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All-makes ADAS tools help shops keep up with increased technology

March 22, 2023
While advanced driver assistance systems have added to safety on the road, they've also added complications to even the most basic of repairs if technicians don't remember to address them.

The amount of safety equipment on vehicles continues to increase, and even minor repairs or routine maintenance can alter the accuracy of advanced driver assistance systems. That creates new opportunities and challenges for shops and technicians, and all-makes ADAS tools make it easier for technicians to quickly and effectively calibrate ADAS.

"ADAS is not a subject you can really evade because just to perform simple routine tasks, whether you know it or not, you're impacting those ADAS components," said Ben Johnson, director, product management, Mitchell 1.

Many OEMs have strengthened their position statements to require a higher number of calibrations for their vehicles, regardless of where the vehicle damage is, said Jordan Krebs, product manager, John Bean, Snap-on. “Some shops have been reluctant to engage in the practice of ADAS calibrations, convinced that calibration is unnecessary with no fault codes or without the component having been disconnected,” he said. “That theory, however, is far from factual.”

Adam Corron, ADAS key account sales manager for Launch Tech, said it is crucial to create awareness around ADAS. “This technology is designed to make people safer on the roads. When you get new tires, an alignment or a new windshield, you depend on this technology to work like it did before you had your vehicle repaired,” he said. “If it isn't calibrated correctly, it doesn't work as it should."

Read more: How to develop a diagnostic mindset

Daniel Mustafa, director of technical service for TravelCenters of America, said ADAS calibration is needed if a vehicle is involved in any collision, a windshield is replaced, or the bumper has to be removed for a repair. "None of those include normal everyday repairs on those systems," he said. 

With ADAS, even being a few degrees off on a calibration can cause the check engine light to come on or the system to malfunction. “You're not going to know it's not functioning properly until it needs to function properly,” Johnson said, adding that shops aren’t intentionally not doing the job. “They just don't understand that that thing they moved out of the way was critical to the operation of ADAS and those safety features.”

Failing to calibrate correctly could mean a driver hits something or experiences emergency braking for no reason.

In the last five years, there has been about a 40% increase in passenger vehicles and light trucks equipped with ADAS, and the number of vehicles registered with ADAS is expected to double in the next three to five years, Corron said.

What's more, a heavy-duty element is coming fast with more and more semi-trucks having lane departure, automatic braking systems, and other ADAS features, said Stewart Peregrine, senior executive of sales, ADAS, for Autel.

The Unpacking the Commercial Vehicle Diagnostic Market 2023 report from Noregon reported that model year 2022 trucks, buses, trailers, and other commercial vehicles feature more distributed electronics than nearly any truck ever made.

Finding the right tool

Most ADAS calibrations require a scan tool. “Fleet shops, dealers and independent shops are all looking for full coverage and how quickly they'll get new software,” Corron said.

Most OE manufacturers require their dealers to use one or two mandated scan tools, but for the aftermarket, many options mirror OE tool functions. "For an aftermarket shop, an aftermarket tool is probably the best option as it will have the widest coverage," said Pete Liebetreu, vice president of marketing for Hunter.

Shops should look for ADAS tools that address all ADAS components, such as rear-mounted blind spot monitoring, rear collision warning, front camera, lidar and night vision, and ultrasound sensors on the front and rear of the vehicle.  

Making a selection is more involved than coverage alone, Krebs said. “Shops must research before investing in ADAS equipment to ensure that the system they purchase does not alter OEM specifications or the target size and design,” he said.

Liebetreu said shops’ commitment to ADAS work can be scaled, but at the very minimum, they need a scan tool to communicate with the vehicle and initiate reset procedures. “Hunter’s ADASLink fits that bill and works hand in glove with our alignment systems for other resets as well,” he said.

Read more: Tool Review: Hunter Engineering ADASLink

A vehicle’s alignment can be crucial to proper calibration. “Autel’s IA900 incorporates diagnostics first and incorporates the alignment into the process with 3-D processes and cameras for the wheels," Peregrine said. "We have developed a way to find the center, capture the alignment, and set up a frame in under two minutes."

The biggest challenge is finding a brand that supports all makes and models in a specified region. “There are tools that will cover a lot of vehicles, but not all makes and models,” Corron said, adding that systems need to be sophisticated enough to run a full-system diagnostics scan so technicians can see everything going on with the vehicle to determine if there is something wrong that will cause a calibration to fail or an inaccurate or less precise calibration.  

