The importance of following OEM repair procedures, documenting ADAS calibrations

Sept. 24, 2020
Simply put, if an ADAS feature isn't properly calibrated, it won't work. ADAS technology exists to help keep drivers safe, and these systems need a real-world reference point to know what to consider a "threat" and what to ignore.

Today, only about 20% to 25% of vehicles on the road have advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). However, by September 2021, most new U.S. vehicles rolling off of the assembly lines will be equipped with, at minimum, automatic emergency braking features, if not other ADAS features. 

With the growing number of ADAS-equipped vehicles on the road, shops need to understand a few things when it comes to ADAS repairs. This includes what the basics of ADAS are, why vehicles need ADAS calibration, when they need calibration, which tools should be used and what data needs to be captured during the calibration and repair process. 

As new driver-assistance systems like pedestrian monitors, hands-free parking and emergency braking become standard in new vehicles, more ADAS calibrations will be required to repair them properly. 

Why do ADAS features need calibration? 

Simply put, if an ADAS feature isn’t properly calibrated, it won’t work. ADAS technology exists to help keep drivers safe, and these systems need a real-world reference point to know what to consider a “threat” and what to ignore. When a vehicle comes off the line, a calibration is done to ensure that if something comes in the path of the driver, the emergency braking systems work, or if a driver starts to drift into oncoming traffic, it alerts and repositions the driver back to the path of safety. 

If ADAS technology is not calibrated properly, small errors, even being off just a millimeter, could create a major safety risk down the road.  

When is ADAS calibration needed? 

When a vehicle comes into the shop, one of the first steps is to assess the damage and the work that will need to be done to repair the vehicle back to OEM specifications. With ADAS sensors, unless the technician is looking at a warning light on the dash, damage can’t really be seen with the naked eye. However, determining when an ADAS repair is necessary isn’t as complex as one might think. 
ADAS calibrations should be completed any time a vehicle’s sensors are disrupted. For example: 

  • If a windshield is cracked, the heads-up display and rain sensors need to be recalibrated. 
  • If a vehicle is sideswiped, the mirrors and lane departure warnings need to be recalibrated. 
  • If a vehicle is in a fender bender, the bumper sensors need to be recalibrated.  
  • If a wheel alignment is done, a new tire size or moving a camera during the repair can trigger the need for a calibration. 
  • If the vehicle has sustained structural damage and has been repaired, calibration is needed.  

If the sensors aren’t functioning at their factory settings or there’s a chance they won’t, then they can’t reliably keep the driver safe. ADAS calibration will almost never be an unnecessary repair. If there’s any kind of diagnostic trouble code (DTC) in the car’s computer memory, it’s always better to calibrate to ensure the vehicle is safe to operate. 

The scan tool analyzes the vehicle and tells the technician if there are any major faults and which ADAS features are present

Why use OEM tools for recalibration? 

OEM procedures and requirements are nothing new to the collision repair industry. Technicians need precise OEM specifications in order to repair the vehicle back to factory standards. With emergency braking systems, lane departure warnings and the many other ADAS features on today’s vehicles, the collision repair industry is up against a more complex and ever-changing repair environment. 
Every time a structural repair is completed, the sensors in the advanced driver-assistance systems need to be recalibrated. In order to perform the most accurate calibration and keep drivers safe, shops need three things: 

  • The latest OEM repair procedures for the exact make and model being worked on. 
  • A clear, reliable process that can be followed again and again without mistake. 
  • An ADAS calibration tool to repair the sensors. 

The best way to do this is using OEM calibration tools. Why? Because OEM calibration tools have the most up-to-date repair procedures, are more reliable and help reduce the risk of liability. Currently, no OEM has approved aftermarket tools for calibration.  

By using OEM tools and procedures, the technician performing the repair will have the most up-to-date OEM standards for ADAS calibrations right there in the system database. Other aftermarket calibration systems hold shops responsible for updating OEM standards and repair procedures as they receive them from the OEM, or they use tools that have old data and must reverse engineer the repair process.  

Another common disadvantage of other calibration systems is not having a clear and repeatable process for techs to follow. Other systems simply provide the repair data and leave technicians to interpret it into a process of their own. Even for a skilled professional, that room for error isn’t very efficient or accurate. Having a repeatable repair process can help further reduce the chance for errors.  

Why does documentation matter?

When recalibrating a vehicle, OEMs may require a dynamic calibration (drive around), static calibration (using targets) or even a combination of the two. Because the repairing shop may be liable should something go wrong after the vehicle has been repaired, it’s important for shops to keep detailed records of what repairs were performed and how the repair was done. Items do not need to be stored in a single location, just easily retrievable. 

Dan Risley, Vice President of Quality Repair and Market Development for the CCC, recommended shops record and document the 5 W’s: 

Who performed repairs on the vehicle? Track the name of the technician who performed the scan and calibrations along with the technician who performed the sectioning and welds if they differ. 

What repairs were completed? Capture images of all the work performed throughout the repair process; document quality control procedures, and identify who verified the quality. Were there structural repairs made, was a four-wheel alignment done, were sensors replaced, etc.? It’s also a good idea to keep any reports created by repair equipment. 

When were the repairs completed? Document when or if pre- and post-repair scanning was performed, along with the dates and time stamps of the repair. 

Where were the repairs completed? Identify the location of the sectioning performed, and identify welds, welding and/or bonding procedures and locations.  

Why were specific repairs completed or not performed? Document the decision-making process, including unrelated damage that was not repaired and why. 

Beyond that, additional documentation should also include: 

Were the technicians performing the repair trained? Did the calibration technician have specialized training? If so, what training, and when was it completed? 

What types of tool were used for calibration? Were they OEM tools? What software was used, including what version? 

What repair procedure was used? What version of the vehicle manufacturer’s repair procedures were used? 

Following OEM repair procedures, using OEM tools and documenting the repair process can help a shop avoid liability issues should a vehicle come back with repair issues.

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