We recently conducted a survey on British motorists’ car maintenance habits, and the results showed some shocking gaps in motorists’ knowledge when it comes to looking after their cars and staying safe. Some key findings include:
- 63% of motorists don’t know what the brake warning light symbol means.
- 1 in 4 motorists (24.7%) aren’t sure how to check their car’s oil level.
- Nearly half of motorists (45%) don’t know how to check their tyre tread depth.
The survey also confirmed that there is a gender divide when it comes to car maintenance, and that young motorists are often less well-informed than those aged 55+.
This got us wondering how developments in driving technology might help improve the situation in the future, so we spoke to five tech experts to find out more about some of the key car maintenance trends we can look forward to.
From connected cars, to artificial intelligence and a redefinition of the role of the humble car mechanic, our vehicles are changing fast, but maintenance and aftercare might be about to get a bit easier. Read on to find out more about where the technology is heading…
The Internet of Things
Director, UX and PR, Netvibes
As the Internet of Things expands into the automotive industry, embedded sensors in the car will send real-time data back to the manufacturer. Instead of the indecipherable “Check Engine Soon” light, we will soon be alerted to the exact details of what’s wrong with the car on the digital dashboard, along with the option to immediately schedule service at the nearest automotive centre. At 3,000 miles, the car will email you to schedule your next oil change. Or perhaps, you want the car to go ahead and schedule the appointment for you, by cross-referencing your calendar and finding a convenient date automatically.
Increasingly, companies will be putting the engineering controls in the hands of customers by providing user interfaces that make it simple to program the car yourself. When your teen driver is in the car, perhaps you want to receive a text alert if he or she is speeding. Or maybe you drive your car for work, and you want the car to automatically track mileage in a cloud-based spreadsheet. By providing an easy-to-use IoT control platform for the consumer, enterprises will be opening new channels of customer engagement and enabling users to interact with products and brands in new ways. The key to this interaction is that the enterprise must connect its IoT-enabled devices and services to a client-facing dashboard–something that does not require coding skills, but rather is a drag-and-drop interface to deliver simple programming for everyone: “When these 2 things [a flat tyre + more than 15 miles from home] happen, then do these 3 things: [text my wife, call AA, and notify my next calendar appointment that I will be running late].”
Cars will have AI that directs repairs. Hyundai’s Virtual Guide is a good first step, but the next, is directing the driver to repair issues if the car breaks down.
Here is how it would look:
- On day 3 of a cross country road trip, the car doesn’t start. The car’s onboard AI determines that it could be one of three problems with the engine.
- To get more data, the car asks the owner a few questions and directs the owner to send photos of certain parts of the engine to the car over WiFi.
- The car runs these photos through a neural network to look for anomalies, and determines that that there is a corroded hose which caused the problem.
- The car then directs the owner to go to a nearby automotive supply shop for the replacement.
- Once the owner has the part, the car walks the owner through the step by step via augmented reality on a phone app.
- Driver and car work together to fix the problem and the driver is able to continue their road trip.
This may sound like sci-fi, but deep learning and a basic decision tree brings this within reach.
Iterative Software Updates for Electric Cars
Perhaps the most notable company which issues software updates for its electric cars is Tesla, which periodically offers ‘over-the-air’ updates for its Model S every three to four months. Wirelessly transmitted, negating the need for owners to bring their car into a Tesla garage, these updates can alter the car’s performance, efficiency and even its driving characteristics and infotainment features dramatically.
Just some of the updates issued by Tesla have included code which makes the Model S as fast a McLaren hypercar, and the much-discussed Autopilot mode, which allows the car to drive itself with no driver input. The software updates can even alter how the car’s systems use and manage power from the battery in order to make the best use of the available energy and increase maximum battery range.
According to Tesla founder Elon Musk, air con alone can sap up to 10 per cent of the battery’s power, and smarter management of the car’s electrical systems via software updates could potentially boost the Model S’ maximum official range of 270 miles by a significant amount.
Not to be outdone, rival manufacturers are quickly following suit. BMW’s plug-in i3, for example, has previously received updates to preserve a small amount of energy for emergency situations, while the Nissan LEAF likewise got an update back in 2012 to better monitor its battery life.
3D Printing of Hard-to-Source Car Parts
Most of our car customers come to us with very specific parts they need replaced, and most often they are parts of headlights or the interior. For an example one of my customers brought in two parts for an old British car he was renovating. The headlight assembly had some stripped threads making the light unusable, and like many of our car customers he had been scouring junkyards and car forums for ages trying to find replacements for these parts and simply had no idea what to do. Our solution was to 3D scan the original parts, repair the damage using CAD, and then print off replacements for him. Below is a photo of the two parts together.
The Move from ‘Grease-Monkeys’ to Technicians
Product Trainer, CARiD.com
From the point of view of those performing the services, repairs are more complicated than ever, and that trend is accelerating. All-aluminium bodies (look at the new Ford F-150), carbon fibre, and exotic bonding of materials has added huge complexity to the job of auto body repair. On the mechanical side, while cars will continue to need routine brake and tyre replacement, other systems require an investment in high-end diagnostic equipment to find faults. The days of the stereotypical grease-monkey are long gone. Today’s technician is first and foremost highly knowledgeable in computer systems.