Thursday, February 08, 2007

An Automotive Crystal Ball

You're so excited. The road trip of your dreams has finally begun. You've haven't thought of anything else for days: the open highway, wind in your hair, getting away from the worries of life to enjoy carefree hours of pure scenic pleasure, all the cliche elements that make just getting in the car and driving look so wonderful in memory and movies. You're on your way. Wheeee!! It's all in front of you. Now you're zipping along, over the next hill, revelling in the perfect moment, when it happens. CLUNK! clunk clunk, gasp , sputter, pshhhhh....slow agonizing death of car....Noooooooo!!! Road trip over--in the middle of nowhere. Hope you get cell phone reception out here.

It's just not fair. You take good care of your car. You get the oil changed regularly, rotate the tires, change the air filter, and whatever else that people do to maintain their cars that I'm not aware of because my husband takes care of that particular aspect of household management. (It's one of the few areas of life where we stick to "traditional" roles. Can I help it my mom taught me how to use a circular saw as a child and not a torque wrench?) Anyway, the point is, how could this little example of personal human tragedy have been prevented? It's not like you have a crystal ball in your car that warns you ahead of time if the alternator, or u-joint, or carburetor (these are the only car parts that come to mind right now) is about to ruin your road trip.

Or do you? If you've got a car that's less than ten years old, you do have a "crystal ball" of sorts in your car. You have an OBD, an On Board Diagnostic system. Your mechanic uses it when he maintains your automobile. That's not much use to you though, right? The mechanic has all those specialized computer diagnostic tools to help him analyse what's going on under the hood, which is why you haven't even bothered trying to repair your own car since you got rid of that Celica you used to have. Everything is computerized and indecipherable. How are you supposed to figure it all out so you know to fix that problem before you hit the road? You thought about taking the car in for service before the trip, but you didn't have the time, and besides, that money was for the trip, not the auto shop! If only you could read that crystal ball yourself.

That day has arrived, for some people anyway, and is about to arrive for the rest of us too. Gizmag has the latest information on a a new system called SAM, for Smart Auto Management. Sam kiosks across the country will let car owners tap into that well of information that has up till now been the purview of the auto professional:

...SAM taps into a vehicle's On Board Diagnostic system (OBD) and prints an easy-to-understand report that reveals existing or pending problems. Motorists can save time and money by connecting their vehicle to a SAM self-service kiosk that provides vital information about their vehicle, instantly and affordably, allowing them to make smart choices about vehicle maintenance, vehicle safety and the purchase and sale of used cars. SAM taps into the On Board Diagnostic System of a 1996 or newer vehicle; scans and analyzes over 2,000 system codes pertaining to the engine, transmission, safety systems, body, chassis and more; and provides a printed report on the spot. In less than 10 minutes, for US$15...

Nifty, huh? There are kiosks already in Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Raleigh and Northern California, and more will be following nationwide. Now you'll have an option for finding out what's going on with your car before anything goes wrong, and before you have to pay an expensive towing and repair bill out in the middle of road-trip-nowhere. Reading that crystal ball just got a little easier:

"We developed SAM to offer motorists an easy, inexpensive way to obtain important vehicle information," says Art Jacobsen, Program Director of Smart Auto Management LLC, a subsidiary of Environmental Systems Product Holdings Inc. (ESP). "Before SAM, motorists didn't have easy access to their vehicle's OBD system. SAM allows drivers to make smart decisions that can impact vehicle maintenance costs and safety, and allows them to reach their destination with confidence."
Hey, looks like the road trip's back on!! Anybody have a map?