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The why, how of scanning

Scanning is vital to proper repairs, and a mobile diagnostics company can help
Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 06:00
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Vehicles are becoming more complex with many consumer-driven feature improvements to vehicle navigation, infotainment and safety systems. The price tag on these modern high-tech marvels that many of your customers own is probably equal to or more than the house you grew up in! The modern automobile is usually one of the greatest investments, second usually only to the purchase of a home, people nowadays make in their lives. Since vehicles are costing more, the cost of repairing them is also is increasing. A lot of this is due to the advent of all the expensive safety systems like multiple airbags, passive restraints like seat belt pretensioners, collapse steering columns, adaptive cruise control, lane departure/collision avoidance and blind-spot detection systems. 

The job of the auto body estimator can be a difficult one. Software estimating programs have been around for years to aid in this task of getting the estimate correct with the least amount of supplementation and to reduce cycle time. Matrixes of parts to be replaced after a certain type of deployment collision have traditionally been used to limit the insurance company’s liability post-collision repair. But with the advent of more and more expensive mission-critical safety systems, the accuracy and cost effectiveness of these estimating methods is becoming more and more limited. The insurance companies have come to this realization and pilot programs for pre- and post-repair scans are in place in many markets and soon to become the status quo or industry standard. I own and operate a mobile diagnostics and programming company providing dealer-level diagnostics such as pre/post scanning, programming and wiring repair to my collision and service repair facility clients. 

Pre- and post-repair scans are becoming a bigger and bigger part of what we do in collision centers. While there are tooling and online options for pre/post scanning, establishing a working relationship with a local mobile diagnostics professional is a great option if one is available in your area. Having a boots on the ground professional is a great advantage when it comes to data interpretation and insuring a successful programming outcome. Module programming can be tricky at times. Proper tooling and technique are critical to the successful outcome. If the battery voltage is to drop too low or if the key is cycled at the wrong time, the programming results can be catastrophic.

So, what is driving the trend shifting to pre/post scans? First, think of how the post-deployment airbag parts matrix model worked in the past. Parts were replaced based on a certain type of collision deployment. The matrix suggested replacement of all possible parts that “could” have failed in that deployment collision. Oftentimes, this resulted in the replacing of parts that may not have actually failed, and unnecessary losses for insurance companies. Insurers are always looking to reduce loss and liability and improve their bottom line. Second, and perhaps more importantly, consider that the modern late-model vehicle can have an upwards of 50 modules that communicate on multiple computer networks. There are literally hundreds of Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) that can set, many that may not turn on a Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL). Third, most of the modules have some sort of programming, setup, configuration or calibration requiring OE tooling and subscriptions either after collision repairs or module replacement. Because of the locations of some of these modules, it makes them susceptible to collision damage. Some safety equipment — like collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane departure modules — are extremely expensive and the time to realize there is damage is prior to repair, rather than once the vehicle is in production or after it has been repaired. This is extremely important especially if the repair of said systems could have totaled the vehicle.

Moreover, these are usually big dollar supplements that have to be turned in. Replacement of these types of systems require programming and oftentimes special calibrations requiring OE tooling. Having a system-wide pre-scan of the vehicle before the estimating and repair process begins is a procedure that captures and documents any codes that are present or pending and in some later-model vehicles, the time stamps associated with them. This can be extremely beneficial for both the insurance company as well as the collision shop. This is a great aid in determining any unreported prior damage and help combat the “ever since you worked on my car, XYZ doesn’t work.” Collision centers and insurance companies usually have no leg to stand on due to not having any record of previous unreported failures. If an owner complains loud enough, the insurance will pay out to avoid the negative publicity. This may result in the collision shop having to foot the bill to avoid a poor BBB, Yelp or online review.  Pre/post scans will be a great step in the right direction to combat this. Here are just a few scenarios that come to mind where pre /post scans could be beneficial.

Scenario 1
Let’s say the customer had bought a late-model vehicle with radar adaptive cruise control and hit something that damaged the ACC module, but didn’t cause any other obvious damage. They got a $2,000 estimate and elected not to repair. Six months later, the vehicle was rear ended, causing $10,000 in damage. The vehicle was towed in on a flatbed with flat tires and a low battery from the flashers being left on. The body shop lacks the tooling to scan advanced safety features like ACC and obviously, they can’t drive it. So, post frame pulling, sheet metal repair, blocking and painting, the vehicle is returned to the owner who soon after returns to the shop. “Since you worked on my vehicle, my ACC doesn’t work,” the customer explains. The ACC module is on the complete opposite end of the vehicle in relation to where the damage occurred. The part is extremely expensive. The owner insists that the ACC worked fine prior to loss, and neither the body shop nor insurance company has any documentation that the ACC was inoperative prior to the accident. Eventually, the insurance company pays for a completely unrelated repair. The pre/post scan documentation would give both the shop and the insurance carrier a legal leg to stand on.

