Volvo Trucks' Remote Diagnostics Speed Downtime, Creates Big Brother Questions

Volvo VNL 780 2 II

Fleet buyers, as well as any other pickup truck enthusiasts, understand how critical repair costs and downtime can affect a business. These customers typically know the ownership cost of a given vehicle down to the penny; that's why the idea of interactive diagnostics has become such an important issue with expensive big rigs.

In fact, Volvo Trucks, makers of some of the most impressive Class 8 hauling work trucks in the world, will be making its remote diagnostic system available on every truck it sells from now on. The results of the new connected computers, as reported by Volvo, will vastly improve repair accuracy and overall truck efficiency, and it'll do it with less downtime in the maintenance garage. Because the engine system can provide detailed reporting information to the service station before the truck arrives, diagnostic time can be reduced as much as 71 percent, with the average time for the service repair dropping as much as 25 percent. That translates into cash-flow when your company makes money when your trucks are rolling.

The implications to our smaller, for-work-and-play pickup trucks is obvious. As dealers or manufacturers receive more information about how we're using our vehicles, they're better able to provide the right service and support for those vehicles when they come in for maintenance, theoretically saving us money with shorter lengths of downtime in service stalls.

Of course, our vehicles have been "connected" for some time. Black box information has been an invaluable tool for investigators, vehicle manufacturers and even the government to track down safety issues or for determining vehicle behavior, and it's only a matter of time before all that available data can be used in ways we might not like. Organizations such as AAA are sounding the alarms already.

Data mining and potential governmental overreach is part of our reality nowadays, but at some point we'll have to more thoroughly address the privacy issues surrounding data-collection capabilities of our pickups. You can bet there will be more on this topic ahead.


Volvo VNL 780 3 II

Volvo VNL 780 1 II




I may have to re read the story about Volvo's diagnostics, but if you are saying they have REMOTE and REAL-TIME diagnostics in the same system that's something big.

The real-time component, and automated back-office systems, can give major fleet operators the IT resources to focus key resources and skilled personnel on the most critical on-time systems and logistics.

It even opens the door to 3rd party IT concerns whose specialty is high up-time, low cost. Such firms are already the name of the game in shipping and tracking goods, but adding this capability to the operations/repairs teams for major longhaul firms is huge.

I don't know if this is NEW news or not since a Volvo HD mechanic was telling me about this a year ago. A different tech was telling me a similar story in relation to the light vehicle auto industry.

A Ford Exec put his foot in his mouth recently when he said they currently were able to track virtually all of their vehicles.

OnStar has the same capability.

Commercial trucking companies have used various forms of "tattle-tail" devices for as long as I can remember. The ability to do so with engine diagnostics in a new and emerging field.

I just read that warranty claims account for 2-4% of manufacturer's total costs. Companies are under no obligation to report warranty claims BUT they do have to report the cost of those claims on their annual financial statements.


When I read this the first time I wondered if it is simply about telemetrics, or if it would offer technicians a real-time view of system health, along with the ability to update a system on the fly, or even do a software refresh on the system without even notifying the driver.

Telemetry is an old field (space race timeframe) but modern telemetrics and real-time interaction with systems on the road is something new, in my opinion

@papa jim and @Lou_BC
This is a flow on from European HDT Fleet use. Scania the other " Big Swede" is also doing something similar. Electronic capture of data from trucks in fleet use is a big thing in Europe. Manual logging went out sometime ago.

"interactive diagnostics" is the key phrase here.

@Robert Ryan

Black box stuff is old hat.

This is "interactive" and because it's "remote" it is connecting via either satellite communications or via something like cell phone or wireless. That would be very interesting and offer some of the key capabilities that I mentioned in my earlier comments about this.

@papa jim
Interactive, no black box is old hat(Originally developed by Australia's CSIRO in the early 1950's for planes, the box is really orange. The "Box" is now fitted to all planes) I think we will keep on seeing more telemetrics in cars, pickups and trucks.

This is not new, data logging and satellite connections with vehicles has been done for years Detroit, GM do it, the problem is not that they can do it the problem is they will only tell a dealership the results.
I had onstar, my pick-up got a yellow check engine light I called onstar, and asked what the light was for they would not tell me but stated they would give the information to the dealer if they called them, immediately I cancelled onstar.
I like having the phone in the truck and the extended range it gave me as I live in the mountains of BC and coverage is not the greatest, BUT they pissed me off and it is still off.
When I went to the dealer to get it looked into they told me it was #4 glow plug, and the price to fix it I got it done there.
Detroit puts the phone number on the engine to call.
Just a thought!

@John P

I cancelled OnStar too but only because at 55,000 miles my Silverado has never failed me. If I owned a Ford or a Chrysler product...maybe

@papa jim
Here is something about the Scania trucks remote diagnostics.

