IMAGE: Pexels/Taras Makarenko

IMAGE: Pexels/Taras Makarenko

There is good news and bad news about crash-avoidance technology on new vehicles. Despite its proven safety benefits, some vehicle owners report problems with the technology after repairs.

First the good news: When vehicles have Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, or ADAS, NSC Injury Facts estimates a staggering 62% of traffic deaths, equating to 20,841 lives, could be prevented each year. Installing “Lane Keeping Assist” technology could save 14,844 lives, while “Pedestrian Automatic Braking” could cut the fatality rate by another 4,106, it reports.

The bad news is revealed in a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which casts a shadow on ADAS repairs. Its inquiry into owners of vehicles outfitted with front-crash prevention, blind-spot detection, rearview or other visibility-enhancing cameras determined that when the systems are serviced, the issues aren’t always fixed.

“Over 3,000 owners we contacted said they had never needed to have their crash-avoidance features repaired, but for the minority of owners who did, the problems weren’t always resolved easily,” said institute Senior Research Scientist Alexandra Mueller, who designed the survey.

“Many reported issues with the technology afterward, and some said they had to have the same feature repaired more than once. Still, the vast majority said they would buy a vehicle equipped with the technology again, and most were satisfied with the out-of-pocket cost.”

Auto Dealer Today caught up with Frank Terlep, vice president of ADAS Solutions for Opus IVS, a company focused on helping automotive repair shops fix complex vehicle problems with diagnostics, to learn more about the IIHS survey and the issue it highlights.

Terlep has broad expertise in ADAS repair, having co-founded a company known as Auto Techcelerators LLC, which was later acquired by Opus IVS. Auto Techcelerators designed ADAS CoPilot, an ADAS and calibration information and repair procedures platform, to aid crash-avoidance system repairs.

Complicated, Complex Repairs

Under normal circumstances, front-crash prevention, blind-spot detection, and rearview cameras are resilient technologies that substantially reduce crashes. In fact, an analysis by the IIHS-affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute showed a reduction in insurance claims associated with Subaru and Honda crash-avoidance systems remained constant – even in vehicles older than 5 years.

But Terlep points out that repairs to vehicles equipped with the technology can compromise its effectiveness. He says it’s necessary to calibrate the cameras and sensors that the systems rely on for them to work properly. That process, he says, can be “complicated and expensive.”

The IIHS paper, “Crash Avoidance Features Improve Safety But Complicate Repairs,” points out that a simple windshield replacement might cost $250, but a separate HLDI study found that vehicles equipped with front-crash prevention were likely to have glass claims of $1,000 or more, with much of the higher cost related to calibration.

And after repair, the technology “may not work right, if at all,” the IIHS survey found.

IIHS polled about 500 drivers about their most recent experiences with repairs to front-crash prevention, blind-spot detection, or driver-assistance cameras. Some owners had more than one of the features repaired, either separately or as part of the same job. About 40% of the vehicles were model year 2019 or newer.

The research also identified many reasons ADAS systems need repair, including:  

  • Owners had received a vehicle recall or service bulletin about needed repairs.
  • The vehicle needed a windshield replacement.
  • The system was damaged in a crash.
  • A dealership or repair shop recommended repair.
  • A warning light or error message on the vehicle itself indicated a needed repair.

IIHS also revealed that post-repair problems with ADAS technology are fairly common, especially when the vehicles were repaired because of crash damage or as part of a windshield replacement. Its survey showed two-thirds of owners reported having issues with crash-avoidance technology when the repairs involved windshield replacement, and three-quarters of the vehicles had problems when the repairs were required because of crash damage.

The research found post-repair issues ran the gamut, from “my car pulls to the left when it shouldn’t,” to “my steering wheel or seat shakes,” to my “blind spot indicator on my mirror isn’t working.”

Reasons for Post-Repair Problems

Terlep points out that the No. 1 reason for the issues is that the industry is “behind the curve with ADAS technology repairs, from training to identifying the solutions to calibrate and validate the systems out there to repair.”

However, calibration of the technology is just one reason for issues experienced after repair.

Terlep says the most common issue is that the technology isn’t always identified on the vehicle in the first place.

