Companies, engineers, and product designers should keep their eyes on Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition (MRRC), which comprises independent mechanics and parts retailers, has worked on a "right to repair" ballot initiative for the November 2012 election. The coalition contends auto manufacturers will not sell their members the same diagnostic and repair tools sold to the manufacturer's dealers. If passed by voters, the law would compel vehicle manufacturers to make tools and repair information available for anyone to buy. I suppose buyers in the Bay State could resell to anyone they wish, thus making the "close to the vest" tools and information widely available.
Of course, the authorized auto dealers want to protect their profitable repair and service businesses. According to the Wall Street Journal:
Opponents say 'right to repair' could give independent auto parts makers access to carmakers’ proprietary designs, leading to substandard knockoffs. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says 'right to repair' is unnecessary because car companies already provide repair information for a fee to mechanics. Backers of the measure say that information can be spotty and incomplete.
I remember a time when any shade-tree mechanic could go to the local library or auto parts store and buy a Chilton manual for his make and model car. The manual provides detailed repair and maintenance information, and I don't recall any problems with "substandard knockoff" replacement parts. People bought parts from a dealer or they purchased name brand parts from an independent supplier or chain store. Chilton manuals helped me repair brakes, replace a heater, add electrical controls to a car, tune up engines, rebuild carburetors, and so on. I figure if I buy something, I should have the option to repair it on my own.
Some people have complained about Apple's use of a "pentalobe" screw head in new products, perhaps to discourage people from opening their Mac computers, iPhones, and iPads. Of course, you can now buy a pentalobe screwdriver. But I see a big difference between reverse engineering a screwdriver and reverse engineering electronic diagnostic tools for an automobile, or for lab instruments.
The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition provided the following information on its Website:
Last week, a customer brought a Mercedes in to East Main Auto in Northborough. It had a problem with its transmission. East Main specializes in Mercedes repair, but owner Kenny Giles was forced to bring the car to a Mercedes dealership to buy the appropriate part. 'Mercedes wouldn’t release the part, because we’re not a Mercedes dealership,' said Giles. It took the mechanic an extra day to fix the car, and probably cost a little bit more money. It happens a lot with new cars. Independent dealerships aren’t given the software, diagnostic tools or parts needed to fix certain cars so owners are forced to return to the dealership for repair.
Have you found yourself in a similar situation? I have. I also have found manufacturers use their own cryptic part numbers, so even if you know a part has died, you cannot figure out what to replace it with. You must buy the component from the manufacturer or an authorized repair center. That's fine for something proprietary, but it stinks if the manufacturer's "QBX-81" transistor is simply a remarked inexpensive 2N3904. If you own something, you should have access to the same documents, tools, and parts as everyone else.
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