BMW April 2022

One of the most complex tasks for today’s technician is completing a vehicle’s ADAS calibration. An Industry Survey, showed just 25% of responding shops said they were equipped to perform advanced driver-assistance systems calibrations. Investing in that type of ADAS work wasn’t easy.  One body shop manager, who has 40 years of industry experience, says being equipped for ADAS work sets his employer apart from nearby competitors.

ADAS calibration refers to the fine tuning of the many sensors found throughout the vehicle that aid in a number of processes, from airbag deployment to lane-change assistance, to emergency braking. Calibration is necessary if the vehicle experiences a collision – regardless of the severity. If these intricate systems are not calibrated correctly, the vehicle could behave in unplanned ways, causing injury or even death. “Calibration sets us apart because of our training, and our quality, and our commitment to our customers,” says Flom, whose four-person body shop staff produces an annual revenue of $1.2 million. “We want to be one step ahead of everybody else.”

Despite most vehicles having features that require some sort of calibration, it remains a much-discussed yet opaque topic, due to varying terminology between OEMs, exclusively sold parts, and a generally limited amount of information available on the topic.

Getting the calibration job done right, especially when it comes to ADAS, can literally mean the difference between life and death for those inside a vehicle. With such high stakes surrounding such a complicated and relatively new service, it can be a daunting task to get your shop calibration ready. 

A sample of systems that require calibration include:

Adaptive cruise control

  • Blind spot detection
  • Collision avoidance system 
  • Automatic braking
  • Lane departure warning
  • Traffic sign recognition
  • Rain sensor
  • Tyre pressure monitoring
  • Night detection 
  • Driver drowsiness detection
  • Hill descent control 
  • Steering angle
  • Parking assistance
  • Pedestrian detection
  • Forward collision warning
  • Intelligent speed adaptation 
  • Automatic navigation
  • Electric vehicle warning sounds
  • Surround view system

Creating a calibration station

If you want to perform calibrations in your shop, you first need the square footage. Whether you are doing static or dynamic calibrations, a dedicated space is essential and often required by most OEs as a part of their certification processes.

Static calibrations are done via targets on the shop floor to which the vehicle’s sensors can respond. Such targets are set up surrounding the vehicle, at varying distances, to test sensors’ depth perceptions and the vehicle’s response time. Dynamic calibration, on the other hand, refers to similar processes, but the vehicle is in motion throughout the test.

ADAS sensors are surprisingly finicky. Even if you find an unused space large enough to set up targets around a vehicle, there can be unexpected sources of interference that the sensors will detect – details as minute as the type of coating used on the shop floor could come into play.

ADAS sensors have also been known to uncover obstacles even less noticeable than a bit of glare. In one instance where techs were trying to calibrate the sensors on a vehicle, the car refused to move in any direction, claiming there was an obstacle obstructing its view. The technicians scratched their heads and walked around the empty space, unable to find the sensor’s cause for concern. He says it was later revealed that a metal beam in between the walls is what made the sensors hesitate, something the technicians never saw coming.

Flom, of Anderson & Koch Ford, estimates his facility required a roughly $40 000 investment, all told, to be ready for calibrations. “You don’t just purchase equipment, have it all show up, and be able to calibrate the next day,” he says. “It takes time.” But, in the end he adds, it’s money well spent.

Indoor calibration station checklist

  • Floor
  • Very level
  • Neutral-toned paint
  • At least 4 000 square feet
  • Pristinely clean 
  • Lights 
  • Adjustable LEDs
  • Variety of bulb tones 
  • Sufficient height between vehicle and bulbs
  • Minimal shadows
  •  Walls 

Walls should either be clean and white or black and you need to avoid warped walls. 

Noting calibration specifications

There’s no streamlined checklist for post-crash calibration procedures. Not only does each OEM have its own list of repairs and its own list of tools for the list of repairs, but they also vary in definition as to what sort of collision requires recalibration. For instance, in some models an unexpected tap on the back bumper will most likely be harmless. If the vehicle has limited ADAS features, chances are hitting the kerb while parking will not disrupt the vehicle’s cruise control capabilities.

But for other vehicles, both new and used, a mild bump to one of the bumpers could have extreme consequences. Checking for daily updates on repair procedures has never been more vital than it is today with vehicles’ range of self-driving capabilities.

What could be a little scratch for one vehicle could reset the automatic braking system in another. Only by checking the repair procedures on the day of the fix can techs be sure to cover all bases, handing the car back to its owner with full confidence that it’s properly repaired.

