and train and train and what we look for from that perspective is somebody that wants an opportunity to make a good living.”
Morgan added that he likes for his new employees to have some auto body repair experience but it’s not a must. The key is finding people who want to embrace learning about and working with new technology.
“You would be hard-pressed to find somebody who has 20 years of ADAS experience because they don’t exist,” he said.
Featured image provided by Car ADAS Solutions