Auto Physical Damage

Vehicle Scanning for a Computer Network on Wheels

October 8, 2017

Vehicle complexity has exploded in the last decade, and continues to accelerate. Collision repair used to be about sheet metal, headlamp and bumper replacement; now it frequently involves sophisticated electronics. From adaptive front lighting to regenerative braking, today’s auto body repair includes increasingly complex systems and electronic components. According to, “There can be anywhere from 40 to 100 computer controls to operate, communicate and in some cases, record information about the operation of a system or systems that can be used later for diagnosis.” Today’s repairers must be prepared to fix, and heed the advice of, a computer network on wheels. We’ve gone from the days of using scan tools only when a Malfunction Indicator Light came on, to an era in which most collision repairs require the recalibration of electronic systems to assure a safe, quality repair. Collision repairers can’t even replace a mirror or a windshield on newer models without a diagnostic recalibration to ensure that all componentry is functioning as intended.

Safety Concerns

Even when there is no visual damage and systems appear to be operating correctly, a collision can jar a vehicle’s electronics and create significant hazards. If a sensor on a blind spot detection system is even slightly disrupted and rendered out of system calibration tolerances, it may mean the driver is not alerted to a motorcycle in the lane next to them. Which in turn, could be the difference between a simple lane change and tragedy. This is where scan tools come in. Body Shop Business cites a good example of the need for scan tools with the Occupant Classification System or “OCS” on newer vehicles: “If the system is not recalibrated or re-zeroed, the seat could read an incorrect weight. The system will be operating correctly, so no MIL will be set on the dash, but it won’t be correctly calibrated. This could lead to an airbag deploying when it shouldn’t, which could lead to the injury or death of a child. Knowing when to recalibrate these vehicles becomes a critical factor.”2

OEM Position Statements

In 2016, only eight OEMs had position statements on vehicle repair scanning; as of March 2017, there are few automakers yet to formally address the need.
Vehicle Repair Scanning
Honda’s recent position statement includes a chart listing items needing recalibration after repair. Per Honda, “The chart at the top of the next column shows damage areas where driver assistive system components may be located in close proximity. Collision damage in these areas should be given particular attention because certain repairs and/or parts replacement may require aiming procedures to be done.” Many other industry participants are announcing positions on pre- and post-repair system scanning as well. According to the Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI): The electronic safety systems on today’s vehicles are very important for occupant safety and must be checked after a repair for proper functionality. The pre-scan is now necessary for the repair facility to be able to help scope and estimate the repair processes required for a safe and complete repair.

To Scan or Not to Scan

There are many in the industry who contend that the OEM position statements go too far and that not every vehicle needs scanning during collision repair. This debate is likely to continue until standard industry practice is established in this area. Most all agree that heavily optioned late model vehicles in moderate to severe collisions require a pre-and post-scan to properly complete the repair. The collision repair industry has a need for diagnostic systems that can quickly complete the diagnostic portion of the repairs and properly document the process for its stakeholders.

Four Current Options for Repairers

Currently, there are four options for repairers seeking to assure a safe and quality repair has been completed:
  1. Get the car to the dealership: This option is time consuming and negatively impacts cycle time. Overextended dealers are not typically focused on sublet scans as a top priority. Also, it’s expensive both in labor and sublet costs. Collision shops have even been known to hire employees just to take cars to and from the dealers for scanning, and, of course, towing the car back-and-forth is commonly required. This workflow can add days to cycle time, and significantly add expense.
  2. Call the mobile service with a van full of tools: With this option, shops risk that the mobile scanning repairer may not have the right tool and skills and that leaves the process subject to the service’s schedule.
  3. Use an aftermarket tool: These are a good option as they cover multiple makes and models; however, there is a wide range of quality and coverage so it’s important to choose the right tool.
  4. Using a remote service to connect to OEM tool or software: This option has a significant cost and some procedures will still require taking the car to the dealership.
All four options add costs that often can’t be recouped. Proper documentation of the scan procedure performed and the output is critical to recover costs.

Reasons for Not Scanning Vehicles

In a recent CRASH Network survey shops cited the following reasons for not scanning a vehicle post repair: While some of these may have been valid reasons for choosing not to scan vehicles a decade ago, failure to use diagnostic scanning on a late model vehicle with damage that involves ADAS and other safety systems is now a serious issue.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If collision repair facilities truly want to provide the safest and most complete repair services to their customers, a high quality diagnostic solution is an absolute must. Unfortunately, most existing scan tools were designed for mechanical repairs and there hasn’t been a diagnostic system specifically designed and developed to meet the need of collision repair shops. The Equipment and Tool Institute’s position statement says it best, “the need for affordable access to the tools that are essential to perform safe, complete and accurate repairs is extremely important.”