Not Consigned to Calibration

There’s More to Calibration Companies than Meets the Eye

By Travis Rains

Auto glass replacement shops are doing more and more these days as technological advancements continue to revolutionize the industry. The AGRR industry is not experiencing these changes alone, however. Calibration companies are also taking on additional responsibilities as systems and processes increasingly integrate with one another.

Crown Collision Solutions

Tom Johnson, operations manager at Crown Collision Solutions in Bridgewater, Mass., says performing calibrations is his company’s primary service. The approximately two-year-old operation plans to provide new and future services that typical collision, glass and body shops may not offer. These include front-facing camera calibrations with respect to the windshields of newer and technologically-advanced vehicles. But for Johnson and Crown Collision, there’s a lot more than calibrations happening at the shop each day.

“More or less, it’s probably like 25% of what we do,” Johnson says of front-facing camera calibrations. “A lot of glass shops already do calibrations. I think there’s more opportunity out there from a body-shop standpoint since 75% to 85% percent of our work is with body shops.”

Just because a job may not directly involve auto glass does not mean the front-facing camera won’t receive attention. That’s especially true of certain vehicle makes, such as Honda.

“We still do camera calibration, even if the windshield wasn’t replaced,” Johnson says. “Whenever there’s structural damage, on a Honda, for example, they require a front camera calibration, which a lot of people don’t know. We look at what was done to a car, what the repairs were and what requirements are now needed.”

These days, calibrations require pre-alignment checks for many vehicles, a step that uses differing processes when working with glass and body shops. For example, Johnson says auto glass shops dealing solely with glass don’t have much stake in whether the vehicle is properly aligned, as the vehicle is then sent to Crown Collision for calibration and subsequent services.

“It’s a little different with the body shop and collision shop side, since they may bring a car for alignment after the repairs if they didn’t do suspension work. They may even get the car aligned somewhere else and inform us over the phone so we don’t have to check,” Johnson says. “But those front-camera calibrations, more often than not, all require proper alignment. You have to make sure the thrust angle of that car is going straight forward, and those systems know the car is traveling straight and the suspension is fine.”

Crown Collision Solutions also bolsters its business by offering air conditioning services, as well as programming, reprogramming and coding of vehicle modules and systems. The company is even starting a consulting and training program for those in the industry.

“Every year, you’re going to see the number of calibrations go up,” Johnson says. “Going forward, you’re going to see the number of calibrations required on vehicles keep increasing. Plus, if people drive older models, they’ll get new cars eventually and those cars are going to have these systems in them.”

ADAS Calibrations of Billings

Shaun Combs owns ADAS Calibrations of Billings in Montana and works primarily with collision-repair body shops and mobile glass operations. Body shops will send a vehicle to the Combs along with a list of calibrations needing to be performed. His shop goes through a similar process with mobile glass operations that call for price quotes on applicable vehicles.

While Combs says both processes are relatively straightforward, there is still room for improvement. Namely, he’s supportive of efforts that would require shops to communicate the need for calibration to their customers. The way things are now, he says, does not make for a “consistent process of management with respect to the need for calibration.”

“It’s pretty simple in that regard, but it’s something I think the industry is working on cleaning up, making it so that calibrations are just required with that glass service,” Combs says. “With body shops, there are several programs out there to help them understand when a car needs calibration based on the repairs they did. That message is starting to grow and those services are starting to grow. Body shops are getting a little more involved in running those diagnostics, but that process still needs to evolve.”

Industry evolution is also taking place with respect to consumer education. As more and more vehicles on the road come equipped with ADAS capabilities, Combs says the owners of those vehicles will become increasingly knowledgeable of those systems. That means calibration shops need to keep up with the latest trends and developments, including
tackling the challenging task of equipping one’s shop with the right tools.

“There’s not a system that does 100% of everything,” Combs says. “You have to be able to adapt and continually find ways to grow your tool base to allow you to be competitive in doing calibrations. You can’t go by a single system and think you’ll be able to calibrate all cars and all windshields. I think that’s the biggest challenge for anybody wanting to get into calibration, what lines of cars are you going to work with?”

The answer to that question could depend on the glass, collision and body shops with which a calibration company works, and the vehicles primarily served by those operations.

While his shop also offers programming services to customers, Combs makes an effort to avoid overlap with any service that may be offered by businesses he services.

“I don’t want to compete with my customers, so we don’t do alignments,” he says. “But, I do programming because sometimes I’ll install a front radar that has to be initialized or programmed. As far as body shop labor, I try not to overlap. If the body shop does alignments or needs an alignment, I’ll send it back to the body shop.”

All Clear Diagnostics and Calibration

The day-to-day is a little different for Terry Wester, vice president of operations at All Clear Diagnostics and Calibration in Alabama. That’s because the company is entirely mobile without any fixed operations. All Clear’s technicians take their equipment to body and collision shops, and complete their calibrations at those locations.

“Our technicians travel onsite to the body shops to help reduce the cycle time,” Wester says, noting his insurance and body shop background. “We recognize that we do need to reduce cycle time, so we try to prevent tow charges due to ADAS functions being disabled. It helps to reduce the overall cycle time of the repair, and helps the body shop to hit their goals.”

In addition to calibrations, All Clear also offers diagnostics and programming. For example, the company uses the Odis diagnostic software tool to program Audi headlamps, airbags and more.

“The reason we offer that service along with ADAS is it ties into what we’re doing, and we’re already using the same tools,” he says. “It just fits with our business model.”

Wester started in the industry in the early 1990s and says that if someone had told him all that would be required in the future with respect to calibrations, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“The depth of technology that has come in over the past 20 years has been incredible to see,” he says. “I think we’ll all be blown away with the tech that gets further integrated into the modern auto.”

As vehicles become more modern, the more overlap shops see with respect to job requirements. Wester says All Clear performs front-facing camera calibrations frequently, though that doesn’t always mean the job pertains to auto glass.

“There are so many calibrations required for each, individual job,” he says. “A front-end impact may even require a front-facing camera calibration, so it’s kind of blended in with the repair. We may do it because it’s a windshield, but we may also do it for radar, front basin cameras and all of those things that kind of blend together.”

Aside from the practicality of offering potentially overlapping or related services, Wester says a shop’s investment in the calibration industry shows an understanding of the ethics involved in modern vehicle repair.

“We’re providing more than just a technician turning a wrench to complete
a task,” he says. “Anything anybody does relating to ADAS systems, they have a responsibility to the family riding down the road and the other people who are on the road.”

Travis Rains is assistant editor for AGRR magazine. Connect
with him on LinkedIn.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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