The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder

New gadget from the AA warns of breakdowns before they happen

Bye-bye hard shoulder?


AA breakdown gadget

HAS THE hard shoulder had its day? The AA, Britain’s biggest breakdown service, is set to offer its members a new gadget that will predict when their car is about to splutter to a halt.


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The device will be able to summon a rescue vehicle to a motorway service station or lay-by on their route so the fault can be fixed before a driver becomes stranded.

“This is next-generation technology that will be extremely useful to us and our members,” said Edmund King, president of the AA. “When driving along the motorway we could be alerted that your alternator is faulty or brakes are faulty and if in danger could alert you to pull over at the service area where we could have a patrol with the parts ready to repair.”

The device will also warn motorists if the car battery is low and, by monitoring weather forecasts can predict if cold temperatures are likely to result in the car not starting the following morning.

The new service was announced as part of a British-based joint venture between the AA, other European motoring organisations and Intelematics, an Australian vehicle technology company.

The consortium will begin testing the device next month in 10,000 vehicles. Each driver will be given a matchbox-size dongle, which will plug into a universal socket, fitted to every new car, which connects to the vehicle’s electronics.

This will be able to read data from the car’s sensors, which will include the battery’s voltage and — on some cars — the level of brake wear and tyre pressures.

The dongle will communicate with a driver’s smartphone over a wireless Bluetooth connection and the information will then be sent to a data centre for analysis. The AA said that it planned to use the information to identify other tell-tale characteristics that appear before breakdowns, so that it could continuously improve the service.

If successful, the gadget will be offered to AA members from late summer. Drivers paying for the most comprehensive packages are likely to be first in line.

The consortium is also hoping to sell the technology to car manufacturers so it can be built in on the production line. General Motors, which owns Vauxhall, has launched a similar service in America. A device built into some Chevrolet models sends information on each car’s battery, starter motor and fuel pump to the company, which is assessed. If a problem is highlighted, the car can be booked in for repair before it fails.

But the developments will also highlight concerns around data security. Information about the vehicle’s driving history — including routes taken and speeds recorded — will be saved by the AA, which plans to offer the safest drivers cheaper insurance.

It says that no other organisation will have access to the information, although it will have to hand over data to police investigating a major accident, for example, in the event of a court order.


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