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Breaking down vehicle scanning

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 - 08:00
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Advanced electric technology: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Collision Repair. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new OEM procedures, seek out the proper, accurate and correct OEM repair information, learn that diagnosis is the singularly most important aspect of estimating and to boldly go and raise the repair education level and awareness to where no man has gone before…

Things we saw and heard mentioned in Lost in Space, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Wars are now becoming a reality not of space travel, but of land travel. Every day automobiles are now acting like the space craft we watched in TV shows and movies when many of us were children. The features that used to be so far advanced and exclusive to high-end luxury vehicles can now be found as standard equipment in most of today’s economical vehicles.

The electronic computer-controlled systems in vehicles are some of the most highly advanced and reliable systems we have ever seen, but they are also one of the most misunderstood in the industry. These modules or microprocessors are generally referred to as an Electronic Control Module (ECM.  Like any computer component, these ECMs sometimes need updates and/or relearning; to do this, you need to first scan the system. There can be anywhere from 40 to 100 computer controls to operate, communicate and in some cases, record information about the operation of a system or systems that can be used later for diagnosis. Over the past few years, understanding how vehicle systems operate and how to diagnose them has never been more important. Adaptive Cruise/Distronic Cruise Control, Adaptive Light Control (turning or curve lighting), Advanced Anti-Lock Braking Systems (autonomous braking), Automatic Parking, Navigation System/GPS and Up-To-Date Traffic Information, Automotive Night Vision/Heads Up Display, Blind Spot Detection/Blind Spot Monitor, Collision Avoidance/Pre-Crash System/Pre-Collision Assist, Crosswind Stabilization, Driver Drowsiness Detection/Driver Monitoring Systems, Electronic Brake Distribution, Emergency Driver Assistant, Electronic Stability Control, Electric Vehicle Warning Sounds (used in hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles), Forward Collision Warning, Glare-Free High Beam/Pixel Lighting/LED Lighting, Hill Descent Control, Intelligent Speed Adaptation/Intelligent Speed Advice, Intersection Assistant, Lane Assist System/Lane Change Assistance/Lane Departure Warning System, Park Assist System/Parking Sensor, Pedestrian Protection System, Rain Sensor, Speed Assist Systems, Surround View System/All Around Camera, Traction Control Systems, Traffic Sign Recognition (Autonomous), Turning Assistant, Vehicular Communication Systems, and Wrong-Way Driving Warning to name a few, but still not all, of the computerized systems found in many vehicles today. I intentionally left off two important system components — Supplement Restraint System (SRS) Occupant Weight Detection Systems (OWS) or Classification Systems (OCS), and Back-Up Camera Systems, which we will discuss later in this article.    

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Technicians have utilized scanners for the past 25 years to not only determine what is or is not operating properly, but also to reset or relearn systems as an alternative to going to the dealer for service. Techs rely on scanners to be able to perform their jobs and accurately determine the root cause of the problem or narrow down the problem by eliminating systems that are performing properly.

Some in collision repair and the insurance industry have been slow to embrace scanning vehicles, but that is all about to change. Mechanical diagnostic flow charts and procedures are written by the engineers based on the idea that a component failed because of longevity of use or electrical failure and not because of collision damage. Most times in service repair an electrical component failure is either because the component ran its life or some sort of re-engineering repair is needed, which is generally very noticeable. You know the type — an errand wire running from the fuse box to the component. But for collision repairers the component failure is generally a direct result of the collision event. When a vehicle involved in a collision event arrives at the repair facility, one of the first things the damage assessor or technician should do during the blueprinting/triage is to perform a scan of the vehicle systems.

Scanning needs to be a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) during the initial inspection of the vehicle, generally called blueprinting/triage. Scanning will easily identify electronic system failures and inoperative components. Utilizing the OEM repair procedures, OEM Code Listing and a computer scanner, a damage assessor will be able to determine which systems are or are not operational, what systems codes are current and which are history codes, and any relearning that would be required after repairs are completed and/or damaged components are replaced. Before we continue, let’s clarify a few points about scanning to distinguish the truth from myth.

  1. If there are not lights on the dashboard, there is no reason to scan the vehicle. FALSE. The light on the dashboard, called a Malfunction Indicator Lamp (MIL), is illuminated by an ECM due to a Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC). Most systems that fail and set a DTC will not set or illuminate an MIL on the instrument information cluster. In many collision events, the Airbag Control Module (ACM) will record a non-deployment or deployment event and because of this a DTC many be set. In some events, the ACM may have commanded a component deployment, such as a seat belt buckle or headrest, and it is not visibly noticeable, or the ACM commanded a deployment and the airbag failed to deploy, due to some sort of failure, and an MIL was not illuminated. Without scanning, the vehicle could be repaired and then delivered to the vehicle owner without an operating SRS component.

As we all know, airbags are generally replaced near the end of the repair process, just before delivery. So if a damaged SRS component is discovered near the completion of vehicle repairs, it will delay delivery and a supplement will be required. Another example would be a vehicle with parking sensors; if a collision impacted the front or rear bumper assembly, generally there will be no MIL illuminated that the sensor(s) is inoperative.  Again, the vehicle could returned to the vehicle owner with the parking system not operating properly. Pre-scanning would have prevented these issues.

  1. We need to use a common sense approach to scanning, similar to what was done in the early 1980s when unibody vehicles became more prevalent in vehicle designs.

FALSE. Structural diagnosis is still a misunderstood process almost 35 years after the mass influx of unitized structures. A large percentage of repair facilities still don’t perform pre-measuring to determine if the vehicle has or has not sustained structural misalignment. We have been seeing an epidemic of incorrectly repair vehicles that have structural misalignment after repairs are completed during post repair inspections (PRIs), and in many cases the vehicle must be totaled out; the cost is becoming astronomical. This is no different with pre-scanning. As the saying goes “if common sense is so common, how come so many do not possess it?” 

Would you be comfortable with your doctor using common sense and visual analysis to determine if you have cancer or not? How many times have you experienced a common-sense diagnosis to structural damage so you repair the vehicle, send it for a wheel alignment and the tech explains that the vehicle will need an alignment because the structure is misaligned? Or you attempt to install replacement suspension components and you cannot because they will not line up with the mounting holes?  How many times have you finished the repairs and the vehicle is ready for delivery only to discover there are MILs illuminated or a system component will not operate properly?

  1. Insures do not have to pay for clearing or resetting of DTCs that are not related to the current event. TRUE. Insurers do not owe any payment for history DTCs, but they do have an obligation to pay for the scans to confirm or deny if the DTC is related to the current event or a non-related history issue(s). Additionally, during the repairs there can be vehicle DTCs set due to the repair process, and these DTCs would need to cleared. In many cases, a simple remove and install (R&I) of a component will require a scan and relearning process and an additional scan to confirm the relearning is complete. An example would be blending a front door outer panel and R&I of the side view mirror assembly, if the mirror is equipped with a camera and or lane departure sensor. The mirror would require a realignment check after it is reinstalled.  
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