Can my car tell me "if" and "when" and "how long" it was started?
March 23, 2013 6:08 PM   Subscribe

I have a small dilemma that has caused a micro-fracture in my marriage.

We have a 2013 GTI and it has about 100 miles on it. My wife and I just purchased it mainly as her daily driver to work. I've never driven it.

We took it to a local car detailer who installs this thin plastic adhesive shielding on the vulnerable front areas of the car (kind of like the stuff you can put on your iPhone screen). It keeps all the road chips from destroying your car.

Anyway, we dropped it off the night before, and dropped the keys in the after hours key box. The shop installed the plastic shielding, and we picked up the car the next day. When we got home my wife was livid because she said there is an extra 25 miles on the car compared to when we dropped it off the night before. She talked to the manager the next day, and he confirms that they only backed the car into the garage, and then backed it back out to the parking lot. A total distance of about 200 feet.

I've used these guys before, and they have been very professional but that doesn't mean that everyone there does the right thing or even that someone late at night could snuck inside, picked up the keys, and drove it before business hours started. I thought maybe my wife might have mixed up the trip odometer with the regular odometer but they both say exactly the same number. Because it is such a brand new car the trip odometer has never been reset.

I am trying to be neutral in this situation but someone is mistaken somehow. I know my wife didn't have a seizure, and misread the odometer when we dropped it off but on the other hand I know that the garages don't take cars on joy rides because you can't hide the evidence of the joy ride since the odometer keeps an accurate record. They don't need angry customers claiming joy rides were taken.

Since we live in the future now, and every gadget tracks everything we do, and cars can tell us just about anything we have done in them, I wonder if I can make the car vomit up a log of if, and when, and how log it was started. This seems like a simple request to ask of a car computer. Keep in mind this is a 2013 GTI not a 1995 GTI.

Because right now my wife is refusing to pay this guy and I want to try and defuse the situation. I asked the Volkswagon dealership, and they told me that there is no way the GTI can tell you this information but I am skeptical. In my experience, when somebody tells me something CAN'T be done, the vigorousness of how much they argue for it's impossibility is inversely proportional to it's possibility.

Anyone have any ideas?
posted by viconius to Technology (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes-she could have very well had a dyslexic moment. I do, occasionally. We all do. And over the life of that car, 25 miles is not that much in the scheme of things. Really!

(I am assuming she has gone over the vehicle with a fine toothed comb, metaphorically speaking.and there are no problems with it.)

Oh, and the thought occurs to me, that 25 miles should have made at least a slight dent in the fuel tank. Is the gas needle where you left it? There's your answer.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:24 PM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

On a VW, if there's any way to do it, you'd be able to get at it via VAG-COM. Worth having anyway if you're going to own one of these cars.

If the clear bra shop is anything like the one I use, a GTI is pretty low on the list of tempting cars they get in there. If someone is going to do a joyride, that's not what they'd pick (unless it's a GTI-R).
posted by primethyme at 6:26 PM on March 23, 2013

My idea is-- take your wife's side. Now, even once you agree with your wife's side as a factual matter, that still lives the legal and strategic questions of whether you ought to or have the right to refuse to pay the dealership, but I don't see how you benefit from trying to "be neutral" or "defuse" the situation. Can you let her and the dealership fight about this?

(I understand that this isn't an answer to your technological question, but it would solve what seems to be your broader problem, the "micro-fracture" in your marriage.)
posted by willbaude at 6:29 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

1) Even if the dealer did drive your car 25 miles, you still have to pay them.
2) This is a really dumb hill to die on.
posted by ryanrs at 6:31 PM on March 23, 2013 [77 favorites]

I don't think is possible. I'm pretty sure VAG-COM can't access that information, because it isn't stored. Theoretically, if the car had been driven and something had malfunctioned, a code may have been stored with a specific date and time attached, but that isn't very likely on a new car.
posted by ssg at 6:36 PM on March 23, 2013

Well, odometers have existed for a long time, and yet joyrides have still been taken--maybe not by anyone with any business sense, but by the kid in charge of washing the cars, by valets, by any dumbass who thinks he can get away with it and doesn't really give a shit about his job. So the pragmatic position for you is to side with your wife, and then discuss with her whether it's really worthwhile to dispute this with the shop given your lack of evidence and the fact that no harm was done to the car.
posted by HotToddy at 6:38 PM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've done some research on car data before, and yes, you can get this kind info from the ODBII port inside the car (a plug in the bottom of your dash, below the steering wheel), but the problem is the data that comes out of it is only real-time. You need some sort of app or attachement, etc to log that real-time data, so sadly, you're not going to find any data from the past unless you already added something that reads and logs engine activity.
posted by mathowie at 6:38 PM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

This was the first enthusiast site I found. You could ask there for a definitive answer. This seems to be the site for the VAG-COM manual. It looks... complicated.

