Planning for calibration and road test requirements

Jan. 2, 2018
There are three systems you will most commonly encounter: blind spot monitoring, lane watch and frontal collision avoidance (also used for dynamic cruise control). Each system for every vehicle model has specific dynamic or static calibrations.

In the early 1800s, engineers and entrepreneurs worked to construct the first horseless carriage. In 1885, Carl Benz was the first to produce and patent a gasoline-powered automobile. Thirty years later the one-millionth Model T rolled off of Henry Ford’s production line. In 1959, Volvo introduced the modern three-point safety harness; and in 1968 it became a requirement by the US Department of Transportation. Airbag development began in the '60s and were fit to some GM vehicles as early as 1974. Mercedes-Benz pioneered the modern airbag with their release in 1981. Legislation for all new vehicles to have airbags, for both front seats, occurred in 1998.

Safety technology hasn’t been the only development since 1885. Before the year 2000, the throttle cable was replaced by servos and wires and with the advent of hybrid cars came the need for brake-by-wire technology. Between 2000 and 2005, more technology was introduced; Toyota took brake-by-wire a step further with radar cruise control; Volvo pioneered blind-spot monitoring; and Honda introduced Lane Keeping Assist. In 2009, Google got into the autonomous car game and in 2011 Nevada was the first state to license an autonomous vehicle. Tesla had a car with level 3 autonomous capability in 2015, the same year Google gave the first driverless car ride. This year Google is giving free autonomous car rides in the Phoenix area and Congress passed the first — of what is expected to be many — laws around autonomous vehicles with the “Self-Drive Act.”

It is said that electronic technology doubles every 18 months. Looking at the progression of ideas to reality, it becomes apparent automobile technology is no different. Any idea to make our lives easier or safer ultimately becomes reality. Another component to the evolution of the automobile is that any time those advancements are proven to be safer they become law. In 2016, the first causality occurred in a vehicle driving itself in a Tesla Model S. At that point Tesla stated, “The first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated.” Compare that to the average fatality rate of 1.25 deaths per 100 million miles of a regular vehicle driving, according to the NHTSA. Autopilot is therefore 25 percent safer and is continuously and rapidly evolving. Google has stated that their vehicles have driven 3 million miles and have only reported one crash where they were at fault. The autonomous vehicle is coming and when lawmakers decide it is safer, it will come even faster. Do not be surprised when autonomous vehicle technology is a requirement.

The technology required for autonomous driving is here today and components are equipped to more cars than you may think. This technology takes precision for all vehicle systems to work flawlessly together. Cameras and sensors must read conditions with pinpoint accuracy in milliseconds. Throttle body servos slow the engine speed, hydraulic systems apply the brakes, electric motors adjust the steering wheel all simultaneously as the three or more cameras signal the reason for action. All these systems must work together exactly as designed, a task difficult under perfect undisrupted conditions made even more challenging after an accident. How can body shops ensure that this technology works after a collision? How can body shops prepare for the inevitable responsibility imposed by legislation to ensure these safety items work as designed?

This technology takes huge investment in training, equipment and shop space, more so than any other new technology has ever required. Training from I-CAR with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) includes 8 specific courses since 2015 representing nearly 25 percent of all new classes, with the majority of the other 75 percent mentioning ADAS but not specifically being an ADAS class. The body industry has never experienced a larger need for investment in equipment and training. Pre- and post-repair scanning is the first small step to ensuring proper repair of any ADAS, but there is so much more.

Becoming familiar with items like dynamic calibration, static calibration and the correct way to road test is imperative. In short, dynamic calibration is done when the vehicle is being operated under strict conditions. A static calibration is done inside a controlled environment usually with exactly positioned targets. Road tests are another new hurdle — gone are the days of grabbing the keys, getting to freeway speed and checking for an air leak and a level steering wheel, and then five minutes later parking the car and having it ready for customer pick-up. Take the Ford F-150 for example, the No. 1 sold vehicle in America in 2016. When an F-150, or any other Ford vehicle, repair procedure requires a drive cycle, it is a minimum 30-minute task. It consists of driving the vehicle between 48-65 mph for at least 10 minutes; driving in stop-and-go traffic, including five cruising speeds ranging from 25-45 mph over a 10-minute span; accelerating from a stop to 45 mph 8-10 times; accelerating to 65 mph then coasting to 45 mph; and finally accelerating to 45 mph, then to 65 mph, then decelerating to 45 mph while holding throttle steady for 5 seconds in between. Calibrating these systems make delivering this complicated road test seem ever so simple.

