Your Car & You: The Romance Evolves

Imagine, if you will, your car calling you on your mobile phone and telling you it needs its oil changed. Imagine your car sending you an email warning you that if you don't replace its battery it might not start tomorrow morning. And imagine your car letting you track online where your spouse was last night when she said she was going to a friend's house to work on the Girl Scout cookie drive.

Does all this sound too fantastical to contemplate? Does it seem like the mad ravings of an automotive futurist? Well, actually those functions and many more will be available to you in just a few months from a start-up company called CarShield. And, amazing as it all sounds, you don't even have to buy a new ultra-luxury car to enjoy all this. Instead, virtually any car built after 1995 can be equipped with this technology. Leveraging proprietary vehicle analytic tools and wireless Internet connectivity, the fully self-contained CarShield device plugs easily into a vehicle's standard diagnostic port to provide real-time information to keep the vehicle owner truly in tune with the status of their vehicle and the safety of her or his family.

"Our vision and goal is to empower the individual automobile owner with an easy to use and affordable solution that provides valuable, real-time diagnostic information about their vehicle's operating condition, location and many other convenience services," said David Lepejian, CarShield's CEO. "Unlike OnStar, CarShield works with all car makes and models and provides more services."

CarShield's device harnesses five technologies: GPS, wireless communication, predictive diagnostics, computing intelligence and Internet access to enable the owner to monitor, analyze and disseminate a variety of onboard information previously unavailable or only available to mechanics and dealerships. The unit can be plugged in a few seconds without requiring professional installation.

Unlike others service currently available to consumers -- the two most prominent being OnStar and LoJack -- the new system enables a two-way communication between owner and vehicle by relaying information in real time through the Internet, PDA or mobile phone. Using the vehicle's own engine control module data, CarShield monitors essential engine functions and sends alerts via email, text or phone regarding any irregularity in the vehicle's electrical and fuel systems, battery health or tire pressure. This means you can respond to potential problems long before they create an inconvenience, safety hazard or a need to call for roadside assistance.

"CarShield can be configured in a number of ways, including sending out a text message when an equipped car goes over a certain speed or wanders out of a specific geographical area," said James Jefferies, CarShield's vice president of sales. "Any parent can appreciate the peace of mind that comes with knowing where your children have traveled to with the family automobile and how fast they got there."

Among its functions the new system offers Web and mobile phone interface allowing you to receive service and safety warnings via text, email or phone, and its remote smog check function could eliminate the need of visiting a smog check station. In addition, its satellite-assisted positioning function helps provide emergency support, including summoning roadside assistance, and it provides email/text notification when vehicle leaves a designated area or exceeds pre-defined speed limits. The system can also detect unauthorized movement of your car -- by your family or by a thief -- and can assist in tracking the vehicle to discover its current location. A Web interface can display where your vehicle has been and when it arrived and departed specific locations (aiding you in building your divorce case) and if you lock yourself out of you car, it can unlock it for you, too.

CarShield will be available to new-car dealerships in March and to the public in June. The annual service subscription of $140 includes all its services, including roadside assistance and remote smog check.

Driving Today Contributing Editor Tom Ripley writes about automobiles and the human condition from his home in Villeperce, France.