ADAS is here to stay and shops need to be aware of systems and proper calibrations

ADAS – Advanced Driver Assistance Systems – ever heard of it? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. In shop visits around the country I meet a lot of blank gazes when I mention it. But if I asked about features like “blind-side monitoring,” “pedestrian detection,” “adaptive cruise control” or “lane departure warning,” you would likely have recognized most of them. ADAS is simply an industry-invented term which attempts to categorize all these features. 

ADAS features have been slowly creeping into the vehicles on our roadways since 2009, which now puts those early entrants in the middle of the “aftermarket sweet spot” – those cars are coming into your bays today. At a recent visit to a shop I know in Chicago, I was told of several mirror replacements which had the side cameras included as well as glass replacements – all which involved ADAS components. And with the increase in attention to safety, the vehicles coming in equipped with some level of ADAS are going to become exponentially more common.  

An intricate ecosystem

Why is all this important? ADAS is an intricate eco-system of cameras, radar systems, sensors and control modules. The control modules use a variety of technologies to help interpret the signals received to deliver ADAS features. While these systems haven’t had a high failure rate (so far), many of the components are precisely calibrated to ensure the control modules are interpreting the proper information. And it’s easier than you might think for them to go “out of calibration.”

Ignoring the obvious things like fender-benders, let’s say you’re replacing an A/C condenser on a car and to gain access you remove the forward camera/radar unit located behind the grille. Now when your A/C condenser job is complete, that forward camera/radar needs to be recalibrated, as it could be mounted slightly differently than before.

Perhaps a simpler example would be a four-wheel alignment on a car and the rear thrust angle needs to be adjusted. On most vehicles equipped with ADAS features, calibrations will need to be performed after that alignment. For instance, a 2016 Audi A8 Quattro equipped with adaptive cruise control and a lane change assist system adds 2.2 hours of labor time for calibration to the 1.8 hours already assumed for the alignment. 

Calibrating ADAS

What happens if the calibrations are not done correctly? There likely will be no indication, no MIL illuminated, etc. But while the vehicle is driving, the “field of view” can be slightly shifted. When you consider even a two-degree alteration on a forward-facing radar module, the focus at 60 feet ahead of the car won’t even be in the car’s same lane. Potentially deadly consequences can result from unanticipated behaviors of the adaptive cruise, pedestrian detection and other features. 

There are multiple methods of calibration required depending on the vehicle manufacturer and the systems they use. Many require specialized routines to be included in the diagnostic (scan) tool, as well as specialized targets, which must be positioned at specific points around the vehicle.

In addition, and this may be most challenging for many shops, several feet of unobstructed space is needed around the vehicle: in front, behind and to the sides. Any object in this space could cause an inaccurate or incomplete calibration. The floors have to be nearly level, another area of concern for many shops. Adding to the potential challenges for shops is the fact that many times a procedure cannot be performed outside as the sunlight can skew the calibration. 

Automakers are working on all these issues, trying to make the systems easier to service. Meanwhile, though, vehicles equipped with these systems are flying off the production lines in record numbers. 

Shop opportunities 

As is typical with new technologies, consumers love the features but have no idea what they will add in cost to the maintenance of their vehicle. For the repair shop, once the required investments are made in targets and diagnostic tools that support the recalibration functions, this will be required service to keep vehicles safely on the road, along with new revenue streams to perform these calibrations. Mechanical shops can partner up with nearby collision shops. They’ve been facing these issues for years and many are looking for mechanical shops to sublet these services.

Another challenge is to understand when calibrations are necessary and what is required to perform them. Across OEMs, the components and features are not named consistently, and the service information is inconsistent for each vehicle manufacturer. Mitchell 1 has been developing a new feature in the ProDemand repair information product that will help answer those challenges. If you’ll be at AAPEX 2018, come by the Let’s Tech stage and stop by booth No. 438 to learn more about it.  And if your shop uses Mitchell 1 ProDemand, look for the new feature coming later this year.


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. 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 will be kicking off the Let’s Tech series at AAPEX with a presentation on the topic of ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems) — “ADAS and Need for Calibration” — at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 30.  

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.