I say, if you want to be a go-getter husband, you rent a VAG-COM for a weekend on Craigslist and look for fault codes that occurred while it was with the shop.
posted by tintexas at 6:41 PM on March 23, 2013

I asked the Volkswagon dealership, and they told me that there is no way the GTI can tell you this information but I am skeptical.

Soooo the people who made the car tell you it can't be done... and in the meantime, you're holding up payment to a small business because you're making a philosophical investigation into (what sounds like) an irrational flight of fancy?

Dude, it's a 2013 GTI. A solid automobile, but it's not a Ferrari. Occam's Razor would say your wife probably just misread the mileage.

In my experience, when somebody tells me something CAN'T be done, the vigorousness of how much they argue for it's impossibility is inversely proportional to it's possibility.

[Simplified: The more someone says something can't be done, the more possible it really is.]

So it can't be done. My knowledge from the auto industry is limited and ageing, however I do remember a bit about this. American car companies put a chip into cars – an event data monitor chip – that records (primarily) crash data. It's a standardised chip made by Bosch that can be used in vehicle safety analysis/improvements, and potentially legal actions.

Here's a list of the cars that have this chip Most European cars do not have this chip.

That chip records crash data. If I recall correctly, the car records data for a certain period in short-term memory. If a certain number of factors are met, it then stores the data from immediately before and during what it measures as a "crash".

The point being is it does not track routine driving data for two reasons. The first is that is a potentially massive violation of privacy and would make a lot of people uncomfortable. The second is that it's a lot of useless data to store. To the latter point, imagine if every car you and your wife ever drove stored all that data from all those years of driving. When's the first time you've wanted it? When your wife feels slighted by a vendor and wants to be right. Awesome. Really valuable data for the world's hundreds of millions of cars to store.

My recommendations to you:
1) You or wife pay the local business and stop being dicks.

2) Accept that most times when someone tells you something can't be done, it means it's not worth doing. Especially in innocuous things like this. While I was reading your question, I had Elon Musk's TED Talk playing in the background. He's reinventing automobile and space travel. if someone told you those things couldn't be done, it's probably worth spending time thinking if they can be done.

When VW tells you that your car doesn't record driving data, they're probably being truthful.
posted by nickrussell at 6:43 PM on March 23, 2013 [11 favorites]

Your wife being wrong is the most likely explanation for this. Frankly, the fact that she is livid over 25 miles makes that seem even more likely, as if she's thinking she sees confirmation of something she was predisposed to worry about.

25 miles is a half-hour absence from the shop, meaning everyone there would have to be complicit. To be plausible, it would have to be a cartoonishly sketchy place staffed by idiots unconcerned with the business's reputation.
posted by jon1270 at 6:44 PM on March 23, 2013 [9 favorites]

You could try asking the dealership if they have a security camera trained on their lot, and if it would be possible to review the footage with them in order to see what happened.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:48 PM on March 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was once in a situation like this with my car. I dropped it at the shop for them to investigate a problem that was causing it to fail a smog check, and when I picked it up the next day my fuel level seemed unusually low. I didn't recall the mileage when I'd dropped it, but I wondered for weeks if someone had taken it for a joyride or maybe just siphoned some gas.

Then I realized they have to run the car on a sort of treadmill type thing, with wheels moving, in order to smog check it. And that they might have fixed the problem by tweaking some stuff, then testing it, then tweaking more, then testing it again, etc. That could add up to a lot of gas. I decided that having a mechanic that could make a problem like a failed smog check disappear was more important than having that missing $10 worth of gas back.

TL;DR: What everyone else is saying about hills and dying on them.
posted by Sara C. at 6:51 PM on March 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm in the camp that this is not the hill to die (or even get stuck) on. It's 25 miles in the overall life of the car. She'd put that on it in one day driving around doing errands.

Is she really trying to be right at all costs?
posted by Leezie at 6:53 PM on March 23, 2013

For what it's worth, I used to work at an auto shop and it wasn't unheard of for an employee to borrow a customer's car to drive across town and pick up a part. It didn't seem unethical at the time although I can see it now, but no customers complained that I'm aware of. Maybe they asked permission, I don't know. Of course the brand new car with only 100 miles on it wouldn't be the one we chose.