"The first prototype coupled FDR/CVR designed with civilian aircraft in mind, for explicit post-crash examination purposes, was produced in 1956 by David Warren of the Aeronautical Research Laboratories in Melbourne, Australia

@Robert Ryan

I'm imagining the ability to send auto updates to a vehicle on the road without interaction with the driver, or maybe even his company's repair team.

Just like my PC. Click the auto update icon. After that it's automatic.

What if there's a failure in the box itself? What if the box has a form of high availability or failover protection? Back up battery power for the black box. What about encrypted messaging so vandals cannot mess with your system while you're highway bound?

cool stuff

@papa jim,
It would easily be found out as the system has constant checks. I would say base would have to physically phone the driver to bring the truck into the nearest service area.

@papa jim
You tube Video on the Scania diagnostics.

I would say this system would on log data when an event occurs. It wouldn't be operating and transmitting data continuously.

An event is anything that occurs outside of preset parameters.

@Big Al from Oz,
It is constantly logging data it appears from the Scania System.
"The Communicator essentially records and reports on vehicle and driver performance and vehicle diagnostics, while also recording the truck’s location. It’s recording constantly but it updates the vehicle’s position at 10-minute intervals."

@Big Al

Actually the firm I work for does the very sort of back-office processing and transmitting that I'm referring to here.

A processor stores data, the software almost instantly compiles the data, the system transmits information almost immediately (less than one second) to our data center, where the system backs-ups the customer's account.

During any of these (near) real-time processes and transactions if something happening is not within the spec, the system at the data center actually interrogates the mobile system and audits activity as well as the processor itself. It is quickly able to report on the health of the mobile system and determine if remediation is needed.

If the system continues to perform in a non standard way and a fix is known to be reliable, it will automatically update the customer system with the fix, backup the data and if needed do a warm startup on a fail-over system.

This all happens in the blink of an eye. Much more than simply logging data or events.

In real time:

1. Status
2. Problem determination
3. System backups
4. Transmit a fix or software update
5. Decided if a rollover to a warmed up server is required

This is all in the realm of the discussion. If Volvo is offering this kind of mobility, then 3rd party IT vendors will soon be offering the back office support I just described, if not already.

@papa jim
The firm I work has had this technology we've been working with for decades ;)

Look at how the Malaysian Airlines plane was eventually tracked.

@Big Al

I'm talking about doing this with large fleets of over the road trucks and the sophisticated logistics firms they support.

The telemetry that we saw with aircraft, satellites and space shuttles and their various transponders is one thing, but the support I'm describing is very new in the area of over the road trucking. Particularly true of the third party back office operations and support.

During the 1970s if an astronaut noticed a problem onboard, they radioed Houston from their location in orbit.

During the 1980s, Houston was notifying the crew onboard if they saw something amiss. That was very cutting edge in those days.

Just look at how Tesla can check the car status and even update the firmware over-the-air for free, eventually you will be able to create an account in manufacturer's site or a third party so they get an alert what and when a part needs to be replaced or be serviced so they can order it in advance (and charge you) so when you get there everything is all set for your car.

Is this semi' now? Looks like a commercial vehicle not a pickup truck.

@papajim, Maybe what?? Glad you've had good luck with your Silverado but don't put other makes down.

@Truck Crazy

don't get your feelings hurt so easily.

My last new Ford sucked. My last new Dodge sucked. The Dodge I had BEFORE that one was good; the Ford I had before the last one was good too.

I've had two Chevy trucks and both were champs. I've had two GMC's and they were good too.

But my last Ford and my last Dodge were not so good--and the factory rep sucked too. No help.

LMAO, Volvo makes the worst semi trucks period. LOL at all the people who like them, go get a life.

@papajim, Stick to what you know!

You know poltics. Not the new trucks.


Here is a test, Dale

in your next comment, try writing a paragraph (three or more related sentences) on the topic of real-time diagnostics and on-the-fly (no downtime) system auto updates & remediation.

Then if you're still feeling peppy, try writing a few remarks asking me to consider ever replying to one of your comments again. I'll be waiting to see how well you do.

that is all

Papa Jim, Volvo makes a good semi truck, I won't say the best but far from the worst. International makes the worst.


I have never owned a Volvo and I've never owned anything bigger than a one ton truck. OTR trucks are not my thing.

Electronic support and auto updating via wireless? Let's talk

I'm glad to see that the majority of you are looking at this news the right way--the benefits it offers both the manufacturer and the owners. However, there are those who are more willing to see it as "Big Brother", as one said, a "tattle-tale" of an individual's driving habits. No longer is it possible to cheat OTR driving laws by keeping a separate, REAL log of your driving. With GPS and direct wireless connections the owning company knows what the truck is doing at all times and that data could easily be used against a driver who breaks company rules.

