A new survey by the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows problems are occurring with crash avoidance technology following repairs.
The IIHS surveyed nearly 500 drivers about their most recent experiences with repairs to their front crash prevention, blind spot detection, or driver-assistance cameras. Some owners had more than one of these features repaired, either separately or as part of the same job. Around 40 per cent of the vehicles were 2019 or newer models.
Of the respondents who reported that at least one system had been repaired, for any reason, about half said they had issues with the features after the job was completed.
“Most of the more than 3000 owners we contacted said they had never needed to have their crash avoidance features repaired, but for the minority of owners who did, the problems weren’t always resolved easily,” said Alexandra Mueller, Senior Research Scientist at the IIHS. “Many had issues with the technology afterward, and some said they had to have the same feature repaired more than once.”
People often had more than one reason for having their features repaired. Most owners received a vehicle recall or service bulletin about their feature, but that was rarely the sole reason they brought their vehicle in for service or repair. Other common reasons – which were not mutually exclusive – included windscreen replacement, crash damage, a recommendation from the dealership or repair shop, and a warning light or error message on the vehicle.
Post-repair problems with the technology were substantially more common among people who had features repaired because of crash damage or in connection with a windshield replacement. About two-thirds of owners whose crash avoidance feature repairs involved windshield replacement, and nearly three-quarters of those whose repairs were required due to crash damage, said they had issues with the technology after repair. In contrast, fewer than half the owners who had repairs done for other reasons faced problems afterward.
The IIHS said vehicle manufacturers stipulate systems be calibrated anytime a sensor is removed and replaced or reinstalled. Likewise, calibration is typically an early step in addressing a malfunctioning feature. About two-thirds of respondents who had repairs done said that calibration was included. Those respondents also reported a higher incidence of post-repair issues.
Vehicle repairs requiring calibration of cameras and sensors can also be expensive. For example, a simple windshield replacement can cost US$250 but a separate study by the IIHS-affiliated Highway Loss Data Institute found that vehicles equipped with front crash prevention were much more likely to have glass claims of US$1000 or more. Most of the higher cost is likely related to calibration.
Most respondents reported that their insurance or warranty covered the complete cost of repairs, minus any excess.
The IIHS said the higher incidence of post-repair issues for work involving calibration suggests that repairers are struggling with the calibration process. Some calibrations are complicated and require large spaces, specialised training, and expensive equipment. Calibration software is subject to frequent updates, making it difficult for shops to keep their tools up to date. This is further complicated by a lack of standardisation of calibration processes. Institute researchers are tracking these problems to monitor whether they persist or diminish over time.
According to the IIHS, repair problems are important to track because they have the potential to slow the spread of crash avoidance features that aren’t standard equipment. However, in the current study, only a little more than five per cent of owners said they would not buy another vehicle with the feature they’d had repaired.
Repair hassles also might prompt drivers to switch off crash avoidance features, eliminating the safety benefits. IIHS research shows that front crash prevention (forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking), blind spot detection, and rear-view cameras substantially reduce the types of crashes they are designed to address. Automatic emergency braking, for instance, reduces police-reported rear-end crashes by 50 per cent.
“These technologies have been proven to reduce crashes and related injuries,” said Mueller. “Our goal is that they continue to deliver those benefits after repairs and for owners to be confident that they’re working properly.”
According to the IIHS, self-diagnosing systems that alert drivers or technicians when something is wrong could be part of the solution. Some vehicles already have that capability, and such alerts were what prompted some of the surveyed owners to bring their vehicles in for repair.
The institute said manufacturers should work to simplify and standardise the calibration procedure and ensure that repair shops have adequate information about how to restore full functionality to affected features. An affordable, centralised database of repair and calibration specifications and instructions from all vehicle manufacturers should be made available to all technicians.