Anyway, it doesn't matter. If they did the service you ordered, you still have to pay the bill. Then you can take them to small claims court for the $0.10 value of 25 miles in the overall lifetime of the car and $3.00 in gas. Have fun with that.
posted by mmoncur at 6:59 PM on March 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sheesh....people are really passionate and flaming about this. No wonder we can't balance the federal budget haha.

No payment is being help up. The shop actually fudged the job a little and needed the car brought back in the middle of this coming week to fix it. Payment is not due until this coming Wednesday. My relationship with the shop is (and still is) fantastic.

I mis-spoke. I drove the car about an hour ago. It is very fun to drive. (Compared to the sluggish Jeep which is what I usually drive.)

The GTI gets almost 35 miles to the gallon so the gas gauge is not particularly affected.

I'm trying to be as dispassionate about it as possible since somebody is either "mis-remembering" or just plain wrong. Why that is, is not clear yet. So taking a "My kid never does anything wrong" approach doesn't do anybody any favors. I'm not angry or upset. I'm taking this more as a minor mystery to be potentially solved. I'm taking no unmovable position.

I personally don't even care if it was driven 25 miles by the shop. But it does speak to the physical integrity of the shop if someone (who doesn't care about the fallout of car joyriding would have on the shop) has access to the shop after hours.

Even knowing if and when the car was started would NOT help my wife's argument with shop much since the car was dropped off after business hours. BUT, it would matter to us since we know that the car was dropped off at 8PM. And if the car's log shows that it was running for 45 minutes at 2AM, there is a good chance the shop has a physical security and physical integrity problem and I can at least warn them of my suspicions, pay the guy and go on my way. They can dismiss me as a nutter and that is fine.

I would have found the VW dealership's argument more compelling if they told me "Yes, it is possible but not practical." Instead of, "No it's not possible." Because it sounds like it is possible.
posted by viconius at 7:04 PM on March 23, 2013

Because it sounds like it is possible.

What in this thread has indicated that? I was just on way too many airplanes in the past few days, and the SkyMall catalogue in all of them was advertising a GPS-based device you could buy and install in your car to track its usage, then download the data onto your computer. If cars already had that feature, why wouldn't that company just sell a gizmo to download the data?

I see no basis for your skepticism. Cars just don't record that data without third-party add-ons.
posted by brianogilvie at 7:17 PM on March 23, 2013 [13 favorites]

I find it odd that you find the dealer is less believable because they told you an absolute. If you asked if it was possible to continue to drive your car, but not to put gas it in anymore, what answer would persuade you that you can't? :)

Also, in my experience, a dealership will love to do something like that, they could charge you an arm and a leg to plug a computer in and read a log-- free money with no expenses except labour, great deal for them.

As for your actual problem, if it's really upsetting your wife and she won't let it go, then I'd second the idea of checking out the security footage, slip them fifty bucks for their effort, beg them as a favor to get your wife off your back, and then face the fun task of wasting time starting at security footage to probably prove your own wife is wrong.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:20 PM on March 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

It is possible to build a car that records such data, yes. If a car has already been built that does not record such data, then no, it is not possible to retrieve such data from the car.

If retrieving *any* data the car has stored (such as error codes) is practical (and it is, so technicians can check error codes), then retrieving *all* the data the car has stored is likely equally as practical (because there's no reason to build two different data retrieval mechanisms into the same car).
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 7:22 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even the Prius, which is very on top of measuring this sort of thing, doesn't remember this information between drives unless you ask it to by resetting the trip meter or something like that. I would not hold out hope that it's possible to retrieve this data after the fact.
posted by feloniousmonk at 7:25 PM on March 23, 2013

The shop actually fudged the job a little and needed the car brought back in the middle of this coming week to fix it.

I would be MUCH more concerned about this than the 25 mile thing. I mean, 25 miles isn't even enough to make a dent in your fuel. And yet your "trusted" shop can't even do the thing you brought the car in for without making a mistake and requiring more work at a later date?
posted by Sara C. at 7:25 PM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Ok, I realise this is derailing a bit (way too far actually) into your reasoning and process of going about what is in essence a technical query, but you did ask...

