The homepage of Renault’s prototype digital maintenance book shows clearly who was ‘writing’ and who has ‘read-only’ access. Picture: Groupe Renault

Paris, France - Time was when the most important part of any vehicle transaction was the car’s service record.

To this day many private customers, and some finance houses, won’t accept a second-hand vehicle without an up-to-date log book and in some countries it used to be illegal to buy or sell a used car without it.

But with the advent of the digital age, service managers simply hook up your car’s onboard diagnostic port to their network, and they have an accurate record of every event in the car’s relationship with company that made it.

There’s no need to fill in the service book, and they don’t.

Which is cool, as long as the car’s service plan lasts and nobody but a franchised dealer works on. After that, when you take your car to a non-franchised workshop for service, he will have a record on his computer of what’s been done and when, but you won’t, and neither will the maker.

Unconnected databases

In fact the history of your car is spread across multiple, unconnected databases - at your dealer, insurer, repair shops, etc. More importantly, neither the owner nor a prospective buyer has access to any of those records, making it impossible to verify the car’s service history.

But that may be about to change - for Renault owners anyway.

Renault has partnered with Microsoft and Viseo to create a prototype for a digital car maintenance book, using Blockchain - an open-architecture digital ledger programme - to build a record of the car’s life history that is both secure and transparent.

It’s secure because once a line has been entered, it can’t be deleted or altered, even by the user that entered it. If you make a mistake you have to make a supplementary entry to correct it. There is also an open, non-editable record of who made each entry - and each correction.

It’s transparent because no matter who has access to the book, they can’t change or erase anything, and they can only add entries if they have ‘writing’ rights. So it doesn’t matter how many instances have access to the digital maintenance book, the accuracy and reliability of the data is not at risk.

Confirming the car's history 

Thus everybody who ever works with the car, from insurance companies to panel-beaters, to valet companies to the manager of your local filling station, can keep the car’s history up to date, without affecting the security of previous entries (even their own), while the owner can grant read-only rights to a prospective buyer, his finance company and insurer, or even the local licencing authority, each of whom can then confirm the car’s history.

And by linking Blockchain’s ledger function to a secure payments app, it can be made impossible for a service provider to be paid for the work he did on your car until he has entered the details in the book. That’s called incentive.

The one stipulation we would make is that only the owner should be able to grant access to the digital maintenance record of his car, thus avoiding the ‘Big Brother’ situation where the owner doesn’t know who has access to his car’s history, or what they are using that information for.

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