There are three systems you will most commonly encounter: blind spot monitoring, lane watch and frontal collision avoidance (also used for dynamic cruise control). Each system for every vehicle model has specific dynamic or static calibrations. The Ford F-150 lane watch system has to be calibrated with a scan tool and a drive cycle and is arguably the easiest to calibrate and ensure it is working correctly. This, however does not take into consideration the calibration of some nine odd cameras some F-150 models boast. Most other manufactures utilize a static calibration with the vehicle stationary in a shop stall. A vast majority of these vehicles require substantial space. Therefore, a two-car extra deep stall with the car parked in the center may be required. Utilizing a plumb bob, you will establish the vehicle centerline, typically centering off of the vehicle's front and rear emblems. This requires verification of exact emblem installation; from there multiple exact measurements are made and targets placed. Once the stall is properly set up, nothing can disrupt the calibration — no one can walk through the sight range of the sensor; therefore, it is a good practice to rope off the stall.  After the stall is secured, targets aligned, the system can be placed into learn mode; this is done either through the on-board computer or through a scan tool. When the sensors read the targets and learn their new set points they are “calibrated” and now must be verified.

After repairs are complete and all calibration is finished, you must ensure that all systems are functioning correctly. Most manufacturers have not published proper testing procedures for their ADAS components. How do you know when you have completed calibration correctly? Think about performing an alignment. When an alignment is finished, the first step is always to drive the car and ensure it drives straight and the wheel is perfectly flat. If it is off at all you drive it back on the rack and perform another alignment. It is a very easy check and balance. Now we are being asked to setup targets to exact measurements in isolated controlled areas. We are hoping for a near-perfect storm and when everything is completed, there are no magical dings, no flashing signs of job well done, and no check and balance.

Even though there are no exact testing procedures, we cannot simply perform the calibration and park the car marked ready for the customer. All of these systems cost money to engineer, produce and equip and those costs are added to the vehicle sales price. With an increased sale price there is always a sales pitch for them. If a car is going to sell for more money than it must be worth more to the consumer. The manufacturers promote those systems and also produce documentation on how they work. Reading the manual, going online and reading the car's promotional material, or calling the customer to inquire how their systems work are all options. Once we know how the systems are supposed to work, extensive drive must be performed to ensure they work as intended.

Subletting these requirements to the dealer may seem like an easy out. Unfortunately, most dealerships are struggling just as much or more than the collision repair industry. New equipment and training catches even the best dealerships without. Recently a current model domestic vehicle spent a month's time at our local dealership as the new systems were trying to be accurately fixed. Sadly, after all of the delay the customer’s vehicle had to be brought back in when an MIL came on a week after delivery.  Ronald Regan once said “Trust, but verify,” a perfect example of the need to perform complete  and thorough road tests to ensure that all work is performed correctly, no matter if that works was performed in-house or not!

What is the right answer? First, using every tool available is a must. RTS I-CAR is a great place to start for current model year vehicles. If available, this will inform you on what systems may be encountered and if those systems require any calibration due to work being performed. Ultimately nothing replaces OEM repair procedures; whether you are removing and installing a bumper cover or replacing a frame rail, extra calibration may be required. Researching each step of the repair and finding the OEM repair procedures is the only way to ensure that the repair will meet OEM guidelines. During the estimate process, the requirements needed for calibration should be accounted for, such as: clear and defined space, required tools and proper training. Always identify these needs at the time of the estimate. If you do not have the space, equipment or training for these procedures, this must be identified at the time of the estimate.

Image courtesy of asTech

Purchasing equipment or scheduling sublet repairs as early as possible will result in the best cycle time. Anytime sublet repairs take place the customer needs to be aware that their vehicle is outside of your control. This may mean days, weeks, even months of delay. You lose all control when any car leaves your facility. Keep in mind when you sublet repairs you still assume responsibility for any work performed. This means you need to take all steps possible to ensure that those repairs were completed correctly.

The collision repair industry is changing. No longer are we just vehicle repair specialists. We are now electrical repair specialists requiring knowledge in a vast array of ever evolving fields. Technicians must have working knowledge in computer programing, electrical engineering and must be capable of the tedious and strenuous research to accomplish a safe and correct repair. Technology is ever changing and as new safety components become standard, the collision industry is being forced to make an extreme investment.

About the Author

Sean Guthrie

Sean Guthrie is the Director of Operations for Car Crafters Collision Centers in Albuquerque, NM. Sean oversees the seven locations handling their DRP and OEM relationships. He is I-CAR platinum, ASE certified, multiple OEM-trained and sits on two advisory boards.

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