Trade tips: advanced driver assistance system repairs

Please note: a version of this article first appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of IMI Magazine and was written for a motor trade audience.

Strongly-worded manufacturer statements about fitting only original equipment (OE) parts on vehicles equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) are common in America, and now they’ve crossed the pond.

First, Honda asserted that non-OE windscreens might cause ADAS malfunctions due to the front-facing camera not being able to aim properly. Then, last summer, General Motors (GM) warned US dealers against using aftermarket or reconditioned bumpers of all things.

To a certain extent, you can understand why they’re so protective. A recent IIHS study of GM vehicles in 23 US states found that models with auto-braking and forward-collision warning systems had 43% fewer front-to-rear crashes. It also found that 64% fewer injuries resulted from such collisions, compared to similar models without ADAS.

Closer to home, on 30 January this year, Mazda’s parts and accessories sales manager, Dave Elphick, spoke at Auto Windscreens’ Automotive Connecting Conference of only being able to guarantee ADAS if vehicles had the same parts as when they left the factory.

Alistair Carlton, technical manager at National Windscreens, agrees that the introduction of cameras and radar represents a massive change. “Until a few years ago, we in the glazing industry didn’t really deal with vehicle electrics, other than maybe a winder motor when repairing a smashed side window,” he says.

“Last year we served 30,000 ADAS customers and a third of our technicians are now ADAS-qualified. It is still a small percentage of our overall work, but it is growing fast and it won’t be long before all our technicians will need to be ADAS-qualified.

“There are two types of calibration: static and dynamic. Static requires a target board to be accurately positioned at ‘x’ point in front of the camera. The diagnostic tool asks the car if it can ‘see’ the target and, if so, make any necessary fine adjustments within the vehicle software. This needs to be carried out in workshop conditions with plenty of space, good level flooring and stable lighting.

“Dynamic calibration is more of a system check. Using a diagnostic tool, you place the car into calibration mode and go through a drive cycle, where an internal tick list is checked-off to complete the action. There are a small number of self-testing cameras which carry out the dynamic calibration themselves – maybe one day they’ll all be self-calibrating, but that’s a long way off.”

As to the VM statements, Carlton says: “We counter these claims in two ways: firstly, we only fit quality products – yes, there are inferior products out there but it would be a false economy for us to use them; secondly, we work to the standards of the VMs with the highest specifications and closest tolerances. We often find we have better kit and more expertise than the dealers. In some cases, they’re actually the customer.”

He’s spot on about needing knowledge. As Bosch points out: “The buyer of a base BMW 520SE can now opt for Driver Assistance Plus, Driver Assistance, ACC with StopGo, Night Vision, Parking Assistant or Parking Assistant Plus. Every combination of these systems will have a different sensor configuration and require a specific calibration routine.”

There’s also the small matter of finding the relevant sensor. For example, the adaptive cruise control (ACC) radar sensor on a Golf is a square device mounted below the grille. On a Passat, it’s behind the badge, where Mercedes also like to hide it. What’s more, independent garages are going to be seeing a lot more of these jobs, with JD Power’s 2018 UK Vehicle Dependability Study highlighting multiple ADAS bugs in newer premium cars.

Neil Hilton, head of business development at Hella, was on the Thatcham steering group which finalised the code of practice for glass replacement. “There would be merit in having something similar for other repairs,” he suggests. “ADAS is part of a natural progression towards fully autonomous vehicles. You see it on virtually every new vehicle now, from the largest to the smallest, the cheapest to the most expensive.

“Manufacturers are actively promoting the benefits of these systems and Ford showed the way with its sharp marketing campaign on how cameras and road sign recognition, along with speed-limiting software, can help ensure you never get a speeding ticket.

“Systems like lane departure, autonomous braking and blind-spot detection are increasingly fused together, so when you recalibrate one camera or radar you have to check the others too. Even something like changing a steering rack can affect the data line that acts as the control point for all systems across the car.

“It’s nearly six years since we launched our HGS tool and we pride ourselves on sharing information with the aftermarket. Surprisingly, there can still be a tendency among general repair workshops to think ‘this won’t affect us’, but ADAS is so widespread that our windscreen customers are now expanding into the 360-view calibration and radar.

“Block Exemption means parts must be of a reasonable standard and comparable quality. If a reset gives a satisfactory result then the system is calibrated. What’s important is to promote reputable garages – those who attend training and invest in the right equipment.”

Richard Billyeald, chief technical officer at Thatcham, has high praise for ADAS, describing it as a life-saver. “The constant influx of new systems makes it a fantastically interesting time to be involved in the industry, but we have to plan for it from a repair perspective 5-6 years down the line,” he says.

“Compare the original Tesla Model 3 to where they are now – more cameras, radar, lidar, ever more sophisticated sensors. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) will be mandatory, but Euro NCAP is already driving it. The slope just keeps getting steeper in terms of complexity, and this means more potential for failures.

“We urge manufacturers to better support these technologies because there’s almost an information vacuum. The guidance needs to be clearer, more available and reasonable. Should you have to recalibrate after a minor scrape? The whole industry needs to align – to agree a considered approach which keeps costs under control while delivering safe repairs. We have a vibrant aftermarket in the UK and manufacturers who behave sensibly will get a reputational benefit.”

But haven’t we already had this argument – isn’t this what Right to Repair was all about? Some VMs apparently think ADAS could be key to reopening the debate.