How Are Your Trucks? The Answer Is in the Data

Matt Kardel portrait
Posted By
Matt Kardel
President, Connected Services

Say you are cruising along, and the “check engine” light comes on. You have no idea whether the problem is something as simple as a loose gas cap or a serious issue that could cause an engine failure. You ignore the warning light for a while and hope it will go away. If it does not, you make an appointment to have it checked out and hope that the repair bill will not be too high.

In fact, only 36 percent of drivers make that trip to the mechanic within the first week of the “check engine” light appearing, according to a recent survey.

But if you are a company that operates a fleet of trucks, the ability to make sense of these diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) in real time is critical to assessing vehicle health, reducing total cost of ownership, avoiding logistics nightmares, optimizing operations, improving fuel economy and averting other potential problems.

Repair and maintenance represent significant costs for private fleets of commercial vehicles — for example, 27 cents per mile for tractor trailers, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. Moreover, a FleetNet Benchmarkit study found that the cost per mile for repair and maintenance has increased by 39 percent since 2008, due to more advanced technology in trucks. The most expensive repairs were for the clutch system ($1,000 per repair), the cooling system ($700 per repair) and the charging system ($676 per repair).

Digging into the data

Fortunately, today’s trucks generate a vast treasure trove of data that can be tapped to improve vehicle maintenance, operations, driver management, safety and environmental impact. Fleet Maintenance magazine points out that modern trucks can have up to 400 sensors and 130 million lines of code, and those numbers are growing. Those vehicle sensors continuously monitor nearly every system on the truck — including the engine, electrical, emissions, location, active safety, suspension and driver user-experience systems.

The network of sensors significantly improves the performance of individual systems; however, cryptic DTCs do not even come close to realizing the full potential for accurately understanding vehicle (or fleet-level) health.

A state-of-the-art vehicle fleet diagnostics system can use the data to bring meaning to those DTCs, explaining the nature of any problems in understandable terms and providing actionable intelligence in real time to the fleet maintenance team, saving fleet operators money and time.

For example, if there is an alert from the diesel particulate filter indicating that soot production is spiking, the driver needs to know whether this is a low-priority issue that can be dealt with when the vehicle is back at the garage, or a red alert that requires the driver to immediately pull over and wait for a repair crew. Advanced vehicle diagnostics might trace the issue to a failed exhaust gas recirculation valve and advise the driver to complete the current delivery and then return to the shop, where a new part is already waiting to be installed.

Performing this real-time root-cause analysis requires advanced computing hardware, machine learning software, and cloud analytics to mine through tens of millions of data points collected at millisecond frequencies. The hardware includes a small device that simply plugs into the vehicle network, collects the data and transmits it to the cloud. An application allows fleet managers back at headquarters to monitor the status of vehicles on the road and perform predictive maintenance so that potential problems can be prevented.

Aptiv Connect Fleet Insights software leverages our domain expertise to provide vital information that avoids unnecessary downtime or the worst-case scenario of a roadside breakdown that involves thousands of dollars in costs for towing, repairs, and the dispatch of and transfer to a backup vehicle and driver.

Aptiv partners with fleet solution providers to deliver onboard vehicle diagnostics hardware, as well as Aptiv Connect Edge software and analytics through the Aptiv Connect Fleet Insights application or APIs. This comprehensive system gives fleets, OEMs and an application marketplace access to the rich data streams and insights that can help reduce costs, improve safety and optimize fleet operations.