Shops that invest to prepare for ADAS will reap the rewards

March 4, 2019
At this point, you’re hopefully seeing this as a huge opportunity for shops! These features, which are loved so much by the driving public, are going to carry additional cost to properly maintain the vehicle. 

Advanced-driver assistance systems (ADAS) — if you haven’t heard of this term yet, you will! 

ADAS is an industry-invented category that includes all those things that help keep vehicles safe on the nation’s highways. Blind-spot monitoring, pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and emergency braking are just a few features that fit into this category. 

While the category may be new, the features it represents are not. Forward collision warning systems were appearing as early as 2001 as options in high-end models. By 2008, which is considered to be the older end of the “aftermarket sweet spot,” ADAS-related features were found on some mainstream as well as luxury models from 18 manufacturers. 

You may be asking yourself, “So what? What does ADAS mean to me?” And that’s a very good question.  Whether you’re an early adopter who is ready to jump into the ADAS repair world or whether you’re more passive and taking a wait-and-see posture, you’re going to be affected. 

First, here’s a little more detail about ADAS and how it all works. Depending on the feature set available on a specific vehicle, an elaborate ecosystem of cameras, radars, laser assisted radar (LIDAR) and ultrasonic sensors (similar to SONAR) feeds information into on-board computers. These powerful computers interpret all that information and — using some artificial intelligence wizardry — enable features that fit into the ADAS category.

The array of sensors, cameras and radar/LIDAR componentry that supports each feature can vary. Most of the time, for example, adaptive cruise control will be supported by a forward-facing camera, as well as a radar or LIDAR system, and information from legacy inputs, such as vehicle speed. The information from these inputs is fed into an on-board computer that uses them to deliver the driver’s desired speed, while watching for vehicles in front that might require a speed adjustment (up to and including an emergency braking countermeasure).

Many vehicles rely on both the radar and camera to ensure safe operation. In discussions with one vehicle manufacturer, they explained that their forward-looking radar was very capable of identifying an object in front of the vehicle, but it was not so good at identifying what the object was. They explained, “It could be a manhole cover, or it could be a small child.” So in their model, the radar detected an object, then the forward-looking camera was responsible for validating the object was there, as well as identifying what the object actually was (and if it is safe to drive over it).   

For these systems to function as intended, many of the sensors must be kept in calibration.  We’re used to that if the throttle position voltage is out of whack, and the powertrain controller believes the accelerator is partially down. The challenge with ADAS is these sensors are all too easy to get out of calibration, and a technician may unknowingly cause that to happen.   

At this point, you’re hopefully seeing this as a huge opportunity for shops! These features, which are loved so much by the driving public, are going to carry additional cost to properly maintain the vehicle, but before you put that into your 2019 business forecast, make sure you are prepared.

First, there’s an investment required to get into the game. Many of the calibration procedures require specific targeting systems. Several companies now market such kits, with good vehicle coverage, so that’s a solvable problem, but as with any other shop investment, you should evaluate the opportunity to gauge the right time to purchase. Ask yourself how many vehicles you’re seeing regularly that likely have ADAS features on them and if you can market the service to grow the business, etc.

The other, perhaps larger, issue to overcome is the problem of space. The average space required for proper calibrations is about 32" long by about 45" depth. That means empty space.

You can’t have posts of lifts or other objects in that space, as during a calibration the components being calibrated could “lock on” to the wrong object, throwing off the calibration. Some vehicles with 360 degree camera systems require much larger spaces., and the calibrations typically can’t be done outside, as the sunlight can adversely affect the calibration.

Even many new car dealerships are struggling to meet the space requirements. If you have the space in your shop, you can rest assured some of your competitors won’t, which puts you in an enviable position to drive new revenue for your shop. “Hub and spoke” relationships are already blossoming from these needs. In these relationships, shops willing to invest the money and space to support ADAS recalibrations provide those services to nearby shops that may not have the resources or space available to do them. Collision shops are another immediate potential customer, as many of them sub-let these services and are eagerly looking for providers to perform these calibrations.    

For those shops that can’t — or don’t want to — get into the ADAS calibration business, don’t stop reading! You’re still impacted. As mentioned earlier, many of those sensors, cameras and radar/lidar components need to be kept in calibration, and many of them are (or are nearly) in plain sight and get in the way of non-ADAS repairs. 

Let’s say you have a 2017 Cadillac in the shop. A rock has hit the A/C condenser, and the refrigerant has leaked out. Since it’s not a defect, it’s not covered by warranty, so it’s in your bay. You have the right parts in hand, and you’re performing the R&I procedures. Referring to the manufacturer’s service information, you follow the proper steps to get at it, and then there it is:  Step #7: “Remove the forward range radar module, if equipped.”

It looks pretty straightforward. The R&I actually is pretty easy, especially in the context of the rest of the job on this particular car but take a close look at the detailed instructions, and the fun comes during the reassembly. The last step states, “For programming and set up, refer to Control Module References.” And there are the steps to perform the recalibration when needed. You get lucky with this one since no special targets or fixtures are needed. The calibration is “dynamic,” meaning it will self-learn if the calibration procedure is carried out correctly. It is kicked off using a scan tool, but then reality hits. Per the manufacturer instructions:

“Drive the vehicle within the following conditions for 10-30 minutes or until calibration is complete. The ‘Service Driver Assist’ message will turn off when calibration is complete.

  • Drive at speeds greater than 56 kph (35 mph)
  • Minimize tight curves
  • Avoid extreme acceleration or deceleration
  • Follow one or multiple vehicles (Typical vehicle traffic is sufficient, but vehicles 30m – 50m (100 – 165 feet) away are most effective at decreasing the calibration time)
  • Drive in an environment that has stationary objects on the side of the road (street signs, guard rails, mail boxes, fences, etc.)

Verify proper calibration by observing that the “Service Driver Assist” message turns off within 10-30 minutes of normal driving.”

While the conditions outlined likely work well in much of the country, I can think of many places where it’s going to be very difficult meeting those requirements. Have you ever tried to stay above 35 mph in Los Angeles or DC — or a number of other high-density areas in the U.S.?  And, what shop has someone they can dedicate to 10-30 minutes per car to carry out the required “calibration drive?”

And this is just one example of many different scenarios possible. However, ignoring the calibration step is not an option. Consequences could be disastrous — to the occupants of the vehicle, vehicles around it and ultimately to the shop that performed the last service which could have compromised the system. 

So what to do? One of the major issues in all of this is to understand what you’re up against before you take on the job. Because these features and components are not standardized, they can be called any number of things — and the calibration requirements can require a bit of research to uncover.

At Mitchell 1, we’ve done at least part of this work for you. There is a new “Driver Assist ADAS” button in the ProDemand repair information software. Selecting it will present a table listing the different components and features that may be installed on the vehicle in your bay. It also indicates if and when those components might need calibration, and links to information about how to perform the calibration if one is needed. In addition, diagnostic, R&I procedures, wiring diagrams etc. are all available. While it doesn’t solve all the challenges, it educates technicians before they get into the job, which is important. 

As for the business of calibration, it will be up to every shop to decide if they can and want to take this work on themselves, or seek out a shop that can do it for them. Either way, ADAS appears to be here to stay!

About the Author

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is Director of Product Management at Mitchell 1 and is responsible for managing Mitchell 1’s portfolio of products for the motor vehicle industry. Johnson joined Mitchell 1 in March 2012. He currently serves on the Auto Care Association’s Tool & Equipment and Emerging Technologies committees, the multi-association Telematics Task Force, and the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) Telematics Working Group. He is a frequent presenter at industry events on the topic of ADAS and emerging automotive technologies.

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