Vehicle Inspection: “Software and Data are Important, but not Everything”

Author: Michael Vogel

May 04, 2022 Sustainability / Automotive / Safety on the road

Additional assistance systems, networking, new drive technologies: Christoph Nolte, Head of Vehicle Inspection Service Division and Executive Vice President of the DEKRA Group, explains how these things are changing vehicle inspections.

What does the vehicle inspection of the future have to achieve in addition to today’s?
Nolte: Above all, it must cover today’s insufficiently considered areas of data-based testing, so that we use the correct software versions, and driver assistance systems function as intended.
What is being tested in assistance systems today?
Nolte: Germany is a pioneer in this area. For example, electronically controlled safety-relevant systems, such as airbags, ESP, or proximity control, are being tested since 2006. This is now done via the so-called HU adapter, which serves as an interface to the vehicle. The data is ultimately processed and made available by Fahrzeugsystemdaten GmbH (FSD), which in turn acts on behalf of federal and state governments.
Is this handled differently in Europe?
Nolte: In many European countries, vehicle inspection still does not include system testing. But they are working on it. On May 20, 2017, a uniform testing requirement took effect in Europe, and a regulation on data delivery for electronically controlled safety-related systems was issued in 2019. So the chances of uniform implementation are good. Things are also moving forward in the USA. There, vehicle inspections have so far primarily involved exhaust emission tests, with fewer visual and functional tests of safety-relevant components. The different states also have different regulations. Due to the networking of vehicles, the USA is now also considering data-driven testing.
So how does the German practice actually affect an inspection?
Nolte: Let’s take the distance controller, which uses radar, as an example. The examiner checks whether the radar is present and undamaged, and whether the vehicle was registered with this system. Then he reviews the error log and finally checks the interaction: Turning the system on and off, how the control lights light up and extinguish. Software integrity is already an important topic in inspections and will continue to increase.
In the future, does this mean more than just checking version statuses?
Nolte: A software check based on specific versions is already a step in the right direction! After all, individual versions can also be recalled by the Federal Motor Transport Authority or the manufacturer – an inspection will reveal if this didn’t happen for an individual vehicle. But the issue can actually go much further. Because networked vehicles will be permanently connected to the manufacturers’ data centers, suitable, legally defined ways may be needed for the Federal Motor Transport Authority or testing organizations to continuously check the integrity of a change. Discussions are currently underway. There is also space for more in-depth inspections with regard to automated driving.
How so?
Nolte: Today, vehicles are being checked on the basis of system data – error codes, software versions. With automated vehicles, events could be added: Basically, what has the vehicle experienced between two test dates? Did an accident or other safety-relevant event occur? Such data would then also be stored and retrievable during inspection.
The automation of driving is divided into levels from 0 to 5. At what level would such extended data access be relevant?
Nolte: This makes sense starting at level 3, when the driver is allowed to focus their attention on things other than driving in certain situations. In order to reach full automation, level 5, you also have to follow a learning curve as a testing organization. After all, a testing methodology is inevitably developed only when a new technology is being used in the field. The FSD provides regular updates on test methods, as it is in contact with all manufacturers concerning access to necessary data, including new data.
To what extent does the topic of cybersecurity affect vehicle inspections?
Nolte: First of all, this is reflected in the type approval, i.e. the permission to manufacture and place a vehicle on the market. This approval is only granted if a vehicle’s software architecture is safe. It could also be, however, that security mechanisms become an issue during regular inspection – for example, when the question is raised whether a vehicle was tuned via its diagnostic interface.
We have now talked a lot about software. Does the transformation of drive technologies also mean a change in vehicle inspection?
Nolte: Battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids have high-voltage batteries. This already leads to additional tests of electrical safety, whether cables are undamaged and the contact resistances are correct. However, the electric drive system also requires software, namely for the battery management system. In future inspections, the properties of high-voltage batteries could also become important. After all, their storage capacity determines the range, and their performance defines the acceleration capacity of the vehicle.
And what about fuel cell vehicles?
Nolte: They also have a high-voltage battery, albeit a smaller one, to buffer the electricity generated by the fuel cell. Here, the same applies analogously to testing as it does for electrically powered vehicles. In addition, there is the hydrogen tank that feeds the fuel cell. It is under high pressure and the gas is flammable. However, the situation for inspecting this tank is not fundamentally different from that of today’s gas-powered vehicles.
Looks like vehicle inspection of the future will be almost all about the digital.
Nolte: Future cars still have tires, brakes, parts that can corrode or crack. Software and data are important, but it’s not just about software and data.