But worse, those of us who drive POVs--personally operated vehicles--that same data could be used to ticket traffic violations and even give evidence to legitimize the revocation of the driver's license by an habitual scofflaw. No longer would it be just at the moment of collision where an accident report would place blame, but the driver's own actions in the vehicle for the minutes leading up to the collision. The vehicle may even have the capability of reporting unusual driving habits such as "impaired" due to DUI.

Then again, it could conceivably also save a driver's life were that driver suffering a stroke or heart attack by such reporting. But few of us would consider such an event as likely for them, even though we read about accidents caused by health issues on a regular basis.

Look at it this way: Big Brother can be the greatest thing since sliced bread--as long as it's not abused. George Orwell's novel emphasizes the misuse of such technology and certainly it is possible to misuse such technology; but the legitimate use of said technology currently outweighs the POTENTIAL misuse by saving lives and saving money.

@makatron: You've got a point, but with the exception of Tesla itself, it's an invalid one. Your argument assumes that you would take your vehicle to a specific repair shop when you say, " they get an alert what and when a part needs to be replaced or be serviced so they can order it in advance (and charge you) so when you get there everything is all set for your car." Quite honestly, unless you always use the same repair shop, no matter the issue or the region of the country, that specific concept can't work. It works for Tesla because they only offer one service center in a given area so the odds are much higher that the 'local' center will be the one dispatched for the repair.

However, what it CAN do is automatically scan inventory lists to determine the nearest factory repair part location to whatever shop you do frequent so that the technician doesn't have to call around and ask if some parts house has the piece needed or not. As such, you have a much lower risk of extended wait times for the parts to arrive so you get the vehicle back more quickly.

Here's the thing: With the advent of the internet and so many shops tying to inventory lists throughout the world, finding a given part can be much easier when automated rather than manually performing searches at each site. The part can conceivably be pre-ordered, with delivery dependent on final repair location IF that location doesn't itself have the required part. The greatest convenience for this is when you're on the road, far from your usual service center. It can well be the advantage you need to get back on the road without an extended wait.

I like the idea but you know darn well the cops and other goofs will stick their dirty paws on this tech to spy on you and ticket you.


No cops, nor anyone else, will be able to spy if you are using a product with suitable 802.1x encryption to transmit your data to/from the service department or IT vendor.

Anyone today who transmits without encryption or SSL technology is begging to be hacked.

I drove a class 8 years in the 70's, I believe it was Ohio when you went into the state at a weight scale they timed you to the next scale if you were to fast they gave you a speeding ticket.
That is big brother old school.
Real time data and cameras, are already available to many companies, I retired in 2007, I do not know about real time updates, but it is posible. They have cruise that is computer controled with GPS and mapping that speeds and slows the truck for fuel economy, and time saving.
Data streaming today is so much better than a few years ago most anything you can think of can be done.
The ability to diagnose a problem and ensure the posible parts are available in a location, and getting the unit in and fixed as soon as posible is a good idea. Drivers that see a problem and call it in have done it for years, then all you need is the capacity at the dealership and a trained mechanic to do the work.
Just a thought!

@John P

Why not just drive the speed limit?

I drove over a half million accident free commercial miles in the 70s and 80s. I scared people once in a while but I never hurt anybody.

The ability to update electronic systems with a software refresh doesn't require parts (unless a battery or circuit craps out). It's just like sending a secure email to the ECM and the software does the rest.

@papa jim
Actually, in the Apollo program the maintenance codes were continuously sent to Houston. The engineers on the ground constantly monitored what the space module was up to.

These codes I would have assumed would have been quite simple and in 4 bits (I don't know if they had 8 bit in octal in the 60s).

You'll find that you can only have 2, 4, 8, 16, etc. You will indentify this sequence of numbers just by your use of computers.

All of these octal, hexidecimal (based on 16) is easily converted into binary. Binary is a series of 0's and 1's or on and off.

So, when a signal is say sent in hexidecimal is it made into binary with can then be used to determine if it matches a preset or pre determined parameter. When fault finding and using schematics tables are used with the correct binary series of 0's and 1's to indicate what mode of operation or position or whatever the component should be in or at.

So, on the ground the guys in Houston were able to ascertain the condition of all the critical systems on the command module.

I do this for a living.

Modern cars and trucks use this system that was first used in the 60s from the US space program. This is a quick and nasty outline of what the Apollo program utilised.

"...I'm talking about doing this with large fleets of over the road trucks and the sophisticated logistics firms they support.

The telemetry that we saw with aircraft, satellites and space shuttles and their various transponders is one thing, but the support I'm describing is very new in the area of over the road trucking. Particularly true of the third party back office operations and support.

During the 1970s if an astronaut noticed a problem onboard, they radioed Houston from their location in orbit.

During the 1980s, Houston was notifying the crew onboard if they saw something amiss. That was very cutting edge in those days."

