Failure to Calibrate: A Critical Component of Litigating ADAS Failures

Autonomous car sensor system concept for safety of driverless mode car control . Future adaptive cruise control sensing nearby vehicle and pedestrian . Smart transportation technology .

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) is an umbrella phrase for a wide range of technologies that are designed to warn of danger and prevent collisions. Research by the National Safety Council shows that ADAS technology has the potential to prevent 62% of traffic deaths per year, and 60% of traffic injuries per year.  Not surprisingly, ADAS technologies such as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning (FCW), brake assist, lane departure warning (LDW), cross traffic alert, and blind spot intervention are becoming standard safety features in the American automobile. Last year, Ford, Honda, Subaru, Tesla, Volvo, Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Lexus, and Mazda equipped more than 95 percent of their 2021 passenger cars and light trucks with AEB.

The integral component to an ADAS is the sensor system.  To do their jobs, ADAS relies on inputs from radar, camera, and ultrasonic sensors to detect vehicles, pedestrians, and other objects around the automobile. The suite of sensors communicates to a computer processor, which integrates all of the data and makes real time decisions to warn the driver, or even to take action to avoid a collision. If the sensors cannot accurately assess the environment surrounding a vehicle, they are useless.

To ensure accuracy, ADAS sensors must be properly calibrated. IF a sensor’s position is disturbed in any way, whether by a minor fender bender or when a vehicle is lifted for maintenance on the undercarriage, the sensors must be recalibrated.

The calibration process is complex. It requires time, money, and specialized knowledge to be performed properly.

Time

The recalibration process takes time. Before ADAS sensors were placed in windshields, a cracked windshield repair took minutes. Today, that same job can take hours. Similarly, a front bumper replacement job that used to take twenty minutes could now take several hours because the body shop must recalibrate whenever a sensor or its mounting bracket is removed or replaced. If the sensors change position by a single millimeter or degree, it may throw off the entire system.

Some recalibration processes require that the vehicle be driven for a specified amount of time to ensure that the calibrations are working properly because many ADAS features will not activate until the vehicle reaches a specific speed. Additionally, for radar recalibration, the vehicle needs to be placed on a large, level, paved area without any metallic objects to interfere with a radar recalibrations. For camera recalibration, the vehicle must also be on a level surface. It must also be in an indoor area with non-glare lighting and a backdrop free from clutter. These setups take time to ensure an accurate recalibration, time that must be taken in order to make it safe. As these time-consuming processes become a requirement for more and more vehicles on the road, there is more opportunity for vehicle service centers to take shortcuts.

Money

At the outside, auto manufacturers and insurance companies have warned that ADAS technology will significantly increase repair costs.

In a study of ADAS mechanical labor costs, AAA noted that “minor incidents” could produce an additional $3,000 in repair costs due to ADAS technology in the vehicles. For example, front radar systems used in an automatic emergency braking systems will cost an additional $900 to $1,300. Rear radar systems used in blind spot monitoring cost anywhere from $850 to $2,050. Replacing a windshield could cost about $1,500. Sometimes, a failed recalibration process indicates that the sensor must be replaced entirely, as opposed to being merely recalibrated. Additionally, when a sensor is dropped, its sensitive technology is often irreparably damaged, requiring replacement.

Many auto repair shops and windshield installers do not have necessary equipment to perform ADAS recalibrations. For example, Advanced Auto Parts does not have the computer scan tool to support ADAS sensor calibration on Nissan vehicles. In order to perform their own in-house scanning, some body shops are purchasing aftermarket scanners that allegedly cover a wide range of vehicles for less money. However, there is continued controversy surrounding whether aftermarket scan tools are adequate to replace OEM scan tools, particularly for newer technology in ADAS sensors.  Technicians must understand their scan tool’s capability to know whether it can properly detect and relay information regarding ADAS sensors.

Knowledge (Training)

Technicians must have the requisite knowledge to diagnose and resolve a calibration issue. A quick google search of “ADAS training” pulls up dozens of online courses for purchase that claim to offer ADAS calibration training. There are even more YouTube videos on the topic. The question for both the dealership service department or the corner garage servicing a vehicle is whether the technicians received adequate training to actually recognize the need for recalibration. For example, the ADAS sensors and cameras can be affected not only by a collision, but by the repair process itself. A technician who is not privy to the sensitivities of the ADAS systems may actually cause a calibration issue in the process of repairing the vehicle, and have zero idea that he or she has done so. Additionally, technicians and service managers must know how to, and actually take the steps to set up the shop for calibrations. The environment technicians are calibrating in is hypercritical. The lights, the colors of the walls, and the level of the surface where the car is to be calibrated can affect the process. Before ADAS systems, technicians never had to consider these details, and if they are not trained properly, they likely won’t start now. Lastly, technicians and service managers must be trained to properly document a calibration process. This means more than checking a box that the calibration is complete. A proper recording of the repair process includes each step that the dealership (should) prescribe to complete ensure an adequate calibration process.

If a vehicle’s ADAS system fails to protect the occupants as it should, your first step should be to review the maintenance service records as they relate to ADAS sensor calibration. Ask yourself whether  the dealership or secondary mechanic has spent the requisite time, money, and conducted the necessary training to adequately handle vehicles with ADAS features.

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