Zen and the art of automatic car maintenance

Andrew Lee, head of Market Intelligence and Analysis
at Octo Telematics

How safe are our cars, really? While we may be excellent drivers, that means nothing if the car itself is suffering from mechanical faults. Cars over a certain age are obliged to undergo MOT certification every year, but during the 12 months between checks, there’s actually no legal need to undergo regular maintenance.

That’s an important issue – and one the connected car aims to resolve.

At the moment, the responsibility lies with drivers to keep their car in good health from year to year. But we’re not all doing it properly. In fact, research by Opinium on behalf of ClickMechanics has shown that a third of drivers wait up to two or more weeks before dealing with a ‘Check Engine’ warning light.

With no way of knowing how serious the fault is, drivers could potentially be operating an unsafe car for some time before they are ready to get the issue looked at, potentially putting themselves and other road users significantly at risk, says Andrew Lee, head of Market Intelligence and Analysis at Octo Telematics.

There are a number of features that can potentially go wrong in a modern car and not all of them will have an immediate and noticeable effect. But they can all form links in a chain that can end in real problems further down the road.

This is where the connected car can play a key role. The ability to run constant diagnostics, either in real time or every time the engine is switched on, means that a car can be monitoring its own health. If a crucial system is not fully operational, meaning that the vehicle is not safe to drive, the car can simply shut down and refuse to move. As inconvenient as this might seem, it’s far better than having an accident because something gave way at just the wrong time.

A truly connected car can even go one step further. When it detects a problem, it can use IoT capabilities through installed telematics sensors and software to contact the nearest garage or service centre and book an appointment for repair. The car can then notify its owner and make sure this appointment is kept. If it’s an emergency, a connected car could also notify emergency services and broadcast its location for a swift roadside rescue, if needed.

These real-time diagnostics have real benefits for insurers. An insurance quote is usually provided based on a questionnaire that is filled out upon application for cover. The make and model of the car is provided and a quote is provided on the assumption that it has or doesn’t have certain features that improve safety, such as Automatic Cruise Control, Automatic Emergency Braking and others, even down to a working car alarm.

However, there’s no guarantee that those features are actually working. Even if they are operational at the time of the quote, there’s still a possibility that they may malfunction between one MOT and the next, or between insurance quotes. As a result, the quote may end up being inaccurate as it was provided on information that is no longer true—or may actually never have been.

Telematics devices help insurers maintain accurate pricing and gather data on the regular usage of the car. Sensors are constantly communicating information how the car is being driven and collating a driver score to influence insurance premium discounts. By extending that communication and informing an insurer of the condition of the car and the resolution or otherwise of ongoing issues, they can make sure that the coverage provided remains valid and accurate.

Based on the data, it may even be necessary to reduce cover or increase premiums until an issue is resolved. In extreme circumstances, an insurer may even need to cease cover completely if the car is so unsafe it should not be on the roads. A vehicle that is constantly communicating its status can enable insurers to adjust their premiums on a day-to-day or hour-to-hour basis.

Road safety is a constant priority for everyone involved in the operation of a vehicle, from the manufacturers that put in systems to make their cars safer, to the insurers that provide coverage and financial protection against accidents, to the drivers themselves.

Telematics can encourage good driver behaviour through providing discounts on insurance that are based on achieving a high driver score. But good driver behaviour goes beyond what we do on the roads. By using data to provide a further financial incentive for keeping a car in good condition, it’s possible to make the roads even safer by making sure that every car on them is truly roadworthy.

The author of this blog is Andrew Lee, head of Market Intelligence and Analysis at Octo Telematics

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