Pre-scans are essential to the calibration process, because they show which systems have been affected by bumps or more serious crashes and often you can identify new issues owners were unaware of. Experts across the industry agree that post-scans are just as important as pre-scans to ensure a vehicle is working as efficiently as it was when it first left the lot. But according to the 2020 FenderBender Industry Survey, 65% of respondents said they do not consistently perform pre- and post-repair scans. Of the shops that said they do perform ADAS services, however, 76% do pre- and post-repair scans. Regardless, though, the majority (64%) use a third-party service for scanning services.

Post-Calibration procedures

One of che few topics OEMs agree on is the importance of road tests, which should be performed after a calibration is complete to ensure vehicles are back to their original state. More often than not, OEs will specify which road test, or tests, they want to run before returning a vehicle to its owner, says Rodenroth.

Road tests for ADAS calibrations vary depending on the type of calibration that was performed and the geographical location of the shop. For dynamic testing, a long stretch of straight road with a steady speed limit and no mandatory stops is ideal. This can be difficult to find, especially when many luxury cars, laden with advanced driver-assistance systems, are located in major metro areas.

For static test drives, usually a closed course is preferred, where technicians can plan the route in order to ensure the repair was performed correctly and that the vehicle responds as it should. This is an especially costly type of calibration, considering the space needed to perform it, as well as the controlled environment for the test drive.

Achieving your preferred calibration certification

If your shop has the funds and the manpower, in-house calibrations are the most convenient option. In order to correctly and safely calibrate vehicles, technicians must first receive their certifications from the OEM. There are various ways to attain OEM certification training, from simply buying the correct equipment to completing subscription-based online modules, to even travelling across the world and having to prove yourself to the OE.

However, being equipped to handle ADAS calibrations offers shops an advantage over competitors because it means they can effectively keep all repairs in-house. It’s a major benefit. 

Hiring out for remote calibrations

There’s not a single independent shop that is able to perform calibrations across all automakers, based on the amount of time, money, and dedication that it would take. Here’s where services for remote calibration step in 64% of shops utilise third-party scanning services.

The effectiveness of remote diagnostic capabilities often depends on the skill level of a shop’s technician, he says. You’ve got updates, logins, security measures, licensing agreements, and a whole lot more across all different computer systems – it can become very difficult very fast. For a shop to be able to do it independently and be able to bill appropriately is a challenge. A unique obstacle that many shops may face, even if they are capable of doing their own calibration, is a shortage of devices.

From calibration to monetisation

One of the industry’s most heated debates right now is whether or not you can turn a profit on calibrations. 

Global repairer asTech, have yet to turn a profit from remote calibration. They need to understand the process, their systems, and how they work. Understanding the importance of calibrations should come before profiting from them.

One of the most convenient features of remote calibrations is the paper trail. Most insurers will only cover repairs that they can see in print. Keeping detailed documentation of each scan and test drive for insurers means they are much more likely to cover shops’ costs.

Your next step

A warning for smaller shops is falling behind the curve if they can’t find a way to keep up with the changing landscape. 

If you’re primarily a Toyota facility, buy the targeting equipment for Toyotas, not Tesla. Outfitting your shop to be able to perform calibrations is a lengthy and expensive process. But, at minimum, shops should be setting goals to have a space that is ADAS-ready. “ADAS-ready means the shop has the knowledge, the software and the equipment to perform calibrations,” he says.

Even if you can’t do calibrations, get the space ready. Then you can learn from the vehicles that come in, make note of what you see the most for calibration issues and OEs. Then you can determine what you want your shop to be able to address and in turn, plan for what you can feasibly afford while staying on top of the latest trend.

The ADAS shop

According to the Industry Survey only 25% of shop owners said they are equipped to perform ADAS calibrations. Who are these shop owners and what do they have in common? 

  • Demographically, they are likely either an independent shop or a dealer with a large business: facility of 20 000 square feet or more, at least 11 employees, generate at least $5 million in annual revenue.
  • They tend to perform better, be it a touch time of 4-5 hours, average tech efficiency of 160% or higher, and average tech productivity of 110% or higher. 
  • They likely have at least one OEM certification and regularly attend OEM-specific training, for which they pay employees to attend. They also overwhelmingly attend industry-specific technical training on a regular basis. 

 The insurance negotiation 

It goes without saying that, whether you like it or not, negotiating with insurers is a component of the scanning and calibration process. Luckily, according to data from Collision Advice’s “Who Pays for What?” survey of nearly 1 000 shops, the majority of shops are having success in that department:  

  • Of those that negotiate for pre- and post-repair scans, 84% and 88%, respectively, are paid always or most of the time 
  • Of those that negotiate for seat calibration, 79% are paid always or most of the time. 
  • Of those that negotiate for calibration of systems, 87% are paid always or most of the time. 

One area where the industry could improve? Identifying needed calibrations on the front end. From that same data, less than 40% of calibration entries were included in the original estimate of record, and of those calibration with fees of more than one thousand Dollars, only 9% were included on the original estimate.