Tackling Calibration

By Travis Rains

Whether you’re a large shop conducting dozens of Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) calibrations a day or a smaller shop that may see only a handful on a daily basis, the lucrative service of calibrating a vehicle’s windshield is not leaving the AGRR industry. As more and more vehicles come equipped with such technology, owners are tasked with maximizing their operations’ potential through best practices and an understanding of the nuances that come with the varying types of calibration.

There is no choice when it comes to which type of calibration is performed on a particular vehicle. Be in static, dynamic or dual calibration, those specifications are set by the vehicle manufacturer. The type of calibration depends on the sensors and cameras employed by the manufacturer, as well as the safety features incorporated into the vehicle.

The process of static calibration involves “perfectly aligning” target stands with the vehicle using a proprietary scan tool. Each vehicle make and model has its own set of parameters for calibration. Dynamic calibration requires a ride on the open road.

Calibration Considerations

“You interface with the vehicle and follow scan tool parameters while driving around city streets and highways, depending on what the vehicle asks for,” says Jacques Navant of Don’s Mobile Glass and the Calibration Station in Modesto, Calif.. “They’re all slightly different.”

Rick Weisman of Santa Clarita Auto Glass Inc., prefers performing static calibrations for a number of reasons. “I like the controlled environment of having the car in the shop,” he says. “I automatically don’t like the liability of being on the road in any way, all the way down to getting a broken windshield while you’re doing the calibration. We have a road in Santa Clarita that’s notorious for rocks, and that’s the road we need to use for calibrations. Freak accidents can happen.”

While it’s rarely an issue in California, Navant notes that weather and road conditions can impact a shop’s dynamic calibrations. “There are a number of questions to ask when planning,” he says.

Is the street chosen for the calibration drive well-marked? Is it in an area where traffic flow will allow you to keep the vehicle at 35 mph as required by many manufacturers? Weather conditions, such as fog or precipitation, can also serve to lengthen the time it takes to properly perform a dynamic calibration.

“The cards are really stacked against you,” Navant says. And there are some vehicles that actually call for both types of calibration, one after the other.

“You usually start with a static calibration,” Navant says. “We do it in a purpose-built environment to minimize the risk of issues, then after, the scan tool will prompt you to go perform a dynamic calibration. Obviously, it’s a lot more time-consuming and opens you up to issues of both calibration types. You have to make sure you’re really dialed in. Hands down, the most important thing for any up-and-coming company is just to choose the right equipment.”

Robbie Wiggins, owner of Regal Glass Services in Suffolk, Va., notes that purchasing the right equipment can be daunting for any shop. At the end of the day, it comes down to professionalism for Wiggins. That’s on par with the revised AGRSS Standard Approved by ANSI in 2022. The revision requires that those engaged in automotive glass replacement only use equipment specifically designed and purposed for recalibration/calibration when recalibration/calibration of the ADAS is required by the vehicle manufacturer. The revised standard also requires technicians preforming recalibration/calibration procedures to be qualified which includes the successful completion of a comprehensive training program with a final exam and ongoing education.

“Purchasing the equipment for calibrations might be intimidating for a start-up business, and even for those who have been in business for years but don’t want the out-of-pocket initial investment,” Wiggins says.

Using Time Wisely

With all of these considerations in play, shops must look for ways to capitalize on an emerging industry while walking the tightrope of scheduling.

“The calibration process is not something you want to rush through,” Navant
says. “Make sure you give your technicians enough time to do a safe install and safe calibration. It’s not 1993 when you had the right glass part and knew you’d make it to the end of the day. In a modern glass shop, you have to think about every step from the product you’re using to how you’re communicating with your customer. You have to plan ahead.”

Another reason Rick Weisman is partial to static calibrations is that, depending on the make and model, they can be completed in as little as five minutes. The same can’t be said for dynamic calibrations, and certainly not for dual calibrations. Some vehicles, such as Subaru, may take as long as 45 minutes to dynamically, or dual, calibrate.

“Subaru is pretty difficult, especially when you’re running through your day,”
says Brian Weisman, ADAS technician at Santa Clarita Auto Glass.

