Meet George Jetson … at least, that’s who I felt like when I recently test-drove a fully loaded SUV with the Advanced Safety Package. By now, you know what that label infers: proximity sensors in the front and at the rear; blind spot warnings; adaptive cruise control with forward collision avoidance; self-parallel and perpendicular parking assist; and a host of other magical, futuristic features that have become quite common on a wide range of vehicle classes.
Collectively referred to as Advanced Driver Assistance Systems – or ADAS – this technology stands to save thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year. And when collisions are unavoidable, ADAS is likely to reduce the severity of the impact by reacting faster than the human behind the wheel and applying the brakes at least 1.5 seconds sooner than otherwise possible.
The earliest examples of ADAS include back-up cameras, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, and have been around for 15 years – long enough to be prime aftermarket service candidates. Now, even the newest early warning technologies such as Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Detection are in the aftermarket sweet spot, having been introduced six to nine years ago. Infrared sensors, RADAR, LIDAR and multiple cameras pose unique challenges to service shops – both independent aftermarket and OE dealers. Not the least of which are the diagnostic tools and targets needed to aim and calibrate these cameras and sensors when they are replaced or serviced. In addition, the floor space that is needed around the vehicle can be significant – 1,500 to 3,600 square feet in some cases.
So, if ADAS-equipped vehicles number in the millions with many more coming every year, what are the challenges and responses to this space-age technology among independent aftermarket shops? 40 years ago some shops avoided the transition into computer controlled engine management service and chose to become undercar specialists. A good living can be made servicing brakes, exhaust and suspension systems without the need to invest in scan tools, diagnostic systems and training.
Other service providers are not in the habit of saying “no” to the customers and, therefore, dive into ADAS with the help of service repair information from the leading providers. But, without the floor space or targeting systems, they cannot properly aim and calibrate the cameras and sensors. Moving or replacing a sensor that’s looking down the road without aiming it precisely is just looking for trouble. A forward facing collision-avoidance radar can see up to 800 feet down the road. If the camera is misaligned by only 1 millimeter, it could be “seeing” bushes or construction barrels on the side of the road instead of the moving traffic in the middle of the road. The result is for the vehicle to slam on the brakes, potentially contributing to an accident.
Other shops have not made a conscious decision to service ADAS technology, but in the case of windshield glass replacement or servicing an A/C condenser tucked behind a radar-equipped grill, disturbing and/or refitting one or more safety components is unavoidable. Once that’s done, factory specified procedures for calibration must be followed and documented. As Ben Johnson, Director of Product Management at Mitchell 1 said, “even if you don’t think you’re in the ADAS business – news flash – you are.” Some components can be calibrated dynamically with a scan tool and a drive cycle. A drive cycle is often defined as a specified duration at a specified speed with clearly visible lane markings – not consistently practical. Alternatively, cameras and sensors can be aimed statically by placing factory-specific targets on the floor or in view of the cameras at specified distances. I haven’t seen many service bays with the kind of space required.
An emerging response among the top shops I’ve spoken to is to invest in the fixtures (as much as $70,000 for aiming targets, aligner and related gear) and the training to become an ADAS specialist to serve their own customers as well as other shops in a hub and spoke model. Assuming the open, uncluttered floor space is available, ADAS service opportunities will only become more common, and well equipped and trained specialists can perform these services just as well as they can diagnose a flakey ECM.
As Kaleb Silver, Director of Product Management at Hunter Engineering put it to me, “the sky is not falling with regards to ADAS and it has not had a huge impact on typical repair shops, yet. But, the aftermarket is disadvantaged regarding the tools, targets and training required to keep these vehicles as safe as the day they left the factory”. Independent shops should consider whether ADAS work is an opportunity to increase their value to their customers with a new specialization. In any case, be mindful of impacting ADAS systems through other unrelated work, ensure that your business liability insurance is up-to-date and protects you, follow the factory procedures and document what you’ve done every step of the way. The improved safety and driving experience that is available through Advanced Driver Assistance Systems is something right out of the pages of science fiction. But the service and repair opportunities are reality for the independent shops that can see the future and prepare to capitalize on it.