Texts keep cars in running order
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Many will remember 2016 as the year of surprises, from Leicester City winning the Premier League to Brexit to Donald Trump becoming US President.
But British breakdown provider Green Flag has a new product designed to take some of the shock out of car ownership.
The Alert Me system monitors what's going on with your car and sends you a notification on your mobile phone if it's about tobreak down. And it could help you sidestep steep repair bills.
When something is about to go wrong with a car, it's usually indicated by a warning light on the dashboard, which tends to evoke panic in drivers who assume the car is about to come to a shuddering halt and they'll be on the receiving end of an expensive repair bill.
While an illuminated warning light might signal an oncoming catastrophic engine failure, in many instances it can be triggered by the smallest of problems that's cheap and easy to rectify, such as a glitch with your air-conditioning system. To help drivers differentiate between the two scenarios, Green Flag's new piece of plug-in equipment tells you the severity of the issue, if you can keep driving the car with the warning light on and if you need to give them a call to arrange for a Green Flag technician.
The see-into-the-future technology doesn't come for free, though -- customers have to pay $65 a year if they want it and they can install it themselves.
The breakdown provider says the matchbox-sized unit slots into the diagnostic port inside the car -- the same slot a breakdown mechanic or garage will plug their laptop into to identify an issue with your vehicle.
Synced to an app on your smartphone, it alerts you with a message to tell you what's gone wrong and if it's safe to continue your journey.
Nick Reid, head of transformation at the breakdown provider and the technical whizz behind the new system, says this is a fairly complex scenario, with modern cars having up to 21 computers on board and more than 1000 fault codes specifying where the trouble is.
"The system has two main functions," he says. "First, with battery problems accounting for 35 per cent of all breakdown calls we get, it monitors the health of your battery.
"If the battery's on its last legs, the driver will get a notification so they can do something about it rather than continue driving the car until it eventually doesn't start."
But it's the unit's ability to identify wider potential problems that could be most cost-effective for motorists, especially those owning vehicles with persistent issues.
"A garage can charge you to read the fault code but then give you a load of spiel about problems the car has and hit you with a big bill," Nick says.
"This system diagnoses why your engine management light has come on and translates the problem into an easy, simply worded explanation."
He describes it as "taking the engineering degree out of the automotive industry" by associating the thousands of fault codes to just 16 different messages that are relayed to the driver to tell them the seriousness of the problem.
According to Reid, the AA and vehicle services company RAC are working on similar systems, though Green Flag's is the first into the market.
"It can't control the car, only diagnose an issue with it," Nick explains. "It doesn't monitor your driving like the black box systems fitted for telematics insurance policies -- it doesn't know your speed or the road you're on."
The phone app does let you transmit your location at the press of a button if you need breakdown assistance.