With some calibrations take little time to complete, others take way more.
Shops must put degree lot of thought into scheduling to make the best use of
their time. Of course, using time wisely is second to performing a proper calibration. Navant and Rick Weisman both err on the side of caution, saying that it’s better to overestimate the time it will take to perform a calibration.

“Automatically, I ask for a two-hour drop-off time,” Rick Weisman says. “I
say we should have it ready in two hours, maybe one, maybe three. We do run into problems where we need it longer, and other times, it’ll be ready to go. If static, we can calibrate right after we install the windshield. Hondas and Toyotas, they’re fairly quick static calibrations. I still ask for the timeframe I need just in case, but the only time it’s really a factor is when we’re doing dynamic and have to drive the car and wait for it to dry.”

Depending on the day’s workload and the vehicles involved, some customers may even be told to drop off their vehicles for the entire day. That’s sometimes the case for those more laborious Subaru calibrations done at Santa Clarita Auto Glass.

All it takes is one customer’s late arrival to cause scheduling issues, as jobs then begin to overlap. But Brian says shops can take some simple, additional steps to speed the process along.

“The American cars, for the most part, require dynamic calibration, which means you have to drive them on the road. I always keep that in mind,” says Brian Weisman. “Since I know I’ll have to go on the road, I don’t have anything blocking the equipment. If I’m doing static, I have the targets ready before the car even comes in. It definitely cuts down about 5 minutes of calibration time and makes the job fly.”

Speaking of erring on the side of caution, Wiggins has found success with scheduling calibrations toward the beginning of the week. That way, in the event an issue arises, the shop won’t have to hold onto a customer’s vehicle over the weekend.

Brian Weisman, Navant and Wiggins all highly recommended performing pre- and post-scans of the vehicle needing calibration. Navant says that’s the “future of the industry,” as it ensures the customers get back a safe and reliable vehicle.

“It’s a safety issue,” Navant says. “Pure and simple.”

“We would 100% tell you to do a pre- and post-scan to make sure there aren’t any faults with the camera system and that everything will work accurately when the calibration is done,” Brian Weisman says. “We don’t want customers coming back with a bad review. We take our time, we go over everything and we make sure we’re ahead of the ball in every circumstance.”

Industry Impacts and the Future

“We’ve seen a huge pattern of growth since 2016,” Navant says with respect to calibrations. “Every year the number of vehicles requiring calibration builds and builds and builds. That’ll be forever changing and evolving, and that’s a good thing. I think there will come a point where every vehicle a shop interacts with will have some sort of safety feature they’ll have to calibrate or adjust.”

The evolution of those features, however, has some in the industry worried about the future. For example, both Navant and Rick say self-calibrating vehicles could be on the horizon in the distant future, but that should be no cause for concern.

“People are concerned self-calibrating vehicles would affect our business, but the reputable shop will still have to help that vehicle calibrate,” Navant says. “Calibration is not going to go away and I think it’s wonderful. It makes glass and body shops better, and doesn’t allow glass shops to be stagnant. If they want to keep their doors open, they’ll have to change with the times and evolve with the industry.”

Rick agrees, adding that the evolution of ADAS calibration even serves to weed out some of the industry’s bad players.

“It’s turning quality repair facilities into a necessity,” he says. “We’ve picked up a lot more business because we can calibrate, and the confidence people have in us is night in day. It brings us to a new level of confidence with our customers.”

Initially, Rick Weisman didn’t want to pursue calibrations at his shop while his son, Brian, thought it was worth exploring. After speaking with a friend in the industry, Rick realized calibrations were something he “had to do.”

“It’s also probably one of the best things I did revenue-wise,” Rick says. “Insurance companies don’t pay what they used to for putting a windshield in; it’s just not enough money. But once you add calibration, it absolutely subsidizes that.”

“I think what’s important is for glass and body shops to embrace this technology and these processes now, because as things get more and more advanced, it’s going to be really hard for them to catch up,” Navant continues. “If you’re that shop owner or technician in a truck on their own wondering if they should start learning about it, the answer is yes. Now is the time, don’t be left behind.”

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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