However, for Mustafa, the number one requirement is that tools are user-friendly. "It is an exceptionally competitive space. Those aftermarket tools are fighting for a number one position," he said. "I look more for features that level the playing field for a new technician versus a highly skilled technician."

Mustafa uses Noregon’s JPRO, which he said offers graphic displays of several different systems. "We're always trying to find a way to take a technician with six months or a year of experience and help him perform like a team member with ten years of experience," Mustafa said. “With a tool, if I’m not familiar with the system, I can arrive at a more accurate decision with more knowledge.”

Mustafa said he has turned down tools with greater functionality because they aren't user-friendly. "At the end of the day, our goal is to get the truck repaired and back on the road as fast as possible and as cost-effective as possible with no return issues," he said. 

Johnson said that tools differentiate themselves with the level of instruction they give to ensure the vehicle is in the right condition and that the targets are set up correctly.

Insurance companies often require a pre-scan report that shows anything that could be wrong before calibration and a calibration report to show it was a success. “Even if you aren't dealing with an insurance company, this is information the customer should have access to so they can be confident the shop did it right,” Corron said.

Ongoing support and training are also essential. “There are tools out there that you can buy on the internet,” Liebetreu said. “Who will be your local support to train, upgrade, repair and support your equipment once you buy it?”

Liebetreu added that the quality of the tools varies widely, but that shops can compare features to price to make their own value decision. “But no product is a good value if it sits in a corner because you don’t know how to use it or can’t fix it,” he said.

Autel has trainers in the field who know how to complete calibrations, so they can offer first-hand guidance. “You can’t substitute that real world [assistance],” Peregrine said.

Even with having the right equipment and aftermarket tools, there may be cases where a technician needs to have OEM software. “If there is damage to radar systems or cameras and the components have to be replaced, most have to be programmed before they can be calibrated,” Corron said.

Staying current

Change is the only constant in the ADAS market, Krebs said. “Evolving technology and more advanced features on new vehicles will pressure the market to continue developing equipment technology to match the vehicles being serviced,” he explained.

Because there are such rapid changes in technology, it is essential to ensure producers are making tools that can keep up. "Look for tools that are top of the line that will support the latest technology and adapt as technology changes," Corron said.

Tool providers must be ahead of what is happening or work in conjunction with the OEMs. Peregrine said Autel makes multiple updates weekly. “Over a year, there may be 30 GM updates or 12 Toyota updates. It is changing faster now than it ever has, and I don't see that trend changing,” he said.

Making space

In addition to having tools, shops have to have the right amount of space needed to calibrate systems. Parameters are set by OEMs, and a good percentage of shops are performing alignments in the alignment bay; but there could be obstacles in the way, such as a lift, that may interfere with the space needed. "We can get around them, but that is something to consider when purchasing," Peregrine said.

Krebs said 30’ by 45’ is strongly recommended, with 40’ by 60’ preferred for optimal floor capacity. “Only after an OEM changes a procedure requiring less space should shops adjust their calibration area appropriately," Krebs said.

If shops don’t have the space, customers will find a shop that does, so having calibration capabilities can become a competitive advantage. Johnson said he is increasingly seeing hub-and-spoke relationships where shops outsource calibrations and bring their vehicles to a competitor’s shop before they put them back on the road.

Collision shops have a much greater need for calibrations. “You almost can't have an accident, no matter how minor it is, without wanting to make sure that those sensors aren't getting knocked out a little bit,” Johnson said.

Peregrine recommends general repair shops reach out to collision centers and make arrangements to do their calibrations, which can get them a faster ROI on their tooling investments.

Maximizing technicians’ time

ADAS tools not only allow shops to do ADAS work but also make technicians more efficient. Increased productivity has always been one of the most compelling factors for shops purchasing tools and equipment, and a streamlined process is more critical than ever as the technician shortage worsens, Krebs said.

Effective tools also help shops attract technicians. "As a shop, you had best invest in modern equipment and tools. You are competing for technicians, and the tools they use make a very big impact on the day-to-day satisfaction of a technician," Liebetreu said.

Because technicians are mostly paid at a flat rate, time is money. "We actually created an ADAS quick link in our truck series information system," Johnson said, explaining that once technicians click the ADAS button, they'll receive information about what the truck is equipped with and outline conditions that might require calibration. "Our hope is that, regardless of whether they're doing the calibration themselves or whether they're getting it done, they at least understand that something's got to be done before they release the vehicle." 

About the Author

Mindy Long

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