My team’s journey into the ADAS industry

June 11, 2024
When repairing vehicles, make sure you know the correct manufacturer's repair procedure. Not knowing the right repair procedure could be the difference in winning or losing a lawsuit.

For those of you who know me, you know that I have recently opened a second shop designed to be a business-to-business support system specializing in ADAS diagnosis, repair, and calibration. At the beginning of 2018, I wanted to make my business more consistent from month to month financially. I refer to this as the retail roller coaster, up one month, down the next. So I began looking at new technologies to focus on and be known as a specialist in that area. I learned that Autel was releasing a system to perform the majority of ADAS calibrations on most cars. That year I attended the Vision trade show in Kansas City (Figure 1) and had a chance to speak with Autel directly. As the year progressed, I began doing more and more research and found that Autel had a complete solution for ADAS calibrations, exactly what I was looking for. (Figure 2) My experience with Autel prior to that gave me faith that they had succeeded in the total solution. January 2019 was the start of a new line of work performing ADAS calibrations.

Reaching out to local businesses 

I began by locating the body shops within a 5-mile radius of our location. My strategy to gain new business was going out to these body shops that I identified and promoting my shop and our abilities of what we could offer them. We focused on areas that they did not want to repair, and in doing that, our business grew and grew. The body shop work and ADAS calibrations now account for one-third of our business. We are busy year-round, and we rarely have a slow day. I actually had to hire a person to help with repairs, maintenance, and growth projects around the shop since myself and my techs do not have time to take care of the day-to-day maintenance.

Getting the measurements right 

When we first started doing ADAS calibrations, our first frame was set up for the calibration to use tape measures and lasers to get the frame placement. This was good, and it's what some automotive manufacturers continue to use to this day. The problem with this type of system is if you make a mistake with your setup, then the vehicle will not calibrate. Remember the targets have a “go/no-go gauge." If the vehicle would not calibrate, I found that we would begin questioning our measurements, and then with the anxiety of the vehicle failing the calibration, mistakes could be made while checking the measurements. Luckily, we were successful in our calibrations, but when we had a vehicle that wouldn’t calibrate, we would spend way too much time trying to figure out why.

Our second frame had cameras and wheel targets, like an alignment rack, to aid in placing the ADAS target in the correct position. This helped to eliminate the time we were wasting trying to figure out why a vehicle wouldn't calibrate. Once we gained confidence in the system, we learned that if a car failed, we would reposition the frame once after the initial setup and if it would still not calibrate, we would turn our focus to the vehicle being the root cause of the problem. 

When it comes time for you to make the decision to begin thinking about which ADAS equipment to purchase, take the time to educate yourself on the capabilities of the equipment. Most of the major tool companies now have ADAS frames with cameras too. There are many machines out there that won’t do most cars. Also, pay attention to some of the major players as they have had several different versions of their equipment in only a few years. You must consider how long they will continue to support the present version.

Expanding your business

This new technology took us to the next level. It made us comfortable calibrating aftermarket glass, which opened up new doors to supporting the aftermarket automotive glass industry (Figure 3). Most dealerships will refuse to calibrate aftermarket glass (Figure 4). They have the frustration of working with tape measures and if the glass doesn’t calibrate, they get frustrated. I do understand why, but we have learned to look for bad glass. Many times, it is wavey when you begin to look closely at cars that fail to recalibrate after a windshield replacement. One thing that you should understand is that the glass manufacturers will only warranty the glass if there is a concern. They do not cover labor or adhesives, just the glass. As a result, the glass companies are very concerned about profit when a windshield will not recalibrate. I work closely with them and perform enough calibrations that I do not charge them for a calibration when the windshield is the cause. I realize that I am losing money by this, but when I am doing 300 plus calibrations a year, what is the smarter move? Charge for a few failed or continue to perform the 300 calibrations. 

Sharing the knowledge 

One of the big things to keep in mind, we are a very progressive organization as far as technology. Part of what we do for the businesses we work with is carefully educating them about the new technologies. We understand not to force large amounts of information on them, but to introduce new ideas and concepts a little at a time. We have found that most of them do not choose to self-educate or attend training. As a result, they are very slow to progress. I see that in the mechanical, body, and glass industries.

I am always surprised at how little knowledge some people in the automotive industry have of ADAS. Many people in the industry agree that ADAS in its earliest stage started in the 1950’s with anti-lock brakes. However, when I think of ADAS in its earliest stage, I think of the systems from 2000 when Cadillac started with night vision. With our training in ADAS we now simply look at ADAS systems as either optical or distance sensors. Yes, there are more particulars to it than that, but it really is pretty straightforward once you have become accustomed to working with the systems. As a result of my team’s reputation, we have been extremely fortunate that everyone on the team sees the benefits of furthering their knowledge and sharing it within the team and the industry overall. To continue our education, we utilize Carquest Technical Institute and World Pac Technical Institute. As a result, we continue to grow and be requested for training. 

Know your worth 

Today’s vehicles are getting more and more complex. Even simple suspension items require torque to yield bolts. With more and more aluminum coming into suspension repair, it is important to look up the repair procedure including torque specifications. Remember the repair time also includes the time to look up the repair procedure.

Let’s take a moment and think about torque to yield bolts, if they are reused, they are very likely to break. What happens if that control arm bolt breaks? We are even seeing torque to yield bolts on sub-frames and cross-members. We know that if the vehicle crashes you are liable. What if that vehicle crashes because it was not calibrated properly after a repair? You are liable. If a vehicle requires a calibration after an alignment and that calibration is not completed, you did not follow the manufacturer's recommended repair procedure. If we take the time to learn, test, and certify in this industry we can go to the next level and charge for it.

For example, most plumbers charge $150 to $200 just to come to your house. We aren’t there. We have an incredibly hard time finding new employees in this industry, why? Because we do not pay them what other industries are paying. Think about being a plumber, think how many fewer tools they require in comparison to the vast quantity of tools that we require. My lead technician's toolbox houses approximately $200,000 in tools. 

In order for us to recruit new talent we have to begin charging appropriately so that we can afford to pay appropriately. We are not the technicians from the 1960s. We are dealing with technology that exceeds that of the original lunar landing. Show your commitment to the industry, continue your training no less than 20 hours a year as a minimum —  and get/maintain your credentials.

Conclusion

I am in the ADAS business. I have made that clear and have advertised and promoted this. If you are removing bumpers, replacing mirrors, replacing A/C condensers or radiators, replacing rear view mirrors, replacing windshields, or removing front bumpers you are also in the ADAS business. As an industry, we have to educate ourselves and learn how to look up the correct service information for the repairs we perform. Most manufacturers require a calibration if the sensor has been touched or replaced. Remember the Honda Fit in Texas, a $43-million lawsuit that was lost because the body shop didn’t follow the manufacturer's recommended repair procedures. If you perform a repair and the vehicle calls for a radar calibration and camera calibration, and you don’t perform them, you are not following the manufacturer's recommended repair procedures. If that car is in an accident, and they look at the repair history and see that you didn’t calibrate the car after your repairs, you are liable. If your shop is going to perform ADAS services, then make sure you know what you’re doing, otherwise, you’ll just be left asking the question, “How good is your insurance?” 

About the Author

Ross Colket

Ross Colket is the owner of Colket Automotive Technical Services in Lansdale, Pennsylvania. He is an ASE Certified Master Technician with over 30 years of experience as both a technician and educator. As a former CTI instructor, he believes in the importance of training and giving back to the industry. Ross fully supports and believes in Motor Age’s mission to “advance the automotive professional."   

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