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Five Things to Know About ADAS—Today

6/24/2021 -
Driver assistance systems aren’t new, but they’re more popular than ever. Here’s what you need to know

What comes to mind when you hear the term “ADAS”?

Advanced Driver Assistance System is currently the fastest-growing automotive technology, so you may see ADAS calibrations as a fast-growing opportunity to expand your in-house service offerings.

Or, because ADAS is the fastest-growing technology and still a bit unsettled, you may be inclined to just pass this complex business on to those more experienced with it.

Whatever your view, there’s a lot—quite a lot—to learn about calibrating advanced driver assistance systems. Here are five considerations that will help you speed up your ADAS learning curve.

Better yet: The more you know, the less appealing you’ll find the second option.

  1. ADAS is here to stay

A few statistics:

  • More than 60 million vehicles now have ADAS, with the number increasing every year
  • At least one-third of these vehicles will need calibration following common services, such as a wheel alignment
  • ADAS was available as standard or optional on 93 percent of vehicles manufactured in the 2018 model year

Virtually all vehicles now have some type of driver assistance system. As these systems increase in sophistication, the need to properly recalibrate them following common procedures also increases.

Given this already widespread prevalence, ADAS isn’t something shops can just avoid or ignore. To properly serve their customers, they’ll have to become skilled at identifying, diagnosing and calibrating these systems--or lose a lot of business to those that are.

  1. It’s got to be right

Whenever a shop performs ADAS work, driver safety is at stake. And in this day of self-driving cars, the stakes will continue to rise.

Here’s why. ADAS comes in two types: passive, where the driver is alerted to such things as lane drifting; and active, where the vehicle automatically takes some action, such as emergency braking. The more drivers come to rely on active, automatic ADAS functions, the more shops will need to become experts at calibrating them. Since safety is involved, liability is involved.

But all ADAS components are important. Here’s one example of how seemingly little things are actually big things. If the calibration of ADAS cameras or radar is only half a degree off from manufacturer requirements, what seems “close enough” in the shop isn’t close at all, because the margin of error increases with distance.

Think of cameras and radar as a flashlight beam. The cone is tight near the bulb, and not tight at all as it spreads out. That half-degree misalignment will be 31 inches at 100 yards, and grow to a massive five feet at 200 yards. Such a variance risks seeing things that aren’t there, or not seeing things that are.

Diligence is always the best practice. Begin with brands you know, prepare a service blueprint, follow the requirements, and confirm and document your work. It’s this dedication to getting ADAS right that separates your shop from the pack.

  1. When is calibration necessary?

If techs and shops aren’t yet fully up to speed on ADAS, imagine where customers are. It’s unlikely they’ll helpfully inform you it’s time to reset the adaptive cruise control or forward collision warning, please.

It’s only a partial exaggeration to say that whenever you do something to a car—let alone when something is done to it by another car—there’s a fair chance a calibration will be called for. Here are some common examples:

  • Windshield replacement
  • Rear view mirror replacement
  • Any collision or air bag deployment
  • Sensor module replacement
  • Repairs to front or rear suspension or steering
  • Changes in ride height
  • Changes in tire size
  • Wheel alignment
  • Any repair that requires the removal and installation of an ADAS component

Ideally, you would always access OE information detailing when a calibration should be done, because it won’t always be obvious by any means. (One convenient way to do this is investing in an ADAS alignment and calibration system; see below.) Becoming knowledgeable when calibrations are called for is another way to develop a reputation as a shop that “gets” ADAS.

  1. Alignment is everything

Every ADAS calibration begins with an alignment inspection. If the wheels aren’t going entirely straight, neither will the ADAS. There can be no more “set the toe and let it go” alignments.

ADAS accuracy depends on the vehicle’s thrust line. That’s how it was first calibrated at the factory, and doing so again will provide the best results.

The geometric center line and thrust line do not always coincide. Some rear suspensions are adjustable; others are not. If the rear is adjustable, individual rear toe is adjusted to equal amounts, which will make the lines the same, eliminating the thrust angle. If it’s not, the best option is to adjust the front wheel geometry and ADAS to the thrust line.

The most critical angle is toe. Changes in rear individual toe cause the vehicle’s thrust line to change, which affects front-wheel geometry, which in turn can affect the accuracy of the ADAS sensors.

As a general rule, ADAS must be aligned to the vehicle’s direction of travel. If the direction of travel, steering wheel direction and ADAS aiming do not coincide, the result can be poor ADAS performance or, in some cases, individual features can fail to function. This is why many manufacturers require aligning the systems electronically when making mechanical wheel alignment adjustments.

Yet not all alignments are created equal. Some ADAS calibration procedures do not require the use of alignment equipment to determine the straight-ahead position of the front wheels. Instead, they rely on the technician to determine when the front wheels have equal individual toe values relative to the vehicle’s thrust line. This is a difficult, if not impossible, task.

All wheels must be measured, front and rear. Two-wheel alignments are a thing of the past.

  1. Take advantage of today’s ADAS equipment

ADAS is not simple work. It’s intricate, varied and can easily lead to confusion. Techs can be forgiven for thinking they’re stranded in no-man’s land, staring at a pile of black-and-white checkerboards and wondering what to do with them.

To become an expert, rely on experts.

ADAS aftermarket alignment and calibration equipment that can eliminate a lot of the guesswork and carefully guide techs through a complete calibration for more than 25 million vehicles is now available. Full-diagnostic tools can integrate with the aligner, as well as combine with other ADAS fixtures to provide clear, step-by-step procedures to ensure the job is done correctly. Another option is partnering with services that can provide live, online calibration assistance.

Given that ADAS specifications across dozens of brands change quite frequently, there is no reason not to take advantage of expert help whenever possible.

There are a lot more than five things you need to know about ADAS, of course. Number six can be to develop an action plan, such as collecting readily available information, educating your team on identifying ADAS situations, and thoroughly training them on handling these opportunities.

ADAS is designed for safety, and therefore safety must always be the prime consideration: that of your customers, and that of your business.

This article originally appeared in the July issue of Auto Service Professional magazine.

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