Safety tech is send­ing re­pair bills soar­ing

The lat­est safety in­no­va­tions give you peace of mind when you’re driv­ing, but they can also hit you hard in the wal­let if some­thing goes wrong

What Car? - - Advice - Claire Evans Claire.evans@hay­mar­ket.com

THERE’S NO DOUBT about the life-sav­ing ben­e­fits of the lat­est ad­vanced driver as­sis­tance systems (ADAS), such as au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing (AEB) and lane-keep­ing as­sis­tance, which are able to iden­tify po­ten­tial hazards and pre­vent the car from col­lid­ing with them. How­ever, the cam­era and radar-based tech­nol­ogy be­hind these systems can prove ex­pen­sive to re­pair or re­place if they are dam­aged. And be­cause the sen­sors they use are of­ten housed in bumpers, they are vul­ner­a­ble.

Re­pair costs for mi­nor ac­ci­dent dam­age are on the rise

Last year, What Car?’s sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion Au­to­car ran a Jeep Rene­gade for six months and its cus­to­dian was amazed by the cost of the dam­age caused to it af­ter an ac­ci­den­tal col­li­sion with a pheas­ant. Although there was no ex­ter­nal dam­age to the Rene­gade’s front bumper, the im­pact had shat­tered the sen­sor be­hind it, caus­ing a warn­ing light to il­lu­mi­nate in the in­stru­ment panel.

When the car was taken to a lo­cal Jeep dealer to in­ves­ti­gate, the ser­vice as­sis­tant pre­sented him with a re­pair es­ti­mate of more than £900. This was be­cause the Rene­gade was fit­ted with forward col­li­sion warn­ing, as part of its AEB sys­tem, which had a sen­sor in the front bumper that had been dam­aged.

Not only would the sen­sor in the bumper have to be re­placed, but a sec­ond one po­si­tioned be­hind the wind­screen would also have to be re­cal­i­brated so that they would work prop­erly. On top of that, our writer was told that the equip­ment needed to cal­i­brate the sys­tem was highly spe­cialised, so the Rene­gade couldn’t be fixed by a lo­cal dealer. In­stead, it had to go back to Jeep’s UK head of­fice to be re­paired. As a result, the work wasn’t com­pleted un­til almost a month af­ter the ac­ci­dent. The cost even­tu­ally came to £526, ex­clud­ing labour.

What Car? ed­i­tor Steve Hunt­ing­ford was landed with an even more ex­pen­sive AEB sen­sor-re­lated re­pair bill af­ter his Volvo S90’s rear bumper was dented when the car was be­ing used by a col­league. It was only a small bump, so Steve was ex­pect­ing a cost of a few hun­dred pounds, but he was hor­ri­fied to be told the bill would be £1442. The rea­son for the high cost is that the radar for the S90’s blindspot warn­ing sys­tem is be­hind the bumper, and it’s so sen­si­tive that if the area is coated with any more than two lay­ers of paint, this could in­ter­fere with the sig­nal and stop the sys­tem from work­ing. So the dam­age couldn’t simply be re­paired; in­stead, a whole new bumper had to be fit­ted.

‘Be­cause the sen­sors are of­ten housed in bumpers, they are vul­ner­a­ble’

Other fac­tors up­ping the cost of re­pairs

Ve­hi­cle re­pair bills have in­creased by 32% over the past three years to an av­er­age of £1678, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Bri­tish In­sur­ers (ABI). Many in­dus­try ex­perts be­lieve that re­pair work to ADAS has con­trib­uted to this rise. “If front or rear bumpers, front or rear screens, and even door mir­rors and head­lamps in some cases, are dam­aged, re­pair costs will in­crease be­cause of ei­ther the re­place­ment or re­cal­i­bra­tion of ADAS sen­sors,” said Chris Weeks, direc­tor of the Na­tional Body Re­pair As­so­ci­a­tion. Weeks ex­plained the im­por­tance of the re­cal­i­bra­tion of an ADAS sys­tem af­ter a wind­screen re­place­ment: “If the wind­screen isn’t cal­i­brated, a lane de­par­ture warn­ing sys­tem could al­low a car to cross out of a lane without warn­ing the driver be­cause it thinks the car is in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion than it ac­tu­ally is, rel­a­tive to the road mark­ings it can see.”

