Car Maintenance of the Future: Disrupting Car-Care
Cars have changed in all kinds of profound ways in past couple decades thanks to the tireless forward march of technological change. There was a time when a lot more people performed many regular car maintenance tasks themselves, and even handled minor repairs as well. But nowadays cars have become so technologically advanced and complicated that very few people feel like they can engage in DIY vehicle maintenance or repairs. In this article, we gaze into our crystal ball to see what the future holds for car maintenance and repairs, and how it will impact you as a car owner.
Cars are on the Edge of Even Bigger Changes
Think about some of the more recent changes in car technologies. You’ve got cars that get better gas mileage than ever, and a whole array of alternative energy-efficient fuels being used in cars. There are vehicles that run on only electricity, a combination of electricity and gasoline, compressed natural gas, ethanol, hydrogen and fuel cells, liquified natural gas, and diesel engines that can run on biodiesel or even used cooking oil. Granted, most of these alternative fuel vehicles haven’t reached widespread adoption yet, but any of them could at some point in the future, whether by choice or necessity.
Then there are all newest safety-oriented technologies, including rear-view cameras to help you see what’s behind you, blind-spot detection and collision warnings, tire-pressure monitors, adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation to automatically slow you down in response to the car ahead of you slowing down, automatic braking to avoid collisions, lane departure warnings and wake-up alerts, rollover prevention through high-tech stability control, and emergency response systems that will basically call 911 for you if you’re in an accident or contact a towing service if your car breaks down.
Cars are also getting smarter thanks to how well connected they can be to all sorts of systems no matter how remote. Most cars now have built-in navigation systems to find your destination without using paper maps or even standalone GPS devices. You can do a lot of hands-free communicating by linking your smartphone to your car, as well as search for nearby points of interest through voice commands, whether it’s tourist attractions, a great restaurant, or the nearest gas station when you’re running low on fuel. And don’t forget we’re getting closer and closer to driverless cars as well.
All of this could easily result in even more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the auto industry over past five decades combined! So, what does all of this mean for mechanics and car maintenance?
The Future of Car Maintenance: Mechanics versus Technicians
The auto mechanics of today are in a state of transition into something that would better be called technicians. The software systems that make cars so smart do need to be updated from time to time. In some cases, there are software bugs and glitches that require urgent attention. In fact, in 2015 software-related issues accounted for 15% of all recalls. From 2012-2016, there were 189 different software-related recalls that affected more than 13 million vehicles! And more than half of them were issues that could have caused accidents or injuries.
Right now mechanics already have to do a surprising amount of software programming among their car maintenance duties, but in the future it’s likely that the computer systems in connected cars will be able to do their own software updates without the intervention of any mechanic. This process is called over-the-air (OTA) updating, and it’s already being used by Tesla in its Model S, and also at Ford, but only for its Sync 3 infotainment system. But there are issues to iron out, including what type of connection is best to use. Cellular connectivity is widely available, but isn’t universal. It could also be vulnerable to hacking and disasters (natural or otherwise) that take out cell towers. Satellite connectivity solves the coverage problem, but is still in its infancy in terms of getting it into cars.
Side note to mechanics: There’s already a serious and growing shortage of auto technicians who can work with the more advanced technologies of today’s cars. Get yourself up to speed on the techie side of the equation and you’ll have your pick of job opportunities.
There Will be Less Car Maintenance and Service in the Future
Some of the newer technologies will serve to reduce the overall number of trips to service department of dealership or independent auto mechanic shops. For example, automatic braking will result in less wear-and-tear on those components.
Regular service intervals keep getting longer and longer. The oil change every 3,000 miles is largely a thing of the past in newer vehicles, despite what your local quick-lube shop says. Quite a few cars now have oil change intervals of every 5,000 miles if you’re using conventional oil. But the synthetic oils available today are so much better that using them can result in even longer intervals between changes, such as 7,500-10,000 miles. And the top-shelf synthetic oils require changing only once every 15,000 miles. That could be only once a year for a lot of people! And motor-oil maker Castrol (a division of BP) says it’s developed a new process that can get the oil changed in as little as 90 seconds. Can you imagine having your oil changed only once during a whole year and having it take up less than two minutes of your time? This is car maintenance of the future at its best!
DIY Car Maintenance Revisited
Remember how we said most people can’t do DIY maintenance or repairs on today’s technologically advanced cars? But what if your car had artificial intelligence to help you do it? Here’s a scenario described by Vesper founder Jimmy Smoot that could become reality:
- On day 3 of a cross country road trip, the car doesn’t start. The car’s onboard AI determines that it could be one of three problems with the engine.
- To get more data, the car asks the owner a few questions and directs the owner to send photos of certain parts of the engine to the car over WiFi.
- The car runs these photos through a neural network to look for anomalies, and determines that that there is a corroded hose which caused the problem.
- The car then directs the owner to go to a nearby automotive supply shop for the replacement.
- Once the owner has the part, the car walks the owner through the step by step via augmented reality on a phone app.
- Driver and car work together to fix the problem and the driver is able to continue their road trip.
This might sound more like science fiction than fact, but we’re a lot closer to this kind of scenario becoming commonplace than you might think.
But What About the Cost of Car Maintenance in the Future?
The downside of all these new car technologies, however, is that it makes repairs a lot more expensive. Repairing a dented or crumpled corner of a bumper is generally easy and inexpensive, but it’s going to be a lot more expensive if that area of the bumper also housed a key sensor to the vehicle’s high-tech safety systems that also got crunched in the fender bender. The parts are more expensive, the labor will take longer, and there might not be many mechanics around who can handle the repair, all of which drives up the price of the repair quite a bit.
The same holds true for the alternative engines in hybrid vehicles like the Toyata Prius, as well as their alternative CVT type of transmissions (although CVT is becoming more widely adopted). In case you ever wondered why luxury cars are so expensive to maintain and repair, this is the reason: They tend to feature all the latest bells and whistles, which drives up the cost of repairs.
The good news, though, is that as new technologies filter down from the luxury end of the spectrum and the parts become more widely available, along with the knowledge needed, then the price tag on repairs inevitably does come down.
Whatever the future may hold for car maintenance, there are some things that don’t appear to be going anywhere soon. Things like tires, wiper blades, and even the oil change, however rare it may become, will still need to happen. If you’re in the greater San Diego area and are looking for a great service department, pay a visit to Auto City. Our service technicians undergo extensive training in order to work on any make or model. We offer competitive pricing on maintenance and repairs, and are always running at least a dozen different service specials you will love. And if you’re in the market to purchase a used vehicle, you owe it to yourself to check out our incredible inventory of newer used cars with low mileage and in fantastic shape!