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.
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.
What's your opinion? Tell us in the comments section below.
Full Disclosure: I am a retired development engineer from a major tier 1 supplier of automotive electronic systems.
There are three levels of access to "diagnostic" information on recent automotive electronic control modules in the US. The first, also known as "OBD II" (On Board Diagnostics, version 2) refers to the EPA-mandated emission control system trouble codes that are common to all manufacturers. These tools can read emission system fault codes and related data. They also erase the fault code and corresponding data on command. The vehicle OEM is required to provide access information to aftermarket tool makers so third party diagnostic tools (and related software) will be available within several months of the vehicle introduction.
Level two consists of "OEM Proprietary" diagnostic information. This includes additional diagnostic and operating information on the emission control system, and on other electronic modules in the vehicle. For example, speed information from each wheel used in by the Antilock Brake or Traction Control system may be streamed on the vehicle data bus, and read using these proprietary tools. This information can be provided to select third party tool manufacturers, but the contract with the toolmaker may restrict sales to OEM "approved" buyers.
Level three allows the tool to change the application software, patch the operating system, and change the calibration data that "tunes" the controller to a specific application. It may also modify other internal data, including information used for warrenty verification. Consequently access to this level of tool is very tightly controlled.
Sorry but there is a BIG difference between an MRI and a dishwasher.
The dishwasher guys are only trying to make you buy their $400 circuit board because there is no way to determine that a 5 cent diode is shorted.
"Average" people don't try to repair their own appliances but people like the readers of this publication are generally more qualified than the "technician" that the dealer sends out to replace the expensive board.
Wow! a much longer list of thoughtful responses than usual!
The legal system (society) is VERY different today than of 10,20,30 years ago. So, the liability issues of quality / control of repair vs public safety is far more complex. You think Ford or Chevy would have been held to the same standards in 1965 as Toyota is being held to today for stuck accelerators due to people putting in their own floor carpets? The manufacturers can't ignore this legal reality.
I do have experience in working with ECUs and their code on autos. Sometimes, the simple act of selling a diagnostic hardware or software WILL give access to proprietary information. In turn, this will open up additional liability issues for the manufacturer. Information, I would love to get my hands on. It would make reverse engineering required to do alternative fuel conversions, much easier.
It was necessary for the government to get involved to standardize simple OBD codes and physical connector. Apparently society demands a certain level of access to the "inner workings" of their cars.
I certainly don't want government involvement beyond what is necessary (IN ANYTHING). But that is the "rub".. defining "what is necessary".
Rephrased... what society ( a constantly changing item) demands under "freedom" vs protection from themselves (or, in this case, those tinkering with the cars they share the road with).
This could have come straight out of "Atlas Shrugged". The doublespeak is simultaneously entertaining and insulting. "Right to Repair" in this case actually smells like "Right to Destroy a proprietary competitive edge"
Compulsory and coerced market behavior is by definition NOT free market. This proposed "right to buy other's property with or without their consent" resembles the behavior of thugs who take what they want from others by force.
Does an individual have a right to force their neighbor to share their rightful property? Or force them to sell it to you? What if they offered it only at a ridiculously high price, do you then feel justified to upgrade your 'right' to have it for free? Where does the compulsion end?
If you want a car that can be serviced by independent mechanics, then make sure that's the case before you buy it! And, don't buy a car from a company that only offers certain equipment to authorized dealers if it's that important to you. Secure your values before you consent to the deal! The free market mechanism may be too slow and inefficient for some in the short term, but it is the most MORAL system in the history of man and has enabled unprecedented high standards of living all around the world...so let's stick up for it!
By the way, the Governor of MA signed this erosion of private property rights into state law yesterday...but the voters get the final decision on the fall ballot.
Does anyone else see this as a backdoor poke into Toyota's black box?
Texas TJ--I'm with you on this one. I retired in 2005 from the appliance industry. This is one industry in which some homeowners (maybe most) feel they can repair their own range, refrigerator, trash masher, wine cooler, etc. They would never consider trying to repair an MRI, aircraft engine, robotic system, incubator etc but a range, probably. When lawsuits arose due to consumer injury while trying to repair equipment--we always settled out of court. We knew we would lose the battle even if we provided proper instruction on the simplest repair. I do feel there needs to be cooperation from manufacturers allowing information relative to repair and availability of necessary tools to bring about that repair. How the manufacturers protect themselves from unwarranted lawsuits is another problem and a real issue.
Unfortunately, history is showing that market forces CAN'T solve the problem.
