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RAC ready to launch predictive breakdown service

Date: 03 July 2017   |   Author: Jack Carfrae

The RAC is about to launch a service that combines telematics and breakdown data to predict common faults with vehicles before they actually happen.

The organisation has developed the ability to tally information from both sources, and compare details such as mileage and usage with established, historical breakdown statistics about particular makes and models, with the intention of identifying and rectifying frequent issues before they cause the vehicles to be taken off the road.

The technology is now in an "advanced pilot" stage and is expected to launch to the fleet market in quarter three of this year, although major on-road trials are already happening.
"I'm not going to claim it's in mass production yet, because it's not, but we've got about 20,000 units out in the field, right now, providing predictive data to us and to those fleet managers," said Nick Walker, managing director of RAC Connected Services. "We've got a learning algorithm sitting in the background, making sure we're doing the right thing, but we've got some great results from it and it's becoming more reliable.

"We've got some case studies of how we've seen gearbox faults that we can spot 18 days ahead of when the gearbox fails, fuel injectors that we can see are going to need replacing before the vehicle breaks down - or, if it breaks down, we know to go and pick up a fuel injector on the way to the vehicle. We've seen advanced warnings of DPFs (diesel particulate filters) getting clogged up, or even things that cause DPFs to clog up, so we're getting a lot of data in."   

Walker claimed the main benefit of the technology for fleets is a potential reduction in vehicle downtime. "I was with one of our customers that has 4,000 vehicles; they've got this installed and we're saving them a lot of money on vehicle downtime, because they can see when they are going to have big faults that are going to result in the vehicle being off the road for a few days. They don't have to wait until it breaks down and we have to go out."

Pricing and similar final details have yet to be revealed, but Walker said the service would cost more than a conventional fleet breakdown package. "You pay a bit more because there's telematics involved - a bit like insurance, really - but you get a benefit down the road because you've got an enhanced level of roadside assistance with the two systems combined. It will impact vehicle downtime, which is all about cost."

BusinessCar broke the news of the technology in 2015 when it was in its infancy, and Walker admitted the company's initial attempts did not go to plan: "After our first crack at this, we realised we'd got it completely upside down. We thought we were really clever - that we could identify certain faults and predict them - then we realised they weren't actual causes of mass breakdowns, so it wasn't going to help anybody.  

"We started going backwards. We were looking at the common faults, common causes of breakdowns, and if we could identify them - and the answer is yes. We looked at some very large fleets with which we do roadside assistance and telematics. We started doing the data comparisons and we were absolutely spot-on. We've provided some real, serious business benefits to those clients already."

Trials have been limited to existing fleet customers, but Walker said the RAC was already canvassing other organisations with the technology: "We are actively out now, talking to certain prospects, particularly where we're combining it with accident management, connecting those things together and offering an enhanced level of roadside assistance based upon telematics."  

He added that the model's preventative nature had the potential to reduce the RAC's bread-and-butter breakdown business, but claimed those trialling the service had reacted positively to the advanced warnings.

"It seems counter-intuitive; we save ourselves a breakdown. That's not always sensible from our point of view, but we find that it brings us closer into a partnership with customers than if we were just to say, 'well, we've got as much money out of you as possible,' so it's actually paying some real dividends."