Through telematics, artificial intelligence is coming to cars, and will one day let companies stay two steps ahead of any maintenance issues that would take them off the road. 

Many fleet operators already have these telematics tools at their disposal, but may not be making the most of them. 

“Remote diagnostics allows the fleet to determine if there is an issue, and proactively schedule service for that vehicle prior to on-road failures that may occur,” says Sherry Calkins, associate vice president of strategic partners for telematics firm Geotab. “As a result, diagnostic management has improved uptime of vehicles, and even offers the ability of over-the-air updates that can correct many issues without the vehicle needing to go to a service location.”

The adoption of diagnostic telematics has been much slower than it was for vehicle tracking or driver behavior, however, they are a key component in this age of connected vehicles.

“Major downtime or costly repairs can be avoided by resolving problems early,” says Chris Ransom, Director of Solutions Engineering at Verizon Connect. “Telematics actually offers a variety of benefits that can lead to better driving and less vehicle maintenance, from windshield replacements to fewer brake replacements.”

On the verge of major innovation

More and more vehicles are moving toward having telematics. Intel reports that connected cars are the third fastest-growing technology — right behind phones and tablets.

“It's getting easier to make the change from traditional to new technologies,” Ransom notes. “Companies that make the switch are making smart preventative maintenance decisions and won’t be spending more than they have to on fleet preventative maintenance.”

Predicting trouble

Thanks to telematics, fleet operators “can access a new level of detailed, actionable data to help proactively predict and prevent unplanned downtime,” Calkins says. “Our conversation a year from now definitely could be very different as machine learning reaches a deeper level and we better understand artificial intelligence.”

Still, we are “a few years away” from what Calkins believes is the Holy Grail, “an AI-powered, always-on service advisor that will detect, analyze and recommend specific vehicle maintenance actions.” 

Predictive diagnostics is inherently exciting because of its ability to prevent breakdowns that used to mean unexpected expenses, missed stops and frustrated customers. But, like any tool, it's only as good as its adoption.