RFID Arena


If cars were tagged - Part 2

This article continues the article series about what effects UHF RFID technology in cars and traffic would have on our lives. This part discusses the perspective of car and road service providers, such as gas stations, car parks, car services and rentals.

A "smart" or "tagged" car is a car that has been equipped with an UHF RFID tag - a personal ID that can be read from a long distance without visual contact. The RFID tag or tags can be placed basically anywhere in the car as long as the reading isn't interfered by metal or liquids that disturb the radio waves. The most common place for the tag is in the windshield's upper corner.

In the last article we talked about the comfort, convenience and increased safety that car drivers could experience if their cars were tagged. Here we shall discuss the benefits, such as increased sales and improved customer satisfaction, that businesses in the area of serving cars and car drivers could achieve. We shall also discuss how tagging driver's licenses can make this system even better by adding new application possibilities. A tagged car plus a tagged driver's license is the recipe for improved customer service and efficiency in operations. 


There are several ways that gas stations can utilize RFID for enhancing their businesses. Here are a few adoptions that we shall discuss further on:

  • Gasoline theft prevention
  • Customer service
    • Pay inside after fueling
    • Warnings if you choose the wrong gas
    • Smart displays with tailor-made messages
  • Special service for regular customers 
    • "Fuel &  go" with automated payment
    • Preselected preferences

Preventing gasoline theft

Gasoline theft is a remarkable problem for gas station entrepreneurs, especially in times of gas prices climbing higher and higher and never coming down. People simply fill the tank and drive off without paying. So far it has been difficult to prove this and catch the criminals, but RFID makes it impossible to get away unspotted. The gas station platforms could be equipped with RFID reader that automatically scans the UHF RFID tag in the car about to get fueled. If the customer forgets to pay, the gas station will be able to trace not only who stole the gas but also how much gas was stolen. If a polite "did you possibly forget to pay"-note doesn't cut it, it's up to the police to handle the rest.

We could take this one step further and tag all drivers' licenses as well. Let's say that the gas stations RFID reader would scan both the car tag and the tag on the driver's license at entry. This way it would be easier to pinpoint exactly who committed the crime since cars are often used by several family members.  In the case of a stolen car, the thief would also need a stolen driver's license in order to fuel without getting caught for car theft.

Pay inside service

Some gas stations don't accept payments inside at the cash register at all, and some of the ones that do, exclude that option at night time, even if the gas station is open 24-7. The gas theft rate is simply too high. The problem is that some customers prefer to pay for their gas at the cash register, whether the reason is not having a credit or bank card, not remembering the PIN code or just wanting to pay by cash. And not just that, paying for gas inside at the cash register also increases the possibility of customers buying something else as well. So, gas stations really want to keep offering this service to its customers in the future as well. Tagged cars and RFID readers at the pumps would help to solve this problem by making stealing and getting away with it harder.

Wrong gasoline alert

A feature that might be available for all customers, both regulars and non-regulars, is a warning alert if the customer is about to fill the tank with the wrong gasoline. The UHF RFID tag in the car would contain the necessary gasoline preference information. Especially car borrowers would appreciate this option instead of living in fear of destroying a friend's car. This feature alone might be the tipping point for using that particular gas station.

Smart displays

Since a tag contains information about the car, such as brand, model, age etc., this information could be used for direct marketing through so called "smart displays" that the customers can watch while they are filling their tank. Special offers and reminders could increase sales, especially if the customer is given the option of buying something there and then." Just press "add to basket" at the touch display and continue to the drive-in and collect the items".

"Fuel & go" & preselected preferences

Recognizing a car and the owner's driver's license as the car drives in opens a window for new regular customer service applications. A customer that has a signed payment agreement with the gas station can simply drive in, fill the tank and drive off. The payment is handled automatically according to the agreement. If necessary for safety reasons, gas stations might incorporate a system with a PIN code where the PIN code could be inserted inside the car and then be communicated to the gas pump through i.e. a smart phone. Customer loyalty is increased since the benefits of being a regular saves the customer time and effort.


RFID -filling -up -tank


Another business, often related to gas stations, is car wash. Whether it's a part of a gas station or a separate personnel-free kiosk, this is an excellent adoption area for RFID. Customer preferences can be saved in the database and payment can be made automatic. Washing cars is just about driving in, waiting a while and driving out - finished. The time it takes to wash a car is reduced and the car wash is able to wash more cars in less time with happier customers. XpresWash has introduced an RFID-based system, which enables customers to have a car wash at any service place they want, paying one fixed price annually or monthly. The companies using XpresWash have reported higher wash counts and per car revenue. 


Many car parks with gates and fences have already adopted RFID for smoother and quicker identification and passing of vehicles. The tags are attached to cards that the readers can scan as the car approaches the gates.  Thanks to this system less personnel is needed, payment can be automated and customers can be on their way quickly. This system would be even easier to take into use if all cars were already tagged. There would be no need to provide customers with tagged cards, which would save the company a lot of money and ultimately make parking more affordable to the customers.

