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The Need for Calibrations

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The recent influx of position statements from the OEs have brought a lot of attention to pre- and post-repair scanning. Often times, post-repair calibrations are lumped into that discussion. However, according to Jason Bartanen of I-CAR, it’s very important that the industry recognizes the importance of calibrations separately.

Bartanen is leading I-CAR’s Repairability Technical Support (RTS) initiative as the company’s director of industry technical relations. Part of Bartanen’s initiative is bringing awareness to the collision repair industry of the importance of pre- and post-repair scanning and repair calibrations and their individual definitions. Bartanen shares that during NACE, I-CAR gathered a group of subject matter experts to define these important terms so people would no longer use the terms interchangeably. After some back and forth, the final definitions became available in the beginning of October ((

Why are calibrations so important?
Think about it this way: hunting is a popular sport in the Midwest. When you buy a new scope and mount it to your rifle, you’ll be able to see out of the scope just fine—but it won’t shoot anywhere you intended it to go unless you calibrate it. That’s the same thing with certain sensors in the car. A camera in the vehicle might be able to see, but if it’s aimed in the wrong direction, it could totally throw off your parallel park assist. Vehicles that have that feature don’t know what 12 inches is until they’ve been given the dimension—it might parallel park itself into another car. It’s the same thing for vehicles with functions like adaptive cruise and lane keep assist. If you don’t tell the vehicle what X,Y, Z is, it can’t be expected to perform. That’s why we need to calibrate.

What are some common misconceptions about calibrations?
A common misconception is if there’s no malfunction indicator lamp, the vehicle must be fine. Some systems won’t set DTC codes. The camera thinks it can see because it’s plugged in, but that might not be the case.

It seems like there are still shops that are not performing calibrations. In your opinion, why do you think certain shops are not doing them?
Right now, I think we’re in our infancy when it comes to the conversation about scanning and diagnostics. Years ago, people weren’t getting MIG/MAG welders because they weren’t familiar. Now, it’s no longer cutting edge to have one—it’s the norm. Same thing with spot welders. It’s a timing issue. It’s all about the vehicles that are being worked on. Five years from now, scan tools will be an important part of the industry.

I keep hearing comments about the investment. The time is now to start getting into it and learning more about it. We need to make sure that the vehicle we are handing back to the customer is repaired properly and performs the same way as it did before. We need to make sure all of the systems are performing properly.

Speaking of the investment, what tools should a shop invest in for recalibration without breaking the bank?
From a shop owner standpoint, I would suggest taking a look at the vehicles that are worked on in his or her shop. Are they working on a large percentage of Honda, GM, and Ford with an occasional Nissan and BMW? Or, is it the reverse? Take a look at the make, model and year of the cars that are being worked on. Pull repair orders. Let’s say your shop is working on 25 percent Honda, 30 percent Nissan and 40 percent Ford. If that’s the case, I may want to buy a Ford scan tool and Ford aiming systems. If I’m only doing a handful of Ford, I wouldn’t make that same investment. Shop owners that are nervous about the investment might want to consider sending work to a nearby dealer. Think about who is available in your area that may be able to help you. There’s a million different ways that shops can do this.

Are there any trends you see coming down the road as a result of calibrations?
In the future, I think it’s going to be important for shops to hire a collision repair diagnostic technician. That doesn’t necessarily mean a student with a mechanical degree. It’s going to be a position that focuses specifically on calibrations and clearing codes. I think technical schools are going to need to start developing a curriculum around that role.

What is I-CAR doing to spread awareness about calibrations?
Right now, I-CAR is working to develop post-repair calibration search functions. The hope is to launch the first version at SEMA.

Shop owners will be able to go to I-CAR’s website and put in the make, model, and year for 2016 and up. The site will then let users know if the vehicle has optional features available that may need to calibrated. From there, the site will point out what the sensors and the cameras look like so shops will know what to look for on certain vehicles. After that, the parameters that necessitate calibrations will be made available. The site will also let shop owners know if a certain calibration will turn on malfunctions or if there will be a diagnostic trouble code. In addition, I-CAR is working to provide information to shop owners about what special equipment or tools are needed for calibrations.

I-CAR is also working on its I-CAR 360 series on advanced safety features of the Honda Civic. We’re developing two courses, one for scan tools and one that deals with aiming systems of cameras on windshields. As far as positioning, it’s a whole mathematical equation to figure out where to position targets. In the future, I’m sure down the road we’ll film additional tools.

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