Prevent unintended consequences of routine maintenance on commercial vehicles equipped with ADAS

Technology can be a wonderful thing – when it works. If not, this same wondrous technology can lead to unintended consequences, including complete mechanical failure. Having a deeper level of understanding of how the parts work together can help us navigate more efficiently between all of these devices to deliver the benefits we were hoping to achieve. The same can be said for utility vehicles. New and improved technologies are coming to commercial vehicles at breakneck speed. As fleets become more complex, so does repairing them.

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ADAS revolution

Among the fastest growing transformative technologies are Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) – a complex suite of cameras, radar systems, sensors and control modules. When working properly, ADAS improves situational awareness and initiates countermeasures to keep drivers safe. ADAS components can be found in many commercial vehicles today, including backup cameras and sensors, adaptive headlights and more. The cameras and radar sets of these vehicles are literally the “eyes” of the truck. For these systems to work properly, they must have a 20/20 view and be looking in the right direction.

ADAS countermeasures can be passive, providing a warning or other form of alert to the driver, or active, where the system can actually take corrective action (think: emergency braking). For all of this to work properly, there needs to be a suite of cameras, sensors, radar/lidar units located around the vehicle.

Stay on track with calibration

To keep things on track, systems rely on precise calibration to function properly. The vehicle’s computer systems must accurately determine “where” the vehicle relates to other objects around it. The problem is that these systems are vulnerable because they are installed on the periphery of the vehicle and often have to be moved during maintenance. Even a slight boost or lag to a sensor or camera can wreak havoc if not recalibrated correctly.

Therefore, these devices must be regularly tested and/or calibrated to ensure that they are programmed correctly. Of particular concern is that the driver may be unaware that the system is not working as intended until an actual safety issue occurs. In most cases there will be no initial indication that a vehicle has not been properly calibrated – no MIL illumination etc. But while the vehicle is driving, the “field of vision” may shift slightly and cause safety issues.

Consider something as routine as wheel alignment. The line of thrust should always line up with the geometry axis of the vehicle, but if it’s not properly aligned due to poor calibration, even by a 2 degree change, the forward-facing camera will look in the direction of the line of thrust and cause abnormal behavior of the vehicle. This miscalculation could potentially lead to catastrophic results.

In one case, for example, a poorly calibrated camera misinterpreted an overpass as an obstacle on the side of the road, such as an oncoming vehicle. Camera sensors indicated an impending collision and triggered warnings and emergency braking, a danger that could have been avoided.

When these events occur, the driver may lose confidence and completely disable the system, defeating the purpose of ADAS. What these examples show is that working on the ADAS system components themselves is a skill that must be learned.

Dive deeper into calibration

Performing routine maintenance on a truck equipped with these systems at a fleet shop or outside service source requires basic knowledge of how to properly maintain/recalibrate them before returning the vehicle to service. Calibration routines can vary widely from manufacturer to manufacturer, but they fall into two basic categories: static calibration and dynamic calibration. The OEM will indicate the method to be used as well as the specific parameters to be used during testing and calibration.

• Dynamic Calibration–This procedure uses a handheld device plugged into the vehicle system. The vehicle is driven a specific distance at a specific speed, as specified by the OEM, to match normal road conditions. The environment also includes clearly marked road surfaces and roadside obstacles that the camera or radar can “learn” about.

• Static Calibration–As the name suggests, static calibration can take place without having to drive the car. Instead, specialized equipment is used to test each sensor or component. All ADAS tools use a series of targets that are placed at very specific points: at specific distances from the targets, at specific heights, etc., as specified by the OEMs. One of the challenges is having enough space in the rack to accommodate these calibrations.

Having the right tools in the store is also vitally important, as “A king can only work with his best tools”, as quoted by TH White, author of Once and Future King.

Information tools for success

Access to accurate vehicle repair information that consolidates ADAS information for all components of a truck can help technicians diagnose, repair and maintain these complex systems. A popular resource is Mitchell 1 TruckSeries Softwarewhich provides complete information on repairing class 4 to 8 trucks.

No matter which repair software you choose, now is the time to align yourself with ADAS automatic repair information. Because, like it or not, your shop is already in the ADAS business – and the routine work you do now could impact how these systems work in the future.

Ben Johnson serves as Director of Product Development for Michael 1, an industry leader in vehicle repair information software and services. He started his career in 1979 as an automotive technician after high school and continues to service his own vehicles (cars, trucks, motorcycles and boats). As an industry expert, he enjoys discussing the challenges faced by repair shops in a world where the technical complexity of vehicles is constantly increasing.

Alejandro L. Myatt