Understanding how to calibrate today’s advanced-driver assistance systems (ADAS) is critical in collision repair operations. If you disagree, ADAS experts John Marlowe and Giuliano Bernabei can prove you’re wrong.
The two-man team, founders of ADAS calibration centre Level5Drive in Burlington, Ontario, have made it their mission to provide the automotive aftermarket with valuable ADAS knowledge while helping streamline ADAS calibrations.
ADAS are the fastest-growing segments in automotive electronics, and John predicts that the coming years will see virtually every car manufacturer feature ADAS in its vehicles. Startlingly so, a recent survey from the U.S.-based Equipment and Tools Institute found that 38 percent of new car dealer shops are not equipped to manage the repair and diagnosis of ADAS and passive safety systems; that number jumps to 74 percent for independent repair shops surveyed.
Facilities that may be capable of completing ADAS calibrations can land themselves—and their customers—in hot water if they fail to fully understand the systems.
Luckily for the Canadian sector, John and Giuliano are here to help. The duo sat down with Collision Repair to help the industry better understand when calibrations are required, the critical performance of the operation and what you need to offer them in-house.
Q: If there is nothing on the dash, does that mean that you don’t need a recalibration?
John Marlowe: Absolutely not—that is a huge misunderstanding.
Very often these systems are out of calibration, even without a dash light or a DTC indicating so. The systems will set a light if the sensor has been unplugged, and if the system has been physically impacted or damaged you are also likely to get a dash light. In some cases, the sensor can determine when it’s so far off the mark that it can’t be functional—it can set a diagnostic trouble code for that.
But there are a lot of instances where you have a vehicle going down the road with a misaligned sensor and, when there’s a vehicle 25 feet in front of it it’s detecting it fine. But once you get on the highway and are travelling at high speeds, it may not detect a vehicle in the time required to properly slow down using the adaptive cruise control. There are tons of examples for situations like that, and these are the stories that cause people to lose confidence in their ADAS systems.
Q: What is the average time it takes to do a calibration on a vehicle?
JM: It takes Giuliano and I about 90 minutes, but for other centres, it really depends on the facility’s capabilities. In imagining what they go through trying to maintain their cycle times, trying to keep everything on the level it needs to be on—I can’t see anyone completing calibrations faster than we do.
A shop’s target is probably about 90 minutes per calibration. For us at Level5Drive, we try and make this as easy as we can for the shop, so we pick up, we deliver, we take care of it all.
Q: How current is ADAS vehicle data if an aftermarket scan tool is used? How long do you wait for a new-model-year vehicle to perform a calibration? JM: As with all things when we’re dealing with the secondary market there is always a delay with the software coming to companies like us or any other collision repair [centre] that is using a tool like the launch scanner or any non-OE scanners. Having said that, we have data for 2021 models that we can calibrate. They are maintaining currency at a level I haven’t seen before.
Q: How have manufacturers reacted to third parties performing calibrations on their vehicles? Does it affect the warranty at all?
JM: Manufacturers are understandably unable to look at us and say “Hey go to them and go do that, those guys are great.” They can’t, for obvious reasons.
However, by and large, the ones we’ve spoken to understand that we really are fighting the same fight. We really are making the customer experience what it should be for their customers and try to maintain that level of trust and that level of happiness with their ADAS systems. We’re really contributing to that in a way that their own service departments may not be able to do. Will OEMs be coming to us saying “You guys are great, do our cars!”, probably not going to happen—but the OEM saying, “Don’t go to those guys,” is also not going to happen. We’re too much on the same team. Dealership service departments suffer the same constraints as a collision repair shop trying to add ADAS calibration as part of their business.
Q: How much space do you require for in-house calibrations?
JM: It really depends on the calibration that you’re doing and what type of vehicle it is. For example, in some Mercedes products, if you have a place to park the car that’s flat and level, you can put the target board right against the front bumper, so you don’t need a great deal of room for some of these things.
Other jobs, for example, some Honda products, you need 10 metres (30 ft.) in front of the vehicle as well as significant distance on the sides. You need to be adaptable to many different requirements and have ample space if you’re going to do them in-house.
Q: Have you ever encountered difficulty while trying to calibrate a system once an aftermarket sheet metal part, bumper or glass has been installed?
JM: Yes, we have, in fact. The manufacturers are not saying something that’s untrue when they state that you can’t calibrate with aftermarket parts. We have had bumper covers that have been a bit of a challenge and certainly, windshields are a little bit unpredictable sometimes. Some appear to be just fine.
Even on a repaired bumper where the blind spot detection might be on the corner—which it usually is—if the mill buildup is too great it won’t read through that. So you have to go back and put another bumper on it—an OEM bumper to be able to calibrate it properly.
Our ideal would be to not calibrate vehicles with aftermarket parts on them, but the reality is that they’re going to go somewhere else if we don’t do them. At least we can ensure that the process was followed correctly.
Q: Do systems have to recalibrate after a repair, wholly replaced or R&I’d?
JM: In most cases, we would strongly recommend that you consider a calibration.
If you’re looking at a sensor that is now uncovered, there are so many variables you can introduce. Did it get touched while the protective part was off, like a bumper cover for example? Did it get knocked while it was being installed? You may change the installed position of the part so when this piece was calibrated initially it’s looking through a piece of plastic on a bumper cover that is however many millimetres thick, you’ve now placed it in a different position and maybe it’s no longer looking through the exact same place. It might not return the exact same data that it used to.
The rule of thumb is, if you’re looking at an exposed sensor, you’re probably going to want to calibrate it.
Q: Do you think there should be specific compulsory certifications for technicians who are calibrating ADAS?
JM: Ultimately, yes, I think it needs to be its own class, it’s very own segment of the industry. We should have some method of identifying people who possess the skills to be able to do this. Right now, I don’t know that we have a whole lot of faith in our trade system and the level of training that we brought our existing technicians to. Certainly, I think we need to have a fresh-start segment for ADAS calibrations that may extend into other electronic options on the vehicle.
Q: What’s incoming for ADAS tech?
JM: As far as what’s new coming down the pipe, there’s been a lot more focus on stereoscopic measuring on the front cameras, so they have new capabilities that move us a little closer to level three driving when the camera itself is able to measure more accurately.
Also, while there are no production vehicles using LIDAR as of yet, that is coming. Likely they will have limited functionality initially, but you are going to start seeing cars with LIDAR soon. What’s new with ADAS is the cars that it’s on.
Look at Nissan—its least expensive 2020 entry-level model uses ADAS. The big news is the number of vehicles it is present on now. We’re not far from every new car having it—we’re probably less than three years from that.
Q: Is offering calibration services worth it?
JM: It really depends on each facility’s situation. If you’re looking to offer calibration services as an add-on to your existing collision repair business, there are success stories out there. There are people doing great with it.
There’s a lot of thought you’re going to need to put into it. Your facility has to be absolutely set for it. You can’t make compromises—it can’t be, ‘meh, sort of, pretty good’. You have to have the correct facility to be able to do it and you have to have a technician that is willing and able to follow the processes correctly and document the way that we need to.
We’re always happy to answer any questions or work with facilities on offering calibrations.