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A guide to incorporating diagnostics into your repair process

Monday, June 5, 2017 - 07:00
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If you haven’t incorporated collision repair diagnostics into your repair process already, it’s time. Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) are here to stay and will only continue to increase. By the year 2022, collision braking will be standard equipment on all vehicles sold by several OEMs in the North American market. If you’re planning on continuing to repair late-model collision damaged vehicles, you’re going to have be prepared to deal with some level of diagnostics; and those that are best prepared will likely have the most success.

After making the decision to get more active in diagnostics, questions quickly arise: Which tool(s) should I invest in?; Where am I going to do my diagnostics work?; Who is going to do my diagnostics work?; How do I incorporate these processes into my current repair process? The goal of this article is to help guide you through some of those questions.

Scanning is the only way to determine if there are any DTCs present.

Which tool(s) should I invest in?

This is one of the most common questions I get about diagnostics, and it’s one that isn’t easily answered. If you’ve decided to bring your diagnostics work in-house, you’ll have to answer this question early on. I suggest pulling your last couple years of repair orders and looking at the types of vehicles you’re working on. If you’re working on a few makes more often than not, you may want to consider an OEM scan tool for those models. The ones that you work on less frequently can be covered with an aftermarket tool, or by subletting to a local dealership. When choosing an aftermarket scan tool, it’s important for you to know the capabilities of that tool. Work with the tool provider to confirm that it cannot only read and clear codes, but that it also has the required initialization/calibration capabilities for the makes and models you work on most frequently.

Another option, with excellent coverage, is a remote diagnostics tool. Collision Diagnostic Services and AirPro Diagnostics are two companies that offer this type of tool. Remote scanning offers you access to an OEM scan tool, without the investment of having to buy several OEM scan tools or having the expertise for several to operate the different scan tools.

When is scanning required?

This question is one of the most hotly debated topics in the collision repair industry today. Several vehicle makers have recently published position statements on when they require pre- and post-repair scanning. Others have questioned the necessity of doing it on “all” vehicles, including those with no Malfunction Indicator Lamps (MIL) illuminated. The fact is, not all Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTC) will illuminate a MIL. Simply relying on the presence of a MIL to determine if you’re going to scan the vehicle is not a sound process.

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Personally, if it’s my shop, I’d be scanning every vehicle; and not just because of the OEM position statements. Instead, I’d be scanning the vehicle to determine which, if any, DTCs are related to the collision and which, if any, are likely NOT related to the collision. Scanning the vehicle, researching the DTCs, and making the determination of related/unrelated codes is the best way to ensure that all parties involved have a clear understanding of what is required for complete, safe and quality repairs. If the vehicle is hit in the front and has an adaptive cruise control-related DTC, chances are that it’s collision related. However, if that same vehicle has a code for a rear-wheel speed sensor that has had 150 key cycles since setting, you can rest assured that the code isn’t accident related. Scanning the vehicle during the damage analysis process is the best way to ensure that you’re writing the most complete assessment possible. Similar to 3D measuring, if you don’t scan the vehicle, it’s not possible to identify all of the “hidden” damage.

This search tool, available from I-CAR, can save valuable time when writing a complete damage assessment.

Scanning isn’t only done during the damage analysis process. As part of a sound quality control process, post-repair scanning should also be done to ensure the vehicle is delivered to the customer free from any collision-related (or collision-repair-related) DTCs.

Post-repair calibration/aiming

While the debate on pre- and post-scanning has taken center stage, there is another important step that has gone largely ignored. Post-repair calibration, or aiming, is essential for many of today’s Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS) to function properly. Many of these systems are guided by cameras and/or sensors. When replaced, or sometimes simply moved, calibration/aiming is required. Without calibration/aiming, the system may not function properly, potentially causing a collision.

Special targets may be required for forward facing cameras and sensors.
Vehicle makers often have specific procedures for determining where to place aiming targets.

Vehicle makers have specific criteria for when calibration/aiming is required and, often, a detailed process for the calibration/aiming procedure. Recently, I-CAR announced the launch of an OEM Calibration Requirements Search feature on the I-CAR Repairability Technical Support website. Visit I-CAR staff invested thousands of hours of research identifying:

  • which options were available on 2016 vehicles.
  • when calibration/aiming is required.
  • if the system will illuminate a MIL and/or set a DTC.
  • if a scan tool is required for calibration/aiming.
  • if any other special tools are required for the calibration/aiming procedure.

Location, location, location

Many calibration/aiming procedures require targets to be placed at specific distances and may have requirements for how flat the area is and/or space requirements in the front, rear and sides of the vehicles. There may even be lighting specifications for some of the calibration procedures. Having the space to do many of the calibration/aiming procedures will be important.

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