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New car safety technology saves lives — but can double the cost of repairs

Blind spot monitors sharply reduce the chance of injury, but replacing a side view mirror can now cost $3,000.
Tow truck operators prepare to remove an SUV that struck a utility pole in North Lebanon Township, Pennsylvania.John Latimer / Lebanon Daily News via AP

Safety is one of the biggest factors to consider when shopping for a new car, but advanced driver assistance systems such as lane keeping assistance and forward collision warning can bump up repairs by thousands of dollars, according to a new survey by AAA.

Much of this technology, known as ADAS, is standard or available in low-cost packages — and research shows these systems can significantly reduce the likelihood of a crash. But when an accident does happen, cars equipped with features like blind-spot detection can cost as much as $3,000 more to repair.

“Advanced safety systems are much more common today,” said John Nielsen, AAA’s managing director of Automotive Engineering and Repair. “It’s critical that drivers understand what technology their vehicle has, how it performs, and how much it could cost to repair should something happen.”

Research released earlier this year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows these features can be highly effective. The nonprofit group estimated forward collision warning with auto-braking, for example, can prevent one in six front-end crashes, while lane departure warning lowers incidents of single-car, sideswipe and head-on crashes by 11 percent, while also cutting by 21 percent the number of crashes resulting in injuries.

But in order for these new ADAS technology to serve as an electronic co-pilot, automakers have to build in a variety of high-tech sensors. These can include as many as a half-dozen cameras, as well as low- and high-power radar, laser, and sonar sensors. And, in the not-too-distant future, they will be adding LIDAR, a high-resolution, 3D-laser technology.

The problem is that many of these devices are mounted in harm’s way. In vehicles with cross-traffic alert, which helps alert a motorist backing out of a perpendicular parking spot, there’s a radar sensor in both rear fenders. Blind-spot detection usually requires a camera or radar sensor in the side view mirrors.

So, dent a fender or smack a mirror and you might need to repair or replace one of these sensors. AAA found that in a minor front or rear collision involving a car with ADAS technology the repair costs can run as high as $5,300. That’s about $3,000 more than repairing the same vehicle without the safety features.

Even one of the most common vehicle repairs, a cracked windshield, can become far more costly on a vehicle with ADAS. It’s a headache that AAA says 14.5 million American motorists have to deal with each year. But what was traditionally an easy process becomes far more complicated when you have cameras and other safety devices positioned behind, or mounted directly on, the windshield, as manufacturers like Subaru and others do.

That can require a technician to carefully recalibrate the ADAS system. Some manufacturers also require special glass with a higher level of optical clarity. On average, AAA found, it costs about $1,500 to repair the windshield in a vehicle with a camera system behind it, about three times more than in a less sophisticated model without the safety sensor.

“It is not unusual for windshields to get chipped or cracked, especially for drivers who commute on a daily basis,” said AAA’s Nielsen. “This may be an eyesore on a regular car, but when it falls in the line of sight of a camera or the driver, it becomes a safety issue that needs immediate attention by a facility qualified to work on these systems.”

It’s not just the fact that repair costs will run higher that motorists have to consider. Fixing a vehicle equipped with ADAS technology also requires turning to a collision shop with the right equipment, as well as technicians trained in recalibrating a broken sensor.

On the plus side, these new technologies are preventing thousands of collisions, while also reducing the number of injuries and deaths that occur on U.S. roads each year.