He compares lane-departure emergency systems with RADAR-based systems. Most lane-departure emergency systems with some model of emergency braking have a camera in the windshield. It’s easy to see the camera in the windshield, so a technician knows it will need calibration after replacing the glass. But with RADAR-based systems, the sensors could be located behind the quarter panel, making the technology more difficult to see.

Still, most automakers require that technicians calibrate crash-avoidance technology systems when a sensor is removed, replaced or reinstalled.

The second most common issue is vehicles that don’t show a diagnostic trouble code indicating a problem with calibration, Terlep says. When technicians scan the vehicle with a diagnostic scanner, they won’t get a code, and there is no notification in the dash.

“Everyone thinks the ADAS is fine, but that’s not necessarily the case,” he says. “But calibration is an early step to ensure ADAS systems and components are properly calibrated.”

The third challenge is validation. Technicians must validate that ADAS calibration is correct. “This means the vehicle should be driven through a dry cycle, or test drive, which we refer to as the validation process,” Terlep says. “Here, the vehicle is taken through the steps to make sure systems operate as designed or as stated by the OEM before they deliver the vehicle to the customer.” 

Two-thirds of survey respondents who had repairs done said the work included calibration. But those respondents also reported a higher incidence of post-repair issues, indicating validation wasn’t done.

Improper Service Issues

When those steps aren’t properly taken, Terlep says repeat trips to repair shops are common. Survey respondents reported that their insurance or warranty covered the complete cost of the return trips, minus any deductible. However, the high incidence of post-repair issues for repairs involving calibration suggests technicians struggle with it.

“Some calibrations are complicated and require large spaces, specialized training and expensive equipment. Calibration software is also subject to frequent updates, making it difficult for shops to keep their tools up to date,” the IIHS article says. “This is further complicated by a lack of standardization of calibration processes.”

Terlep says dealerships often have fewer issues with calibration, largely because they tend to work on vehicles that are still under warranty. “They are dealing with new cars from day one,” he says. “They have to sell these vehicles, so they know what’s on them.”

But collision and glass centers are less familiar with the technology, he says. “In collision repair, the average vehicle repair is to a 5-year-old or newer vehicle. Around 40% to 50% of the vehicles they see have ADAS technology on them. Every year, as new cars get sold with ADAS on them, the percentage will go up.”

The Solution

There are short-, medium- and long-term solutions to the problem, according to Terlep.

OPUS is already addressing the short-term solutions through technology so that when a vehicle is taken in for repair, ADAS information is available to the person inbounding the car.

But Terlep says a medium-term solution is training. “Technicians at repair facilities are really busy, and smaller shops can struggle with training. They have a business to run. However, training is really important in ensuring proper calibration and validation.”

Training standardization is lacking in the industry, Terlep adds. “There are major efforts going on right now to educate technicians in how to calibrate a vehicle properly. The dealerships and OEMs are all moving quickly to get calibration training to technicians.”

The next step is to address the issue through processes. Putting business checklists and validation, inspection and identification processes in writing and ensuring they’re followed will help better identify the system, according to Terlep.

Once the systems are identified, following OEM repair procedures ensures repairs are carried out correctly. “OEM repair procedures are the Bible in how to fix the car properly,” he says. “Then you need to perform the calibration correctly and document everything you’ve done. You need to follow the OEM directions, which tell you that to calibrate a vehicle, the tire pressure has to be correct, tires must be aligned, the fuel tank must be full, the trunk must be empty, and the floor has to be flat.”

A key issue, he says, is that the industry lacks a standard calibration process. There might be five to six tier-one suppliers providing sensors, cameras and other components on a single ADAS system, each of which requires a different calibration process.

“Every manufacturer has different software platforms,” he says. “Shops have to purchase this technology and train technicians to use it.”

Even if technicians perform all the steps, validation must follow. “Taking the vehicle on the road to validate that all systems work, documenting findings, and providing them to the customer is the last step,” Terlep says. “Is the car pulling over the center line? Are the sensors picking up speed limit signs? Are the blind-spot sensors working?”

Terlep said he believes that someday crash-avoidance technology will become so complex and so varied that it creates a need for specialized data service and calibration businesses that focus on fixing the systems.

“Most repair and collision centers lack the space to perform calibrations properly.”

Originally posted on Auto Dealer Today