And if the car's log shows that it was running for 45 minutes at 2AM, there is a good chance the shop has a physical security and physical integrity problem and I can at least warn them of my suspicions

This is a weird little piece of reasoning. So what started as an argument with your wife about whether or not a local car detailer took a joyride in her new automobile has turned into an opportunity to illuminate them into the fact that they may have a physical security problem with their premises? All because you don't believe that VW is being honest with you about a feature that is not installed on the car?

"People who need to be right have little patience for others. They perceive their ideas as the right way to do things and their viewpoints as the right way to think. A differing opinion is a direct affront to their sense of well-being and they become extremely aggressive in their defense of themselves."

Because it sounds like it is possible

I think you have the potential to get much more than a bit of car detailing if you step back and observe your actions in this situation. Good luck!
posted by nickrussell at 7:29 PM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Could your wife be covering her ass for having driven the car somewhere without your knowledge? I get her ire to a certain point, but after that it seems like such a tremendous overreaction to what is likely an error on her part that I have to wonder if she's doing a little bit of scapegoating here.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:53 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I'm the one who originally suggested VAG-COM, but I should have mentioned then - I don't actually think it's possible. I have VAG-COM (and have had three cars that it supports) and have seen no indication that the car logs this. I was just saying that IF it's possible, VAG-COM would be the way to get at it. IOW, I think your dealership is probably right. Ask on vwvortex if you disagree; those people know more about your car than most people here do.
posted by primethyme at 8:26 PM on March 23, 2013

This is why every shop I've ever taken my car to records the mileage on the work order when the car is dropped off... Memories are faulty.
posted by cecic at 8:45 PM on March 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Look at her with a grin, and say:

"They must have liked the car, too..."

Because it is kind of a bad-ass car. Agree with her, and turn it into a bragging right rather than a violation. Professional Car Guys were so irresistibly smitten with her ride, they had to check it out.

Which is likely what happened. Gripe at their boss, and see if he'll send some of the fee back your way for the trouble.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:53 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

viconius: "I asked the Volkswagon dealership, and they told me that there is no way the GTI can tell you this information"

viconius: "I would have found the VW dealership's argument more compelling if they told me "Yes, it is possible but not practical." Instead of, "No it's not possible." Because it sounds like it is possible."

No, it's flat-out impossible because the car does not contain the hardware to do that.

Even if they did drive it 25 miles, you have no proof other than what your wife thinks the mileage was. Holding up payment with no proof is being a jerk.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:10 PM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have a lot of indirect experience with OBD-II systems and I think the only way you could know if it was driven would be if you had a data capture system installed (which you presumably don't) or from GPS data (such as a tracking system) or video evidence (which you won't be able to get unless the store had it themselves and lets you watch an entire night's worth). I don't believe in the "my spouse is always right" school of relationships. Just like friends should tells friends "like it is", so should spouses. So you know what I would tell my wife? This is a tiny adversity and if it isn't treated as such, what are you going to do when you run into some real adversity? If there's no way to prove the company drove the car, then really you just have to drop it and move on.
posted by Dansaman at 9:12 PM on March 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

GPS is an interesting point.

Is there a pre-installed GPS system that runs passively or is kept on when your wife is driving the car? Checking the GPS history might bring something up.

I mean, you'd think a mechanic who took the car for a joyride would be smart enough not to mess with the GPS, but you never know.
posted by Sara C. at 9:24 PM on March 23, 2013

I wonder if I can make the car vomit up a log of if, and when, and how log it was started.

The consensus seems to be "No."
posted by theuninvitedguest at 9:44 PM on March 23, 2013

This is why every shop I've ever taken my car to records the mileage on the work order when the car is dropped off... Memories are faulty.


I assume this shop does not follow this practice? At least, they didn't until now LOL.

Although, even if they did, as you parked the car on the street, there is still the possibility that someone passing by was able to open the car and take it for a drive ... /joke

Your wife could have made a mistake, the shop could be lying/wrong (maybe someone used the car without the boss's knowledge), it is basically 'he says, she says' and I would be surprised if security footage would show much.

So, the contingency you both (or at least your wife) needs to address is - what next? Refuse to pay? Claim a credit (how much?) for the 'extra' kms? Whatever you decide, it would be pretty silly to die in this particular ditch IMHO. Especially as any small claims court would say 'pay up'. Do you people do credit ratings there - that might be another consideration to weigh up too ...
posted by GeeEmm at 10:06 PM on March 23, 2013

Your wife needs to consider the consequences of her being wrong.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:32 PM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

How long have you been married? Are you really even thinking of taking a shop's side instead of your wife's? Think this through before the 'fracture' you mentioned becomes an abyss.
posted by Cranberry at 11:26 PM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Let this one go, and take phone camera picture of your dash when you drop it off for servicing if in future. I would make it clear to your wife that you think she's probably right, but that it's not worth spending the time pursuing....which it isn't. They didn't Ferris Bueller it or anything.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:27 AM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

The most likely answer is that your wife simply misread or misremembered the odometer reading. BUT: agree with your wife that she's right (this isn't worth fighting about), although you should pay the shop anyway (the bill will probably be turned over to collections if you don't, and this isn't worth the hassle or potential damage to your credit rating).

