Currently reading: From the archive: How Volkswagen pioneered computer check-ups
Volkswagen was the first to digitise servicing at the dealer back in 1968. We revisit the system

Almost everything done to a car nowadays is via a computer. Even if you have to call out breakdown services, the mechanic will often resort to connecting a laptop to the diagnostics port.

This may seem a fairly modern development, but in fact the trend goes back to 1968, when Volkswagen announced its 'diagnostic and service centre system' in Germany.

This digital check-up system was then quickly introduced in export markets and, Volkswagen said in its 1969 annual report, "as a result, the VW service centres are now equipped with the latest technical equipment for prompt and excellent customer service".

As you would expect, the digital element was fairly rudimentary, for some tests using gauges but for others outputting just a postive or negative result. It ran between 50 and 70 or so tests depending on the type of vehicle, although some of these were actually manual observations entered by the garage technician. Apparently, the whole thing took less than an hour.

Autocar explained in October 1969: "By means of electronic and mechanical diagnosis equipment designed and built specifically for Volkswagen cars by Bosch, 289 of the 300-odd VW dealers in Britain are now able to carry out a 'health check' on any type of VW car or commerical vehicle. 

C71 1118 vw diagnose 19711019

"Five vouchers are supplied free with all 1970-model Volkswagens sold, which entitle the owner to diagnosis checks during their car's first 24,000 miles. The vouchers are valid for five years and apply to the car, rather than the owner, so that the service continues if the car changes hands.

"For owners of pre-1970 VWs the service is also available, at a recommended cost of £1 8s to £1 14s [equivalent to about £25 today], depending on the model.

"Thus the hit-or-miss methods of fault-finding, for which some sections of the garage business are notorious, will be eliminated, as will costly labour charges for needless work, and the scheme will save owners around 20% in routine service charges.

Back to top

"Two important side issues arise from this new diagnosis service which will also be invaluable to VW owners.

"The vouchers are in the form of punch-cards [pieces of stiff paper punched with holes that early computers could intepret as digital data], which are returned by the dealer to the VW headquarters at Ramsgate, where the information is fed into an IBM computer. In the course of time, therefore, a service record of the majority of VWs in current use will be available – to the benefit of sellers (and, more particularly, buyers) of second-hand cars.

"In addition, the system may go a long way towards cutting out the present trend to reduce motoring costs by paring routine maintenance to a minimum – which has inevitably resulted in many unroadworthy and even unsafe cars." 


The Grenfell garage electrifying VW's motoring icon

From the archive: The failed domination of the UK car industry

From the archive: An epic racing battle between deadly rivals

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Andrew1 2 June 2020

That's how cheating started.

That's how cheating started.
catnip 2 June 2020

Andrew1 wrote:

Andrew1 wrote:

That's how cheating started.

Haha. In some respects you can't criticise VW for their 'long term planning'.