Corey Harper, of Carnegie Mellon University, says accident avoidance technology is likely to reduce accident frequency but raise repair costs.General Motors’ John Eck indicates his company may implement a collision repair shop certification program that includes measurement of shops’ performance.

SCRS event examines impacts of anti-crash systems, manufacturer certifications and recalibrations

Pittsburgh—The three speakers at the recent Society of Collision Repair Specialists’ (SCRS) “Repairer Roundtable” in Pittsburgh, Pa., came from widely varying backgrounds, but all focused on one topic: what lies ahead for shops.

Pittsburgh is home to Carnegie Mellon University, a hub of research into crash-avoidance technology and autonomous vehicles, and a researcher from the school discussed a study that paints a mixed forecast for the collision repair industry. Corey Harper said widespread implementation of a combination of technologies – blind-spot detection, lane departure warning and forward collision warning – could prevent or reduce the severity of as many as 1.3 million accidents, or about 25 percent of all crashes.

“When we started to do this analysis, however, we saw that some models of cars actually had positive increases in collision claims severity,” Harper said. “This is due to the fact that when a crash does occur, these technologies, the sensors [and other parts] are vulnerable to damage. So this could actually increase the cost of a repair. As you begin to see more and more sensors on cars, it’s very likely the cost of a crash is actually going to go up instead of down.”

But Harper also said it is important to remember that it can take decades for new technology to become widely implemented in the vehicle population, so the reduction in accidents promised by anti-crash technology is not going to happen quickly.

“I think you guys will be okay for a long time to come,” Harper told collision repairers at the event.


Automaker wants more from shop certification

General Motors’ John Eck also offered a look ahead during his brief presentation. He echoed comments GM has made in recent months indicating that the automaker is moving toward a collision shop certification program beyond the current one focused solely on the Cadillac CT6.

Eck, however, said he wants to see any such broader certification program have more than just requirements for training and equipment.

“How do we ensure that the welding is being done by that person [at the certified shop] who is trained in welding?” Eck said. “A shop may be certified. That’s one thing. But making sure that the trained personnel are actually doing the welding or blueprinting or whatever is another.”

He said he’d like to see a program that includes more ongoing measurements of certified shops.

“How do we go to the next level and measure some of the metrics that are important to the OEMs,” Eck said, comparing it to the metrics insurance companies use to measure their direct repair shops. “Now the OEMs are saying with certification we need the right metrics in place as well.”

He said automakers see the shop certification programs as a key way to help protect their brands.

“We want to make sure safety is maintained going out the door,” Eck said. “When we look at what’s going on in the marketplace, it causes OEMs concern. And that’s why you’re seeing some of the position statements you’re seeing, and you’ll probably see changes in the repair procedures, and certainly more of them.”


Recalibration standards needed

The third speaker at the “Repairer Roundtable” focused more on technical challenges shops are facing now, but also discussed what that may mean for the future. Kaleb Silver, of Hunter Engineering, said the industry is facing explosive growth in the number of vehicle systems that require resets and recalibration as part of collision repair.

“As of 2016, there are over 50 million vehicles on the road that have a steering angle sensor that requires a reset after a wheel alignment, according to OEM service documentation,” Silver cited as one example.

That equates to nearly one-in-five of all currently registered vehicles in the country – and a much higher percentage of the later-model vehicles.

“This is a fairly significant chunk of vehicles that you are likely to see in your shops on a regular basis,” Silver said.

But it’s not just the number of those new procedures that concerns Silver; it’s the complexity and variance among automakers in how vehicle safety systems must be reset and calibrated. Even aside from the expense of the proprietary tools, targets, fixtures and equipment that can be required from each of the automakers, some of the processes require extensive space; resetting some sensors on a Toyota requires more than a 1,500-square-foot space cleared in front of the vehicle.

“That’s a space larger than the first house I owned,” Silver joked.

Other vehicles require test drives at nearly highway speeds on roads with clear lane markings.

“Is that ever a problem in your area,” Silver asked shops at the event. “Think about snow. Think about how well roads are marked in your area. Also think about the above-40 mph requirement; many of you may be located in a large metropolitan area or downtown, and between traffic and roads and speed limits, how long does it take you to get the vehicle to a location where driving at 40 mph or above is safe?”

Silver called the 2017 Audi Q7 the “poster child” for the amount of time vehicle safety system resets can take.

“If you take all the different things that are available on this car that may need to be reset after a wheel alignment is complete, it’s over eight hours of additional book time to complete the reset operations,” Silver said. “This doesn’t include the tools and additional items required to complete these resets.”

He said his company has documented more than 80 different reset procedures across the automakers.

“A well-thought out standard would encourage OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to move to a more scalable model,” Silver said, adding that also would increase the likelihood that the processes are followed consistently and correctly. “That’s what we’re pushing for: some standardization to help simplify this.”


Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.

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