As technology advances in automobiles, the necessity for calibrating Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) after repair or replacement of a windshield is growing. But, who should pay for calibration? In a five-part series, glassBYTEs.com explores the cost in different regions of the United States.
Adam Nulton, owner of Northeast Auto Glass says auto insurance companies need to pay for the service instead of the cost coming back on auto glass shops. Nulton’s shop provides calibration services by transporting vehicles after repair or replacement to facilities that do. He says he is unsure how to bill for that fee and for calibration services.
Nulton says his business, which opened 17 years ago, is a two-man operation performing windshield repair and replacement in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. “I can’t even get the work done now that we have [to do].” Getting into calibration work would cost him $20,000 just for the necessary equipment, plus labor and time.
“If I have a customer on the phone, not only do I have to explain how important it is to get it calibrated, I’m doing all the leg work,” says Nulton, who has been in the industry for 21 years. Nulton asks himself if calibration is essential, why doesn’t the auto insurance cover the entire cost after a repair or replacement? Most auto insurance companies, he says, have a maximum amount they will reimburse for calibration services. If a shop charges more for a particular vehicle model, then the shop is out the difference.
Nulton often does work for the local Toyota and Nissan dealerships and BMW. He says that without a consensus in the industry on the cost of calibration, everyone has their own charges. Nissan and Toyota charge $400 to $500 for calibration, while BMW charges $100 to $200. “I don’t feel the insurance companies are 100% understanding of how [calibration] works,” Nulton says.
Nulton says more regulation is necessary in the auto glass industry to get everyone on the same page. “You’re not going to stay in business if you’re doing things wrong.”
Tiny & Sons contracts out calibration services to a company that performs calibrations—about 25 during a busy week, and another 20 at local dealerships, says president Peter Brown. However, the customer’s auto insurance must approve the price before the calibration service is performed.
Brown says that if a customer goes straight to a dealership for a calibration, the customer gets paid. But if the calibration goes through Tiny & Sons’ contractor, his company waits to get paid. “There’s no rhyme or reason to the pricing as far as the calibration goes,” Brown says.
A technician can never be too sure of the time necessary to perform a calibration. And dealerships have different labor rates for their technicians. Brown says it runs anywhere between $110 to $175 per hour. “So, they go right by their labor rate,” he says. And if a vehicle is recalibrated at a dealership, it must also have the wheels realigned. “Even the dealers can’t tell us what the length of time is [to do calibrations].” Brown says calibration has no fixed labor rate for insurance reimbursement.
“We can’t explain it to the customer,” Browns says. “There’s no fixed cost you can used.” Calibration is like when someone reprograms a laptop. “You’re doing a software update to a vehicle, and it should take this number of hours to do it, but you can’t say [for certain],” Brown says.