Diagnostic Alert!

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Release date: 1/14/2019

Diagnostic Alert!
By Sandy Smith

From Preventative Reminders to Predicting Trouble, Diagnostic Capabilities Are Becoming More Reliable and Beneficial

The world of connected vehicles certainly gets the attention. Yes, it is entertaining to think about a driverless car to take you to your next business meeting, or groceries arriving from the store without the need to tip the delivery person.

Some might view these scenarios with excitement, while others, with a bit of fright. Regardless, there is still somewhat of a stagger step between the world of fully autonomous vehicles and now.

Today, telematics often includes the ability to diagnose vehicle issues. Over-the-road truckers can use an existing telematics system to connect with the engine manufacturer for constant monitoring of performance. Other new products on the market use an onboard diagnostics (OBD) connector to determine insights such as tire pressure and acceleration.

In many cases, fleet professionals already have these tools at their disposal – but may not be making the most of them. NAFA Regular Member Chris Maka, Fleet Director for Lewis Tree Service, bravely waded into this area about eight years ago, when he used GPS data to provide insights into vehicle performance. “We quickly realized that the diagnostic data coming in was overkill. We didn’t know what to do with it,” he said. That led to a frequent alert that one particular vehicle’s antifreeze was low when it tripped a float as the vehicle stopped and started. Another triggered an alarm for low oil – because the vehicle’s oil line blew.

“We turned if off. Why pay for something I can’t do anything with?” Maka said. “That’s the struggle for most fleets these days.”

In the years since, though, telematics has begun offering more actionable data; fleets and third-party vendors alike are figuring out how to better make use of the information.

Maka is trying once again with the help of a third-party vendor. He hopes to build historical data to see “which vehicles we need to get rid of.”

Where some see struggle, NAFA Regular Member Chris Amos, CAFM, sees opportunity. As Commissioner of Equipment Services for the City of Saint Louis, Missouri, Amos has been using telematics for more than a decade and recently changed vendors to “accurately collect odometer readings and better use of this diagnostic feature.”

The city currently has 700 vehicles with passive telematics hardware (meaning there is no active cellular collection); Amos expects that to rise to 1,200 eventually. That doesn’t count vehicles with passive telematics, in use for police, fire, and the like.

The passive telematics devices download when a vehicle pulls in to refuel or when in a larger vehicle yard where a wireless antenna can capture the data.

“The system reads diagnostic codes off the on-board vehicle computer and generates jobs, which are both reported to the shop and added to the next work order opened on that vehicle,” Amos said.

It has not been an easy process. The city has translated various codes from manufacturers into the fleet system.

“After a year it is still a work in progress to accurately map everything. However, it has helped let the shops know about the common problems even before drivers report them, so we are committed to refine our translations however long it takes.”

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