I work for a very large hospital system. We run into the same problem obtaining service documentation. It's gotten MUCH worse in the last 15 years, and there's no indication that it'll get any better.
It's particularly ironic, because in-house service is as compentent, faster and much cheaper than OEM service. This allows the equipment to be much more available for patient care. What the medical equipment companies realized is that they can make more money by forcing hospitals to buy service contracts from them. Since the manufacturers can't compete on ability or value, they withhold the service documents and try to force the hospitals to buy service. Apparently, they've decided that patient care is less important than their profit margin.
One wonders what changed in the last 15 years... The technology advance, sure. More importantly, big companies bought smaller ones. The number of vendors has decreased immensely - while not quite monopolies, it VERY close.
Funny that auto manufacturers see it this way, when aircraft manufacturers, who have a LOT more to lose in a failure, fully support non-OEM service.
Makes you wonder what the auto manufacturers REALLY fear. Maybe being shown that their extortionate service costs are artificially inflated. And most likely, honest competition.
Auto manufacturers already make tools and repair information available. Does this mean that you can go to your local dealer and insist that they provide you with any information you request, and they will instantly comply? Of course not. Buy a factory service manual. It might cost hundreds of dollars, but they are available. Do an online search for information. Yes, the information is readily available for any mass-produced car.
Are tools also available? Yes, they sure are. Does this mean that you can go to your local dealer and insist that they sell you whatever tool you need? Yes, you can inisist, but they are not likely to have much of an inventory of tools on hand. You might have to search elsewhere for the tool you need.
What about parts? Should every dealer stock every part for every car? Not very practical! Does a dealer have a right to refuse to do business with you? Sure they do!
Face it, cars are getting more complicated. You might have to put a little effort into repairing your own car.
WOW! This subject SURE has created quite a furor! There seems to be one more addition to the old familiar phrase, "never discuss religion or politics in a social group." Looks like we need to append that to ".... AND repair manual availability!"
After read the first 20 odd blogs, I have come to the conclusion that this very polarizing issue has spawned several tangential debates, NOT necessarily germaine to the original question posed. For one thing, I agree with one (or more) of the bloggers that I don't believe the Massachusetts statute is designed to force the vehicle manufacturers to provide source code for the engine control processor, OR any other vehicle control processor subsystem. What I believe the focus of the proposed legislation is aimed at doing is to make generally available tools and/or instruction aids to repair / replace defective mechanical components, such as sensors, etc. Two examples given above suggest this very clearly; replacing a fuel tank sensor, replacing an automatic transmission component, etc
Let's face it. There are also some very specific reasons WHY modern vehicles have become so complex. Anyone wanna guess WHY? How about because starting around 1963 we legislated smog laws, for a start!!! The first result was a PCV valve from the valve covers to the intake manifold. Then came EGR controls. Then came the first Oil embargo, and the need to expect much better mileage specifications (CAFE, comes to minnd!) EVERY one of these "improvements" is the direct result of federal and/or state legislation. Then, we have all the "safety" equipment in modern vehicles ....... seat/shoulder restraints, airbags, crumple zones, etc. And, more modern touches have added even more engine controls, etc. No wonder that modern-day vehicles almost rival some of NASA's equipment.
This is why you have the impending Massachusetts law. Think about it!
I've repaired my own vehicles for more decades than I'd like to admit to. In the 1950s through the 1980s, I bought service manuals directly from the manufacturer. There was a time when one could page to the end of the in-car vehicle manual and find an "order form" to send to the manufacturere with a check, and about a month or so later, you'd get a tome in the mail with the exact procedure to replace every from a window gasket to the engine. BUT, in those days, a vehicle was 99% mechanical & 1% electrical. The ONLY "electronics" was the radio!!!!!
You are correct, marketplaces are slow to correct problems, but they will. The alternate legislative quick fix brings additional long term costs that are more destructive to the consumer and marketplace over the long run. We need to have the personal discipline to understand and accept the consequences of our actions. We should not burden our entire society by seeking legislative redress to fix our personal errors in judgement.
Ultimately, a car manufacturer that caters to shade tree mechanics will come to the market. Realize that you are paying less up front for some vehicles because the manufacturer is making higher profits on these repairs. Consequently expect to initially pay more up front for a shade tree mechanic friendly vehicle, at least until the next guy figures out how to do it cheaper and starts a competing enterprise.
Oh wait, this has already happend! We have plenty of kit car options available. Now if someone can find me a kit-truck manufacturer I have my next vehicle.
We have nothing to legislate. The market has already responded, we just need to stop making silly decisions by buying the mainstream vehicles that are difficult to maintain.
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