@Big Al

I stand behind the above statements as accurate. I grew up around the space program. My dad was an engineer at McDonnell in St Louis (now a Boeing sub). He was with the firm from 1951 until 1980. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and beyond.

Fast forward to the present. The Volvo electronics being discussed in the article include the potential for automated live updates, live system backup, along with redundant power, failover protection.

This produces a device/device relationship with the data center (and the remote endpoint) that can mitigate or even eliminate a substantial number of trips to repair entirely.

Your experience with the code is interesting but my own work is at the user end of the relationship, not the server side.

My familiarity with s/w development is limited.

This stuff is great in more heavily populated areas where there are plenty of cell towers to maintain communication. Satellite communications are still pricy for most consumers.
OnStar for example uses satellite for GPS but the communications between the vehicle and centre are by cell.

Communication between the vehicle and server will be the wave of the future and will function no different than current home or mobile devices. Updates will occur automatically over the life of the unit.

The problem with vehicle based systems is the longevity expected by the end user. Someone who keeps a vehicle for a very long time or those buying used may run into trouble with outdated hardware.

@pap jim,
"Fast forward to the present. The Volvo electronics being discussed in the article include the potential for automated live updates, live system backup, along with redundant power, failover protection."
This produces a device/device relationship with the data center (and the remote endpoint) that can mitigate or even eliminate a substantial number of trips to repair entirely."

It will be common as backup cameras. Mercedes Benz Indian subsidiary has it as well.
"Mr. V.R.V. Sriprasad, VP, Marketing, Sales & After-sales, DICV, said: "BharatBenz trucks will now be available through a state-of-the-art dealership network. This network will offer complete sales consulting, 24X7 after-sales service with advanced interactive vehicle diagnostics, roadside assistance for best service reach, leading to a short turnaround time.


Obsolescence has been a downside to all of the technology improvements, unfortunately.

The software/electronics stuff we take for granted now, was cutting edge 10 years ago--and the refresh cycle in those days was about every 90 days.

We used to say, "there's the cutting edge, and the bleeding edge."

but help is on the way. Eventually somebody will make it all illegal.

@Robert Ryan

So, after all of this tech wizardry becomes commonplace how will dealers and repair stations make any money off of service, which is the cash cow of these businesses currently?

@papa jim:

They still have to do the labor, which is their biggest cash cow. Plus--while computerized systems are good, they can't always detect the cause of the problem, only the symptom. I've worked in electronics and computers enough to know that what seems like a simple fix, especially when it becomes a frequent and common repair, has a much deeper cause that only a well-trained and forward-thinking technician may discover.


clearly you have not followed the thread: this is about the ability to auto update and perform electronic diagnostics on the fly. We ain't talking oil changes and tire rotations here.

I've followed the thread better than you, apparently, as the discussion has been about ALL aspects of the technology.Auto updates are good and certainly make life easier for the driver/owner. Dealerships and repair shops tend to drag their feet on such tasks to the point that an update that should only take 5 minutes costs you an hour and a half labor. I've seen it for myself in more than one such place. Even as a computer consultant myself, I do not charge for 'sitting and waiting' time if I can be more productive at another task.
But then, I'm one of the more honest ones. I don't get rich, but I get repeat business.

@papa jim - there should be a double check of the diagnostics done by the onboard system. A Volvo Tech that I know had a story of a trucker with a poorly running tractor. The diagnostics showed the need to replace several of the emissions systems components on a fairly new truck that was still under warranty. All of the diagnostics were sent to Volvo HQ and they authorized the warranty work. Several of the senior techs were busy on other jobs and suggested that they wait until one of them were done to check over the truck. They didn't believe the diagnostics.
Everything was replaced and the truck still ran poorly with fault codes. A senior tech bench tested each system sensor and found a faulty one. HQ refused to pay for the replacement of the faulty sensor because the computer on the truck and the diagnostics computer said it was fine. The trucker thought it odd to bill him for the 20 dollar sensor when they replaced 10K worth of emissions gear.

I had a similar thing happen with a Safari van I had. The service adviser plugged in the code reader and it indicated a sensor failure.
Due to his experience he said that it most likely was the cat. He even told me to go to a muffler shop for a double check as they would screw me on the repair. He didn't even charge for the diagnostics. The muffler shop I deal with checked everything and found a clogged cat that was fouling the sensors. They said the sensors were okay but would fail soon. I got the cat and sensors replaced for a 1/3 of the cost of the dealer.

Volvo is marked as innovative auto brand since its first on the road and in the heavy vehicle segment also it is a renowned player. Volvo Trucks are exported to and sold by more than 1800 dealers in more than 140 countries. however they are very strong and needs no comparison at all to measure its toughness and durability. our foremost work is to maintain them in regular basis otherwise vehicle repair will cost more as it is very expensive.

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