Scenario 2
The vehicle is a 2014 Ford Explorer Limited that has deployed the front airbags, pretensioners and has fairly extensive frame and sheet metal damage and is close to, but not at, total value.  The insurance carrier approves it to be repaired. The collision shop orders parts based on a matrix for a driver and passenger airbag deployment. The matrix calls for driver and passenger front airbags, clockspring, crash sensors, both pretensioners and seat belt anchors and a Restraints Control Module (RCM). It also states: “all deployable devices should be inspected post collision.” Both front airbags are obviously deployed, the front seat belts are pulled on and they are as tight as a string bass. It all seems pretty obvious to the estimator.

Structural repairs include pulling the frame and the sheet metal is hung. The vehicle is blocked and paint blended with no issues. Cycle time has been ticking away, and post production the SRS MIL is on — the shop realizes that the RCM didn’t get programmed. The Programmable Module Inspection (PMI) of the RCM is performed. The SRS MIL remains on, codes are read from the RCM. A code for the collapsible column deployment loop is the only code present. A closer inspection reveals the collapsible steering column has deployed and needs replaced. This is an expensive part that is not always stocked at the local dealer.

A pre-repair scan report from a mobile tech would have alerted the shop to closely inspect the column for deployment. Part of the OE’s inspection process is to check for codes and deployment loop statuses with a factory scan tool. One could argue that a shop with a scan tool could perform some of these functions. It could, if properly trained and tooled at a substantial cost of time and money. 

Scenario 3
A late-model Mazda has been in a deployment collision. The RCM has been changed out. A mobile tech is called in to shut off the SRS MIL. The shop attempted to do the RCM setup with their recently acquired aftermarket scan tool. After they attempt the procedure, the light is still on. They reluctantly call in a mobile tech who is not initially told about their attempt to setup and program the new RCM, just that the RCM was replaced. The mobile tech realizes something is afoul when the usual U2100 module configuration code that is almost always present in Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Mazda SRS modules that have been replaced and need a PMI performed is not present. Moreover, there are codes for the driver’s third deployment loops. The mobile tech consults a wiring diagram, which shows no such deployment loop for this year, make and model of vehicle. A physical inspection confirms this as well. After some quizzing of one of the techs, the shop comes clean about their attempt to try out their new tool that was “supposed to” do this function. A PMI of the RCM is performed using hexadecimal data obtained from the OE, since the original RCM is no longer present. The SRS codes are cleared and the SRS MIL is no longer on.   

While the shop had good intentions, it fell short of the task and set erroneous RCM codes that resulted in wasted cycle time that could have been better spent working on vehicles in production that were in the body tech’s field of expertise. It also illustrates the need to have the proper OE tooling, subscriptions and “time in type” to expedite this repair in a timely manner and keep the collision shop’s production running smooth.

These scenarios illustrate the value of pre and post scans, and also the use of a mobile tech. They can be invaluable to a body shop, which only needs to pick up a phone and then they have a “boots on the ground” presence.

Scenario 4
A late-model Toyota with Millimeter Wave Collision Avoidance/Adaptive CC rear ends another vehicle causing significant damage the front of the vehicle. The body shop is in a medium-sized Midwestern town that doesn’t have a local Toyota dealer. The shop has elected to use an online service that, after purchasing their hardware, will “remote in” and do the pre/post scans and any programming needed. The shop is told a have a solid internet connection, dedicated bay and a tech on standby for a two-hour window. The pre scan catches the damage to the Millimeter Wave unit, and it is replaced. The post scan comes back with codes that the Millimeter Wave module calibration not performed. This is a procedure that requires special targets, OE tools and the familiarity with the system and its operation. Oftentimes after performing a very specific calibration/setup, the vehicle is required to be driven in a certain manner. The online remote service providers cannot do this.

Pre- and post-repair scans are here to stay, and they are a great benefit to the collision shop, insurer and vehicle owner. They help take the surprise out of estimating and repairing the complex modern vehicle. There are a few options to doing these scans — a shop can purchase the OE equipment and subscriptions and do them in house, or outsource them to either an online vendor or to a mobile diagnostics service. Regardless of your choice, pre/post scans are here to stay and will soon be part of your day-to-day operations, if they are not already.

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