Should Drivers Have Access to Their Diagnostics Data?

Should Drivers Have Access to Their Diagnostics Data?

By Andrew Tolve

As OEMs progressively rely on computers to perform the functions in cars, they face a dilemma: Once a car rolls off a dealer’s lot, it belongs to the consumer, who—theoretically, at least—should be entitled to all of the information generated by his or her new purchase.

Yet many OEMs fear that giving consumers access to vehicle diagnostic information will leave them exposed.

Toyota’s recent run-in with recalls is case in point. One of the recalls resulted from an electronic control unit error that caused a glitch in brake pads.

The value of quality data

“OEMs are very protective of quality data,” says Kevin Link, vice president of marketing at Hughes Telematics. “If you think about the lawsuits that are currently in the marketplace, if anybody outside the OEM, including the dealer, has access to quality data, it becomes empirical evidence that the manufacturer knew of quality issues prior to recall.”

But some in the industry see the business opportunity that diagnostic information presents.

The 21st century has ushered in an era of heightened connectivity. Most people carry cell phones at all times, and most of those cell phones double as Web portals and search engines.

Cars are no different. The in-car infotainment industry has surged in the past five years as consumers become more and more interested in making their cars as connected as their phones and laptops.

Some OEMs and after-market companies believe vehicle diagnostic information has a roll to play in this trend, especially predictive information that can help drivers analyze their driving performance and understand how to improve it.

Empowering drivers with predictive information

To that end, Garmin has released the ecoRoute hd, a software supplement that allows drivers to monitor diagnostic information regarding braking, acceleration, speed, and fuel use on their personal navigation devices.

Additionally, the tool translates all of the information into an environmental rating between 0 and 100.

Hughes Telematics has released a version of in-Drive that keeps drivers abreast of the critical diagnostic information in their cars and conveys that information on the personal navigation device, as well as by way of text message, Web app, or iPhone app.

“Our tool may not be as robust” as the vehicle diagnostic tools mechanics use, says Link, “but … our product is consumer-friendly and adaptable by the masses.”

EVs as a new market

The emergence of electric vehicles has further spurred interest in making diagnostic information consumer accessible.

GM has already paved the way with smartphone apps for the Chevrolet Volt, which let drivers know about the state of charge, electric and total ranges, andfuel economy performance data for both miles-per-gallon and electric-only miles. “The Chevrolet Volt … calls for a new level ofconnectivity and control,” says Walt Dorfstatter, president, OnStar. “Nearly six million vehicles on the roadtoday use OnStar to stay connected, and our new smartphone app will make that even easier for Voltdrivers.”

GM has its eyes on the rest of the market, too. Its OnStar service runs dozens of diagnostic and maintenance checks on subscribers’ cars—electric or not—every month and then delivers reports of those checks by email.

Which means drivers stay informed of issues with their engines and transmissions, air bags, emissions, antilock braking, tire pressure, oil life, and mileage—without ever opening the hood or getting grease on their hands.

Reasons to be cautious

Despite this positive growth, industry experts caution that vehicle diagnostic information may not boom any time soon.

The truth is, most consumers—80 percent in the US—haven’t been exposed to in-car navigation and in-car infotainment, meaning demand for basic connected services, let alone advanced ones like diagnostic information, remains slim.

Add to that the wariness with which many OEMs regard quality data, and it’s clear that devices purveying diagnostic information to consumers may be just getting started.

“The current environment is slowing the roll-out down a little bit,” says Link. “But folks like Hughes with an after-market product and others in the after-market space will accelerate that roll-out.”

Andrew Tolve is a regular contributor to TU.

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