Logging equipment performance in the field is becoming a common practice for construction fleet owners and a Hayward, Calif.-based maker of diagnostic tools has introduced an automotive "flight recorder" that attempts to simplify the process.

Davis Instruments, manufacturer of the "CarChip," insists that it primarily wants to help owners monitor the way employees treat company vehicles, not keep tabs on the drivers. It says its new device deters risky behavior that endangers operators and vehicles.

The lightweight device is slightly larger than a 9-volt battery and fits most cars and trucks manufactured since 1996. It plugs into an on-board diagnostic port, a standardized link-up for automotive emissions testing also found on some newer construction machinery.

PRIVATE EYE Chip observes driving patterns. (This photo and above courtesy of Davis Instruments)

Beyond consumer interest (like keeping tabs on teenagers), some large commercial fleets have tried out the device to help reduce operating costs, says Russell Heilig, Davis’ sales director. "A lot of maintenance has to do with how hard drivers are on vehicles," he says. "A lot of times it’s the aggressiveness that causes those problems." Equipment maintenance consultant Richard LeFrancois, Littleton, Colo., agrees: "You can have the best equipment maintenance program in the world, but if the operator tears it up, where are you?"

In its most basic configuration, the chip clocks on with the ignition and logs time, date and distance of each trip, as well as measures the vehicle speed every five seconds for up to 75 hours. An optional "E/X" model logs 20 seconds of accident data as soon as it detects a sudden drop in forward momentum. The E/X version holds 300 hours of trip information and monitors up to four more engine functions, such as coolant temperature, engine speed, air flow, fuel mixture and battery voltage.

Some fleets can’t always "cost justify" using more-complex systems, like GPS trackers, says Pat Monnot, operations vice president for AMECO, Fluor’s Greenville, S.C.-based equipment arm. Davis has a response. Its CarChip Fleet model is similar to the E/X but includes a software package that allows vehicle managers to compare large groups of drivers simultaneously and generate detailed reports. Other models come with more basic software.

Last month, ENR tested the device. It can be installed in less than 30 seconds, but downloading information was more difficult because the chip only links to a computer’s serial port. Heilig expects to offer an updated, universal serial-bus connection in January. The fleet unit lists at $199 per chip.