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How collision avoidance systems impact basic service repairs

Thursday, February 23, 2017 - 08:00
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While collision avoidance systems are becoming somewhat of a buzz word lately they really aren’t all that new. In fact, General Motors acquired Hughes Aircraft Corporation back in 1985 in part to accelerate their development of collision avoidance systems. General Motors continued progress with the systems and eventually participated in a joint project with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which ran from 1999-2004 to further refine and finally launch their first system which was installed on a limited number of the model year 2002 Buick LeSabre for real world testing. 

Some of the technology used in collision avoidance systems is in essence a limited version of autonomous vehicle technology. The most common type of these systems currently being implemented is automated cruise control. These systems are not new either really; in fact these were introduced years before the GM/NHTSA collision avoidance project. Early versions of laser based automated cruise systems were introduced to the Japanese market in the early to mid-1990s by both Mitsubishi and Toyota. That was then followed by the first worldwide launch of a radar based system on the Mercedes Benz S class around 1999 which included the US market. 

(Image courtesy of Toyota) Toyota Dynamic Radar Cruise Control

The number and complexity of these types systems obviously prevents this article from covering them all. Instead I’ll focus on a few main types of systems that may impact how your shop handles even “basic” services such as brakes, tires and alignments. 

Automated cruise control

As I just mentioned, Automated Cruise Control systems are not exactly new. That being said however, they are beginning to become much more common so the chances of you needing to deal with them are increasing almost daily. The basic concept with these systems is to help reduce the amount of driver input required once cruise control is enabled. The actual amount of assistance the vehicle provides however can vary widely. In the most basic systems that were first introduced the driver was simply provided with a warning that they were approaching a vehicle that was moving slower. That progressed fairly rapidly to include a limited control system that would adjust the throttle in an attempt to adjust pace to the other vehicle but didn’t include active braking. Today we can see any realm of these systems all the way up to the soon to be released GM “Super Cruise” (Super Cruise is the working name GM is using for their automated driving systems). The Super Cruise system is capable of not only pacing the vehicle to other cars (all the way to a complete stop if necessary), it can also keep the vehicle in its own lane through steering assist. That system was expected to be released in late 2016 however it has now been pushed to sometime during 2017 with the first introduction expected to be on the Cadillac CT6. While it has been delayed, GM promises the technology is very close to production. 

So, how might automated cruise control affect what you do every day? Probably the most likely impact will be if you perform alignments. I was working as a Mercedes Benz dealership technician when their first Distronic radar paced cruise control entered the US Market in 1999. The dealership was required to replace their alignment equipment at that point to ensure the system being used was accurate enough to maintain the required tolerances (and the system we took out wasn’t exactly old). You might be asking yourself how alignment could impact a cruise control system. With virtually all of these systems there are radar and/or laser sensors involved. Those sensors are typically mounted toward the front center of the vehicle (radiator core support area) and face forward. The goal of the sensors is to watch for other vehicles in front of, and in the same lane as, the vehicle being driven. The key part to that at it relates to alignments is that it watches for vehicles in the same lane. With the sensor(s) being mounted to the body, if the vehicle is “dog tracking” due to poor alignment the sensor(s) may not be looking directly forward. Dog tracking is caused by the vehicle’s thrust angle being incorrect. The incorrect thrust angle results in the rear wheels pushing the vehicle off to one side or the other. To keep the vehicle going straight down the road the driver then corrects by turning the front wheels until they are virtually parallel to the rear wheels which would cause the steering wheel to be off center. If a two-wheel (front wheel) alignment is performed without correcting the thrust angle everything could look correct to the driver (steering wheel straight, no pulling, etc.), but the automated cruise sensors could be pointing too far off to one side. That means either the thrust angle would need to be corrected, or the alignment of the sensor would need to be adjusted to correct for the thrust angle in order for the system to work as designed.

(Image courtesy of Toyota) Toyota Safety Sense Collision Avoidance Technology
(Image courtesy of Honda) Honda Odyssey Forward Facing Camera – Collision Avoidance and Lane Departure
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