Many newer cars come with mandatory electronically-controlled safety systems like airbags, along with optional collision avoidance features like forward crash, lane departure and blind spot detection alerts. The combined objective of those high-tech systems is to avoid accidents, save lives or, at a minimum, reduce impact severity. But even with these innovations wrecks still occur that require auto body repairs. And when a car with any of these newer safety features is involved in even a minor fender bender every driver alert system’s sensor alignment and overall performance must be tested and recalibrated before the collision repairs are completed. The same holds true for the vehicle’s airbag system, whether it deployed or not.
Experienced technicians realize that failing to conduct a thorough recalibration on these ultra-sensitive electronic systems could jeopardize the safety of occupants later on. To ensure that doesn’t happen, there are several recalibration steps involved using special diagnostic equipment once your vehicle arrives at the shop. As a driver you also need to be educated on what should be done when your vehicle is undergoing repairs. With that in mind here are some important points about electronic recalibrations that could someday save your life, or that of another.
Electronic System Recalibrations Require These Steps
Electronic safety systems operate when a signal is sent from a sensor or camera to an onboard computer. Like most electrical systems in your car, the airbag deployment and collision avoidance ones have dash warning lights to alert you when communication is interrupted. But sometimes after an accident these lights don’t come on when they should. And even when a system is not disconnected during repairs that doesn’t necessarily mean it will perform optimally. Additionally, merely reading diagnostic test codes won’t always reveal that there’s a problem. As a result, your car’s sensitive electronic safety systems need to be tested and recalibrated using these 3 vital steps:
Scanning the vehicle-specific codes for error messages through the OBD port
Clearing those diagnostic codes
Recalibrating or “resetting” the sensors according to the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure they are not misaligned or out of focus
A simple OBD port scan cannot determine if the system’s sensors, which typically use laser, radar or camera technology, are aimed correctly. Special diagnostic and calibration equipment is needed in most cases, and not all body shops have that. To assist in system recalibrations there exist outside specialty companies that will come to the shop, or sometimes the car is taken to a certified local dealership to get the reprogramming done. When recalibrating your electronic systems, trained technicians use online websites like I-CAR, ALLDATA or OEM to access the correct reprogramming specifications set forth by the vehicle’s manufacturer.
Routine Collision Repairs Can Disrupt Electronic Signals
In addition to damage from the accident itself, there are several routinely-done collision repairs that can disrupt your vehicle’s sensitive onboard electronic systems including:
Disconnecting the battery wires and/or electrical rewiring
Bumper repairs and replacements
Grill assembly repairs and replacements
Painting plastic bumpers and other body panels
Most safety sensors are covertly located on the front or rear of your car. If a bumper or grill assembly is not correctly reinstalled during repairs it can cause a sensor misalignment or even signal disruption interference. Any freshly-painted surfaces that cover sensors, for example a plastic bumper, must have a specified maximum paint thickness, measured in “mils”, over those sensors to ensure they work properly.
Finding the Right Body Shop is Always Important
When your vehicle is involved in an accident and it has airbags or some of the newer accident avoidance technology, it’s important to ask the body shop manager about conducting scans and recalibrations on those electronic systems. On the flipside, better collision repair shops usually follow these recalibration procedures anytime a car comes in with those safety features. If they don’t the shop could be liable if one or more of those warning systems fails later on. As a driver, it’s important for the continued safety of you and your passengers to take the lead on ensuring that the proper scans and recalibrations are done.