The ADAS Threat
In recent columns, we’ve explored some of the predictions that are swirling around the collision repair industry. You can go back and look at the previous columns to see my opinion of these predictions but, suffice to say, I don’t think these predictions are going to have short-term negative effects on our industry.
Another prediction I’ve heard often recently is that the proliferation of advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS) will drastically reduce the number of collisions each year to the point that nearly all body shops are going to shut their doors. The predictions revolving around ADAS cause me concern but not for the reasons you might think.
Current ADAS technology can detect objects, do simple classification of objects, alert drivers to road hazards or out of norm directional issues, as well as slow or stop a vehicle. All of this is great for applications like lane-keep assist, blind spot monitoring, advanced cruise control, parallel parking a vehicle hands free of driver control, and forward collision warning. Engineers and software designers at companies like Bosch and Nvidia are making wonderful progress on even more ADAS capabilities, such as discerning pedestrians in crosswalks; road sign and speed limit sign detection systems that automatically reduce vehicle speed; systems that know the difference between a parked car and one that is about to pull into traffic, etc.
All of this is very cool, but I think we are many years away from this technology becoming prevalent enough to eliminate accidents and, thus, the collision repair business. However, I do believe that we may see the rapid disappearance of a significant number of members of the collision repair industry because they are not informed well enough nor equipped to properly repair vehicles that have even the most rudimentary ADAS features. I am concerned that some of these shops will disappear because they are sued out of existence for substandard and/or incomplete repairs related to ADAS. I’m also concerned that the failure to properly address ADAS resets and calibrations is going to cause accidents and injure customers. I’m worried that there is a sort of “head-in-the-sand” mentality on this topic shared by both the collision repair industry and the insurance company community. Let me share some of the reasons for my concerns.
Back in December 2013, I organized a mini symposium for insurance claims adjusters and supervisors on the topic of ADAS. My hope was that, by explaining what some of these systems were and how crazy expensive they were to replace and calibrate, we could reduce the friction that my team experienced every time we addressed ADAS on our repair estimates. I thought that a little education would go a long way toward inspiring my colleagues on the insurance side to prepare for the increased labor and parts costs they would be encountering on future repairs.
I guess I should have known better but, being the eternal optimistic-realist, I was still dismayed at the reactions I received from the symposium. For one, I thought my presentation was fantastic, but, obviously, my teaching skills were terrible because nobody in the audience “got it” based on their questions. They asked, “Can you tell me again why you have to calibrate the steering angle sensor in addition to doing a four-wheel alignment?” And this was after I showed video from the IIHS of an SUV with electronic vehicle stability control recovering from an oversteer condition when the SAS was properly calibrated, and video of the same vehicle rolling over during an oversteer event when the SAS was not reset after an alignment. Then, some of them asked, “Why is it that you’re the only one that is charging for these operations?” That is what really got me concerned. I mean I’ve been told many times, “Steve, you’re the only one” but, this time, I decided to do a little research about this necessary, rudimentary and basic operation of steering angle resets.
So, since a lot of body shops sublet their alignments, I decided to call around to various independent alignment shops to ask them about resets. After calling a dozen alignment shops, I was dismayed to find out that only one shop knew of the need to calibrate the SAS on vehicles built since 2012.
A few days after I did this informal survey, I was at one of our shops and I encountered an insurance appraiser that attended my mini-symposium. He was inspecting a Honda vehicle that needed a four-wheel alignment as part of the repairs and we were asking to be paid for the steering angle sensor reset operation. This appraiser told me that he had called the local Honda service department to inquire about SAS resets and was told there were no procedures from Honda. Wow, what a blow to my credibility. I was in possession of service documents from Honda that stipulate the need to recalibrate the SAS, yet the local dealer was contradicting what I knew to be correct.
Fast forward to 2019. Still, to this day, I am daunted by the ignorance in our industry of ADAS and the relevant procedures required when working on and around these systems. This is what I meant when I said that the reduction of accidents due to ADAS won’t be the death of the industry, but the existence of ADAS and the industry’s inability or unwillingness to deal with ADAS is going to be the tipping point for the demise of many shops near term.