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Cracking the Code by Ryan Mandell

Ryan Mandell, Director of Performance Consulting at Mitchell International. Photo: Mitchell International

Diagnostic scanning has become imperative.

Vehicles are becoming more complex, their systems more interconnected. It’s no longer enough to just perform pre- and post-scans. In today’s environment, having in-house personnel to interpret the scans and perform diagnostic repairs and calibrations has become increasingly critical to cycle time, profitability and delivery of proper and safe repair.

What DTCs tell us about vehicle repair trends

Diagnostic scanning is critical in the repair process—collision repairers are now more routinely performing pre- and post-scans. Two years ago, less than 10% of vehicles were scanned. Now nearly 50% of vehicles repaired include a charge on the estimate for Diagnostic Trouble Code (DTC) scanning. With vehicle complexity speeding up and the prevalence of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), diagnostic scanning ‘will be necessary for a complete and safe repair’, says the Collision Industry Conference.

Luxury vehicles = most fault codes

Analyzing the number of fault codes produced by each manufacturer shows luxury manufacturers (Mercedes Benz, BMW, Cadillac) produce the most fault codes; Asian automakers—Honda, Mazda and Hyundai—the least. This trend doesn’t change when analyzing data from only the newest models (2018-20), as most have ADAS. Conclusion: the level of interconnectedness and electrical system complexity is greater in vehicles producing the most codes—typically higher end vehicles.

Newest vehicles don’t necessarily produce more codes

While the overall average number of fault codes is greater for 2018-20 models than pre-2018 model years, several manufacturers have experienced a decline for their newest vehicles—Chev, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Kia all showed declines in the average number of codes identified on diagnostic scans. Surprising, as these newer vehicles are more likely to come equipped with ADAS—but maybe the older vehicles carried a number of uncleared codes set before the collision occurred. The majority of luxury manufacturers—Audi, BMW, Lexus, Mercedes Benz—have seen the average number of fault codes increase for their newest vehicles. These vehicles require calibrations for a variety of ADAS sensors and cameras.

Interpreting scans and performing diagnostic repairs and calibrations are critical. Photo: Mitchell International

Mitchell’s data shows 2018-20 model years receive calibrations at more than double the rate of 2015-17 vehicles. The newest vehicles take longer to repair—average keys-to-keys cycle time for 2018-20 drivable vehicles averaging 11.15 days compared to 10.67 days for 2015-17 drivable vehicles. While these differences can’t all be attributed to the increased need for calibration, it certainly plays a role—evident when examining the average cost of calibrations. For 2018-20 model year vehicles, the average calibration cost is $215.81 (U.S. figures). That drops to $187.47 for 2015-17 model years. The gap could be even greater if a facility isn’t equipped with the tools and technicians needed to perform calibrations in-house but instead rely on sublet vendors.

Common fault code types vary by make

Due to differences in their ADAS systems, the most common fault codes vary by automaker.

Collision repairers must be able to quickly and accurately scan a range of vehicles to be sure correct steps are taken to resolve any ADAS-specific issues. Since a particular pattern of damage doesn’t always return the same DTC codes every time, performing pre- and post-scans and having direct access to OEM repair procedures can help streamline the process, potentially saving technicians research time hours plus help them correctly restore the vehicle.

Without diagnostics, insurers and collision repair technicians risk going into a repair blind—possibly missing damage to ADAS components. Pre- and post-scanning not only reveals what is often “hidden” damage, it also allows repairers to plan for and allocate resources necessary to efficiently run their business. Then insurance carriers can better understand the technical needs of their customers’ vehicles and more knowledge of the steps required to facilitate proper, safe repair.


Ryan Mandell is the Director of Performance Consulting at Mitchell International.

Categories : Collision, Column
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