If you haven’t just gotten your driver’s license last week, odds are you’ve faced that mysterious and inexplicable “Check Engine” light at least once or twice, leaving you the choice of heading to the dealer or ignoring the indicator, hoping the bulb might burn out. Then again, you might have gotten no warning whatsoever when your battery died or a water pump failed.
General Motors is developing an “active, preventive maintenance” system that could avoid such headaches by giving a motorist a detailed alert before something on the vehicle breaks, says the maker’s global product development chief.
“We’re testing the system now with our employees,” noted Mark Reuss, during a lunchtime interview.
The preventive maintenance system would rely on not only the numerous sensors built into today’s typical car, truck or crossover, but would also have access to a cloud-based database that would compile service records from similar vehicles. So, even if your engine seemed to be running smoothly at 48,000 miles, the system would know that particular V-6 turbo was likely to need a new oil filter at 50,000 miles, or that your battery only had a few more months of life left before facing what could be a tough winter.
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The system would aim to avoid breakdowns, but it would also avoid the sort of false alarms that are associated with traditional “idiot lights,” like the Check Engine alert. And that could increase the likelihood a motorist would ignore a real problem until it became much serious.
A critical part of the preventive maintenance system is the OnStar communications technology now installed in virtually every GM vehicle, noted Reuss. That system can perform a wide range of functions, such as remotely unlocking a vehicle’s door should a motorist inadvertently lock their keys inside. In an accident severe enough to trigger a vehicle’s airbags, authorities can receive an automatic call.
OnStar operators can program in a destination and, with the right subscription, handle a variety of concierge-style services.
The system also would be used to alert a motorist to a mechanical problem, whether by calling the vehicle or by displaying a message on the infotainment screen or the LCD display in the gauge cluster on many new vehicles.
GM is still working to ensure the accuracy of the alert system, and to decide how best to make it work. The maker also is trying to decide whether it would be a standard feature or require an OnStar subscription. The basic communications system is already installed on most of the vehicles the maker sells in the U.S., even if an owner doesn’t subscribe.
Reuss said he’s not sure how soon GM plans to roll out the preventive maintenance system, but the company appears likely to launch the technology in the relatively near future as both a safety feature and a potential competitive advantage.
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