Everything is Connected!

Seems like the latest catch phrase on our trade is telematics. Everywhere you go people are dropping this 10 letter word about as much as John Travolta said groovy back in the 70’s.

While not a new concept, some believe this is potentially the next big challenge for the auto body and repair trade. Currently, there are multiple legislative efforts worldwide that are being looked at and enacted that will impact how cars get fixed and who will be fixing them. Should we be concerned or is this getting blown out of proportion by those who don’t know any better? Half the folks I talk to simply do not know if they need to run from telematics or embrace it.

One of the fundamental problems with conquering any telematics issue is no consistency on what telematics even is. Maybe we should start there! defines telematics as:

“The branch of science concerned with the use of technological devices to transmit information over long distances.”

Meriam-Webster does not define telematics so for the folks using Meriam-Webster I guess telematics is less of an issue.

The consensus of those within the automotive trade who know is to consider telematics to be anything getting broadcast out of the vehicle to a third party that does not own the car. For simplicity, we will be discussing just the vehicle aspects of telematics and how or if it impacts independent body and repair technicians in our shops.

In the beginning, there was OnStar. The company was formed in 1995, and product launched in 1996 for some of the 1997 model year Cadillac models. OnStar was picked up by 5 other manufactures from 2002 – 2005. During its early years, it was mostly used for turn by turn GPS and crash alerts. As time and consumer demand grew, more features were added including, but not limited to, remote unlocking of doors, GPS tracking if reported stolen, remote ignition disabling if stolen and even video chats and streaming through WIFI powered by Verizon. Because of its proven track record, vehicle owners may even be eligible for insurance discounts due to the theft recovery option. As far as impact on the auto repairer goes, OnStar is simple. With only a handful of wires, the OnStar system has been proven to be overall quite robust and rarely requires repair in the aftermarket.

For vehicle equipped with OnStar drivers only have to touch a button on the rear view mirror and they are connected to a live person who will help them with whatever their need is.

Where OnStar does have an impact is in remote diagnostics and customer acquisition and retention. Over 6 million OnStar customers receive a monthly email

Every month OnStar users receive an email update letting them know what the overall health status is of their vehicle.

with a health status report on their car, as well as service recommendations, including advising the vehicle be taken to a local OEM dealer for service. Some in the independent repair sector believe this infringes on a level playing field for the OEM dealers and independent repairers. While this is slightly true, I think most consumers choose their auto repair shop because they trust in their local independent repairer. Statistically, independent auto repair shops still continue to claim the lion’s share of all non-warranty repairs performed day-in day out. This is not likely to change any time soon.

We don’t see a high volume of OnStar related problems as the systems are pretty robust, but we do see minor problems every once in a while. A year back, we had a job in for a customer who had received their monthly OnStar email and it was continually stating that their GMC 3500 needed to return to the nearest dealer due to an unspecified engine concern being reported. The customer contacted OnStar and they were unable to elaborate as there were no codes associated with the issue.

Instead of choosing a dealer our customer chose to us to look into it. In short time we found TSB 08-08-46-004A, which indicated that aftermarket components could cause the resulting recommendation for service needed. After interviewing the customer, we discovered that the customer had installed an aftermarket software upgrade to the ECM to improve engine power. Removing the software and monitoring OnStar emails showed that the issue was resolved. After 2 months, the customer decided that he wanted the extra power back so he reinstalled the software and reported back to us that the engine concern returned in his monthly email report from OnStar.

As modern technicians, we already need to know how computers work in order to diagnose networking issues, but tomorrow’s technician will need to understand computers at a whole new level of wireless communication. Viruses, electrical interference and criminal hacking are a few concerns that no doubt will show up in our bays in the future. Get ready for a whole new level of training and a whole new opportunity to find new revenue sources. Customers are buying connected cars because they want to be connected. As these cars enter the independent repair sector, it will be our job to keep them connected.

This wire diagram from Alldata shows the Vehicle Communication Interface Module (VCIM), with a 16 pin connector you can tell there is a lot going on, including cellular communication and Class 2 data tied into the rest of the vehicle.

It is important to understand that telematics is not going away. In fact, over the next 10 years we will see it expand at an unprecedented rate. It will impact our trade significantly in the future. No more so than fuel injection, Supplemental Restraint Systems, emissions systems or J2534 all did. There will be a learning curve as with all technologies, but nothing to be afraid of and nothing our trade cannot adapt to. Our trade was built on finding ways to repair the automobiles the manufacturers produce. As long as we continue to embrace this philosophy, we should all do just fine.

No longer just a steering wheel, modern cars have a command center feel akin to a X-wing fighter from Star Wars.