Our re­search con­firmed that it’s a sim­i­larly ex­pen­sive af­fair if a car with ADAS suf­fers from a dam­aged wind­screen. What Car? ob­tained quotes for re­place­ment wind­screens for four of the cars in our long-term test fleet. They ranged from £506 for a new screen and sen­sor re­cal­i­bra­tion for our Peu­geot 3008 to £840 for the same work to be car­ried out on our Mazda CX-5. The most shock­ing quote we re­ceived was £770 for a new wind­screen for our Ford Fi­esta – a smaller and cheaper car than the likes of the CX-5. That price is five times more than the £156 you’d pay for a wind­screen for a 2008 Fi­esta.

And if you com­pare re­place­ment costs for new cars with and without ADAS fit­ted, the dif­fer­ence can be mas­sive. Car safety or­gan­i­sa­tion Thatcham Re­search states that the cost of re­plac­ing a wind­screen on a Ford Fo­cus is 123% higher if it’s fit­ted with ADAS. For a Volk­swa­gen Golf, the hike is 78%.

Will larger re­pair bills make in­surance rates rise?

If you make a claim on your in­surance to cover the cost of a wind­screen or ADAS sen­sor, your pre­mi­ums could go up. There could also be wider im­pli­ca­tions for the long-term cost of in­surance for all driv­ers.

Wind­screen-mounted ADAS tech­nol­ogy is cur­rently fit­ted to around 6% of ve­hi­cles on Bri­tish roads, and this is likely to rise to 40% by 2020, so re­pair costs, along with in­surance costs, look set to spi­ral.

So, what can be done to cut these costs? Thatcham formed a work­ing group with man­u­fac­tur­ers last year to ad­dress the spi­ralling re­pair costs as­so­ci­ated with col­li­sion avoid­ance and driver as­sis­tance systems.

Thomas Hudd, re­pair tech­nol­ogy cen­tre op­er­a­tions man­ager at Thatcham, said: “There is a lack of information avail­able for re­pair­ers to al­low them to un­der­stand if a car has ADAS fit­ted and, if so, how it might af­fect the cost of the re­pair. We would like ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers to make ADAS fit­ment data avail­able at VIN [ve­hi­cle iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber] level, so that re­pair­ers can bet­ter un­der­stand the scope of work re­quired up front.

“There should also be a stan­dard fault sys­tem to ad­vise driv­ers, and re­pair­ers, if the ADAS is not work­ing – just as there are for other key ve­hi­cle func­tions. Driv­ers need this to raise aware­ness of ADAS and specif­i­cally whether a cer­tain sys­tem is work­ing, while re­pair­ers need it so they are able to iden­tify whether a car is fit­ted with ADAS and to help in­di­cate if any cal­i­bra­tion work has been suc­cess­ful.”

Hudd also pointed out that cars with ADAS should at­tract lower pre­mi­ums in the fu­ture be­cause the tech­nol­ogy en­sures they are in­volved in fewer ac­ci­dents. He claimed that low-speed AEB could re­duce the num­ber of real-world rear-end crashes by 38%.

In the long term, it’s also likely that more so­phis­ti­cated driver as­sis­tance systems will be de­vel­oped with sen­sors that can re­cal­i­brate them­selves, so the cost of stay­ing safe will come down in the fu­ture.

‘The cost of re­plac­ing a wind­screen on a Ford Fo­cus is 123% higher if it’s tted with ADAS’

A dam­aged bumper on Au­to­car’s Jeep Rene­gade cost more than £500 to x

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