Customers at big car parks, especially at airports where the customer might have been away for a while, often face a "lost car" problem - the customers doesn't remember where they parked their cars. It can take hours to find them. Besides for causing the customers stress and inconvenience this slows down the business of the car park owner. Parking spaces that don't free up quickly after a customer has paid prevents other customers from using the space.  A solution could be as simple as a screen close to the car park elevator or entry, where the consumer enters the car registration number of the car. The reader closest to the car will connect the number to the tag in the car and inform the system where the car is at. The location of the car is shown on a screen as well as directions on how to get there. 


As mentioned in the previous article parking cars with the "get outside and pay first" system is hazardous. Customers don't like it and it takes a lot of personnel (meter maids) to look for offenders and write fines and to serve the meters.  The meter maids often face difficult or even dangerous situations. While writing a fine for a car, the owner might show up waving a ticket. How do you know that the car just arrived and the owner didn't just run out of the closest café after seeing you approaching? And even if you're sure, how do you handle an upset car owner that might even act aggressively?  Quite challenging… With RFID tagged parking lots automatically billing RFID tagged cars' owners these problems are as good as solved. The parking company saves time, money, needs less personnel for ticketing meter maintenance and can concentrate on good customer service and attracting as many car drivers as possible to their parking lots. For more information about the application, read the first part of this article series. 


Except for the same kind of customer service applications as mentioned above, car repair services have other benefits to collect from RFID tagged vehicles as well. Newer cars are often equipped with advanced computer systems that will tell a mechanic all he needs to know about the car, its needs and its history. But what about all the old traditional cars without all the "fancy-pancy" equipment?  In their case it all pretty much depends on the skill, memory and sense of order of the car owner.


RFID-car -repair


With read/write RFID tags in the cars, mechanics are able to fill in information whenever something has been done to a car. This way the maintenance needs and history of a car is all gathered in a safe place protected from careless car owners, out of date manuals and a pile of scrunched up receipts with the ink starting to fade.  The car repair service is able to perform quicker and with greater customer satisfaction. Human errors can be reduced since the car will know what it needs.

Besides from tagging the car "as a whole" all spare parts can receive their own tags at point of manufacturing. Besides from helping out in the manufacturing process this also helps handling the spare parts until their end-of-life. Mechanics can scan a car to detect and identify spare parts without even opening the hood. This speeds up the work and reduces human errors such as ordering the wrong parts. The huge benefit from the car owner perspective is that they don't have to remember it all. The car remembers for them! 


Many car rental companies have already adopted RFID in their operations. This helps them track and trace their cars with total visibility in real-time as well as facilitates just-in-time delivery of cars to the customers exactly when they are needed. The rental car areas are often large and if each car doesn't have a designated parking lot, locating a specific vehicle can turn into a long search (especially if it's snowing!). Falken Security Networks has created a system for large park areas: there are readers in specific places taking inventory of the cars present in the parking lot. This eases the inventory of cars which are not used that often and the cycle of the most preferred cars can be speeded up a bit. Real-time information about the car's whereabouts makes all the difference. A car that was supposed to be returned hours or even days ago can be tracked by RFID readers along the way, even if the GPS is turned off in the car.

With already-tagged cars emerging the car rental industry the gap is closing up concerning adopting RFID by making the process easier and more affordable car rental companies. 


Traffic safety can definitely be enhanced by adopting RFID in cars, roads and signs. In the next article we will talk more about tagged cars from the police and safety authority's perspective and dig deeper into the subject of everything from "smart traffic signs" to catching traffic offenders.

If you missed the first part of the series: Tagged cars from the car driver point of view, it's not too late! Check it out here.

18 comments on “If cars were tagged - Part 2”

  1. Gravatar of Stephan BourguignonStephan Bourguignon
    Posted 13 November 2012 at 17:25:45

    Shall tags be permanently assigned/mounted on a car or shall they be removable?
    This is also the question, could I use the tag case by case or will it be active all the time?
    But more important :
    Won’t smartphones linked to a car and car communication solutions (like eCall, car2car communication, smart cars) be able to deliver the proposed benefits much easier and cheaper?
    I expect, RFID in public applications won’t be as important as we thought 5 years ago

  2. Gravatar of Hanna ÖstmanHanna Östman
    Posted 19 November 2012 at 14:54:49

    Whether the tags are mounted permanently (follow the car) or not (follow the owner) is yet to be seen. They can be compared to register plates - we see different systems in different countries.

    Good point, Stephan, for some of the applications other car-to-car communication systems could work too, especially in customer service.

    But, when it for example comes to identifying a speeding car along the road I believe that RFID is the best solution. This system is already being implemented in several countries.

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