A Whole New World: ADAS Calibrations for Service Shops

by Chasidy Rae Sisk

Nearly every new vehicle on the market contains one or more ADAS feature, and while a lot of effort has gone into training collision shops over the past decade or so, it’s just as important for mechanical shops to be aware of what’s happening on this front since even the simplest tasks, such as replacing a headlamp or a radiator, could alter the position of a camera or module, requiring recalibration. 

With so many systems varying drastically from one make and model to the next, jumping into the world of calibrations can be incredibly overwhelming for many shops. It may feel like it’s easier to avoid the subject altogether, but when a system is not properly calibrated, it may not perform as intended by the manufacturer, which could cause an accident in which the vehicle’s occupants may be injured…or worse.

Dynamic calibrations may not seem as intimidating since they are performed while the vehicle is in motion and typically don’t involve a lot of specialized equipment, outside of a handheld scanning and recalibration tool; however, when it comes to static calibrations, the various targets, aiming tools and other equipment needed – not to mention the large amount of space that must be meticulously designed and controlled – requires an investment that many shops are reluctant to make. 

So, what does a service shop need to know about ADAS calibrations? From the common services that could necessitate a recalibration to overcoming challenges related to ADAS calibrations and even tackling the liability concerns that shops should be aware of, AASP-MN News wants to arm you with everything you need to know before embarking on this journey. We sat down with Chris Chesney (Repairify), Frank Terlep (Opus IVS) and Greg Peeters (Car ADAS), who graciously agreed to share some insights to help shops feel more confident embracing the future of repairing vehicles that need to be recalibrated.

AASP-MN News: How are ADAS calibrations different on the service side than in collision shops?

Chris Chesney: From a technical perspective, there is no difference. The car doesn’t know where it is. The context of the opportunities presented to service versus collision may differ. For example, a collision shop is typically receiving a vehicle that has been in an accident where something was bent or damaged, while the service shop may be performing a service or repair that changes the direction the vehicle is pointed or requires removing a component which creates a calibration opportunity. In either case, every shop that services vehicles equipped with ADAS systems must fully understand how they work and in which situations they must be calibrated, and their operation must be validated. ADAS is no different than servicing the brakes on a vehicle. It is a safety system, and ensuring it operates exactly how the manufacturer intended is the responsibility of the shop.

Frank Terlep: The actual calibration process is the same. The way you calibrate an ADAS system component is the same, whether it is calibrated by a mechanical or collision center. What generates the reason for the calibration may be different, ie. whether it’s due to an accident or because of a repair. The facility, lighting space and other requirements are also the same for mechanical and collision repair businesses.

Greg Peeters: The service side is going to primarily be alignment-based, such as wheel alignments, which would involve the forward-facing systems. So, service shops wouldn’t be doing a lot of the calibrations that we might see in the collision repair industry. They would most likely be performing ADAS calibrations on the vehicles’ forward-facing camera or radar.

AASP: What are common services performed that may require a recalibration? 

CC: The proper answer to this question is to ‘read and follow OEM service information.’ In general, if a safety sensor or module has been impacted or is installed on a vehicle that was impacted, a comprehensive health check must be done to recognize the state of the systems and to guide the proper repairs. During repairs, the OEM service information will guide the technician regarding the need to calibrate the sensors or modules. In the service shops, it is common to do a wheel alignment, and during that service, the steering angle sensor must be calibrated. It is important to complete this calibration because all the safety systems onboard the vehicle assume the actual thrust angle is pointed perpendicular to the rear axle pointing the vehicle straight down the road. If the steering angle sensor is not calibrated or if the thrust angle is not adjusted to zero degrees, the safety systems focus will not be straight ahead; it will be askew and can cause the safety systems to function improperly. So, in summary, always read and follow OEM service information and make sure your team is fully trained on how to service ADAS systems.

FT: It depends on the ADAS system component. Alignments and windshield replacement need a recalibration for sure, but a bracket replacement might lead to calibrating a radar component. Again, the use of OEM-based repair procedures to determine when an ADAS component needs calibrating is critical.

GP: On the mechanical service side, I would typically expect to see recalibrations in circumstances where there is a change to the suspension, the tire size or actually doing the wheel alignment. All of those services would create the need for recalibration of the forward-facing systems. Also, recalibration would be needed if a mechanical shop removes components that a sensor is mounted to for mechanical access. For example, if you’re replacing a cooling system, you need to remove the bumper and front radiator support upper tie bar, which means you would be moving sensors, so when you replace and reinstall those components, the sensors are no longer calibrated to the vehicle. Those sensors need to be recalibrated. Those are the two instances I would see as typical. Now, if you’re in the auto glass business, the windshield camera is mounted to the glass on most vehicles. When you replace the glass, you’ve moved that sensor; in addition, that camera is now looking through different optics, so that sensor would need to be recalibrated.

AASP: What options do shops have when it comes to ensuring these calibrations are safely performed?

CC: First – and I will sound like a broken record – read and follow OEM service information. It really is the foundation of the process. Regarding space and equipment, there are many guidelines in OEM service information for that as well; however, after calibrating millions of vehicles and researching all the processes and equipment options on the market, there are good guidelines available that will help a shop understand what they can and cannot do in their space. While space is a big challenge, a controlled environment is even more important. You simply cannot accurately calibrate a vehicle outside. Lighting is critical on camera systems. The slightest breeze will cause targets to move during calibration. Floor level is important, but there are technologies in the market that can accurately compensate for a slight floor slope. 

