At Free Car Mag we have been having a go at Robot Cars, but not all technology is bad. Having been rescued efficiently, quickly and politely twice by the AA in 2016 Free Car Mag have a lot of time for this particular rescue organisation.

A trial of ‘AA Connect’ technology in 10,000 cars has found that almost one in five (17%) developed problems that were identified before they led to a roadside breakdown, enabling the AA to repair the fault by helping to prevent an issue at the roadside.

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This is in addition to identifying battery issues that could lead to a car not starting on a cold morning. After tyres, batteries represent 16% of the AA’s typical breakdown workload.

The AA is half way through its study, which involves understanding how connected car technology can improves people’s driving experience by helping to prevent a roadside breakdown.

Alan Ferguson, Head of AA Connected Car, says he is greatly encouraged by the way the system detects problems at an early stage.

“Although there is work still to do, we have been able to pinpoint potentially serious faults on some cars.”

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Each car is equipped with a small device plugged in to its diagnostic socket. This monitors a range of data generated by the car, such as battery condition, electrics, engine management and other systems, identifying problems before they trigger a warning light or result in a failure.

Explains Ferguson: “The data is sent real-time back to the AA as well as to the user via a supporting easy-to-use smartphone App. Although nearly nine in ten (85%) users check the app daily, we also alert drivers by text if we pick up a potential issue.”

AA Connect also tracks the vehicle’s whereabouts, visualising driving behaviours such as speed, cornering, braking, acceleration and use of revs. This produces a scored online report, coupled with driving advice for the user. In addition, it highlights journey times, mileage and a map trail. The data has the potential to help members reduce their car insurance premiums if they can demonstrate a lower risk profile.

More than half (54%)* of those taking part in the trial said that the technology had enhanced their driving experience while 49% said that they better understood their vehicle.

Ferguson says: “This is an early analysis but the results are extremely encouraging.

“As the AA looks to offer a connected car product to members in 2017, it is clear that breakdowns can be averted, providing an excellent customer experience as well as reducing pressure on the AA’s roadside resources.

“The trial has brought some interesting cases, including highlighting a major fault on a member’s vehicle prior to the family setting off on a European driving holiday which could have led to a potentially costly and disruptive breakdown in France.

“Because anything can happen, using this technology gives drivers reassurance that we can forewarn them about breakdowns.”

“We were able to book appointments to suit our members before that happened, avoiding the unexpected stress of calling for help in a potentially hazardous location.”

In addition, the system helps members make changes to their driving style which, in turn, can pay dividends in terms of fuel economy and maintenance costs and, potentially, reduce their car insurance premiums.

Identifying battery problems is a key function of the App. While the recent sharp temperature drop brought a spike in the number of call-outs for AA patrols to assist with cars failing to start, there wasn’t a similar spike among connected car users.

“That suggests that the system has identified failing batteries before the weather took its toll. That by any measure, is a successful outcome.”