After this work is completed to your satisfaction AND the shop is paid, consider NOT using the overnight dropbox: only hand over your car & keys in person. And, if there's another shop nearby that does this same type of work, consider transferring your custom, especially if unsatisfactory workmanship is normal with the current shop. (Although personally, I think things like this clear plastic overlay are unnecessary expenses --- there's no way to protect a car from all dings forever!)
posted by easily confused at 3:15 AM on March 24, 2013

I don't have any thoughts about whether there is log data that might be extracted after the fact, but I do think it's possible that both the shop and your wife are right.

Maybe some local kids are keeping an eye on the drop-box after hours and have figured out a way to fish keys out of there or prevent them from going all the way in. Hilarity ensues. I hate to say it, but this wouldn't be too far off some of the incredibly stupid shit my 15-year-old friends (not me, of course) would pull back in the day. Something to think about for next time, maybe.
posted by Right On Red at 4:30 AM on March 24, 2013

Look, with so few miles on the car, you don't need the fancy technological proof you're looking for, because it should be possible for you and your wife to reconstruct precisely from your own memories every yard you have driven this car. Do that, and then use Google maps to determine precisely how many miles that comes to. You will either get a number that's within a rounding error of the odometer mileage, in which case there was no joyriding by the shop, OR, a number that is inexplicably off by 25 miles or thereabouts, in which case your wife is correct.
posted by beagle at 5:36 AM on March 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

The reason that you think it sounds "possible" is because it is, but only if you have the right equipment installed BEFORE the incident. We were in the beta test program for Progressive Insurance for the Pay As You Drive program. They sent us a device that we plugged in under the dashboard:

Driving data is transmitted to the company using an on-board telematic device. The device connects to a car's OnBoard Diagnostic (OBD-II) port (all automobiles built after 1996 have an OBD-II.) and transmits speed, time of day and number of miles the car is driven.

At the end of the month, we pulled it out and mailed it back in. After they loaded it, we were able to pull up our account online and see exactly when, how fast, and how far it was driven for the whole month. Also "dangerous driving" and jack-rabbit starts, which I disagreed with their assessment, but the data was there.

But if you don't have that device plugged in beforehand, you can't get that information after the fact. Similar to folks talking about the GPS devices in the car. If you have one and if it was turned on to a monitoring function during that night, then you could pull the data later.
posted by CathyG at 7:51 AM on March 24, 2013

There seems to be a lot of consensus here that you should let this go. I disagree. Dig the fuck in, demand to see the security tapes, and threaten to flame on yelp and others as needed. If you win this thing it'll be an amazing moral victory (which all the cool-headed logicians in this thread seem to be missing); if you lose you've at least impressed your wife.

Sure there's a case to be made that you're "wasting time." But to me, time spent engaged in conflict is never wasted. And I think I see the same glimmer in your eye.

Good luck. Updates please.
posted by jimmysmits at 8:06 AM on March 24, 2013

Ok, so they drove out and bought lunch in your car. Pay them anyway. Mechanics do this more often than you know.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:11 AM on March 24, 2013

*Pay the dealer an extra 20 to get upset when you "don't pay him" in front of your wife
posted by sexyrobot at 11:02 AM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

Even the Prius, which is very on top of measuring this sort of thing, doesn't remember this information

Counterpoint, any old car with Onstar (which I think is every car made by GM) can give you a breakdown of which days the miles were driven. It's a subscription service though, and I don't know how active the recording is if you're not currently paying the subscription.

That said, my understanding of what a car's engine-computer records in the course of operating the car, can be pretty limited for this kind of data, while also quite extensive in other ways. Mine is a different brand, but if it noticed an error code 30 trips ago, that may still be in the record, while at the same time I don't think it attaches timestamps and mileage to that.
posted by anonymisc at 6:54 PM on March 24, 2013

(I agree that deducing who made the error is not the best way forward here.)
posted by anonymisc at 6:57 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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