Obstructions in the calibration space present a significant issue. Shops store tools, equipment, tires and more anywhere they can use steel racks or cabinets. Many shops have support columns in the middle of the space or above ground lifts. Any of these will reflect a radar signal causing a faulty or impossible calibration of a radar sensor. Clutter can also cause contrast issues with cameras. The calibration technician must always look at the space through the eyes of the sensor they are calibrating and consider what the sensor can or cannot see. Sun shining through a window behind a camera target is an example where the camera simply can’t see the target. And if the tech stood behind the camera and looked at the target, neither could they.

FT: The first step is to identify what systems and components are installed on the vehicle. This should occur when a vehicle arrives at the service facility. The vehicle should be taken for a test drive to validate the ADAS systems are operating properly. A diagnostic scan should also be performed to check and see if there are any DTCs associated with a vehicle’s ADAS components. Once the calibration is performed, the next step is to perform an ADAS safety system validation test drive to ensure the vehicle’s ADAS systems operate as the OEM expects them to. Finally, a post-calibration/verification drive scan should be performed prior to delivering the vehicle back to its owner.

GP: I think the biggest opportunities are the calibration is done in a certified environment by a certified or trained technician and has full documentation that the OEM processes were followed. Anything short of that is not a valid calibration.

AASP: Each OEM has different requirements related to ADAS calibrations, and trying to purchase all the tools and equipment needed can be cost-prohibitive. How can shops overcome this challenge? 

CC: ADAS service and calibrations are not inexpensive. It requires special equipment and training to participate along with the space requirements. There are many equipment options available. Of course, OEM targets and scan tools are the gold standard, but the targets can be cumbersome to place, and in order to service all makes and models, the scan tools are expensive to acquire and maintain. The space requirements can be expensive as well, considering lighting and the need for level floors…not to mention the square footage required; however, there are a few aftermarket options that will work, depending on the space and the vehicles you are servicing. 

Most aftermarket targets today are very close to OEM quality, yet some aren’t. Some systems actually provide guidance in placing the target in the right place which reduces the skill level somewhat. And there are systems that can compensate for floor level issues to an extent but are proving to be very accurate. Then there are organizations, like Repairify, that will partner with a shop, making it easier to acquire the equipment, provide training to the staff and support them in the business of ADAS calibrations. The main thing to keep in mind is ADAS calibration can be very profitable.

FT: One solution is to outsource ADAS services and calibrations to a third party. This would limit the revenue and profits a business would generate, but it is an option. Secondly, a service business that specializes in specific makes and models (Asian versus domestic versus European) could limit their investment by only providing calibration services for the vehicles they specialize in. Finally, there is a ‘hybrid’ option where the business offers some calibrations and sublets the rest.

GP: With over 50 locations in 24 states, that’s exactly what Car ADAS does; we create a validated equipment package because it is tricky navigating that. I think what’s most important is, like any business, understand what your book of business is going to be. In other words, can you – and do you want to – have the ability to calibrate every system for every make and model? Or are you going to focus on specific makes or types of calibration? You really need to understand what your ultimate goals are in terms of what you’ll be calibrating before you get into it and then build from there.

AASP: What liability concerns might a shop face if an accident occurs related to ADAS that was not recalibrated during service or repairs?

CC: Liability always needs to be considered. Following OEM processes is critical as well as using OEM level equipment. But working with large partners who can provide indemnification is available which removes the risk of being in the business of calibrating safety systems.

FT: ADAS systems directly affect steering, braking and acceleration, so liability should be considered. The liability is similar to a business that focuses on brake services dealing with what would happen if, after a brake service, the vehicle is involved in an accident because the brakes failed.

GP: Right now, I believe liability is the greatest concern for many facilities. The number of vehicles that require calibration compared to the number of vehicles that are getting calibrated – whether it’s from a collision repair, mechanical work or realignment change – is astronomical. And that liability is great. Secondly, the number of vehicles that are getting calibrated incorrectly is also a very great number. And thirdly, the number of vehicles that are getting calibrated (right or wrong) with little to no documentation is also a huge liability factor. It is critical that a vehicle is calibrated to OEM procedural standards, and it must be fully documented that it was done so.

AASP: Are there any other thoughts you’d like to share with our readers? 

FT: As I have said many times, I firmly believe ADAS services and calibrations are one of the biggest opportunities and challenges the automotive industry has seen in more than a quarter century. I also believe that, over time, ADAS calibrations will ultimately be required every couple of years, like emission testing. As vehicles become more complex and connected to other vehicles and infrastructure (roads, lights, buildings, bridges, etc.), the need to ensure a vehicle’s ADAS systems operate as designed will be critical. I would not be surprised if an organization is created sometime in the future, similar to the FAA, that oversees ADAS and connected vehicles!

GP: Once the environment is correct for calibrations, there are two other major factors: the physical equipment and the software. And both of those have to be of high quality for the process to be accurate and effective. At the end of the day, our job is to ensure those vehicle Safety Systems are performing as they were engineered to perform, which is to protect people’s lives.

Want more? Check out the February 2024 issue of AASP-MN News!