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.
Scientia potentia est - "Knowledge is Power". As we continue to transition into the information revolution, I expect we'll see quite a number of "factions" spring up as we hammer out the details of our new economy. The current row between the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition (MRRC) and the automobile manufacturers will only be amplified as the Maker Subculture continues to be empowered by the availability of inexpensive prototyping tools and 3D printers.
In the past you needed your own foundry and factory to make machine parts -- but as subtractive CNC machines and additive manufacturing tools become available to independent mechanics and garage hobbyists, the fight will increasingly be over plans and designs. We are still working through this problem in the software community ever since software developers no longer needed mainframes to create, correct, and extend code.
I wonder how long before we get our first Open Source automobile?...
This is another example of something that should be solved by market forces, not by legislation.
I believe that a business has the right to do as they see fit with what they believe is intellectual property. Dealers are part of an automotive brand, and if the manufacturer gives them more information to build (or destroy) the value of their brand, more power to them.
If one car company puts out better repair information, and it drives sales up as a result, they will all do it. It should be market driven, not legislated.
When someone pushes for legislation to force someone to release information, particularly information that is potentially intellectual property, their motives are probably questionable, in my opinion.
As far as I'm concerned, the "Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition" should probably be called "Massachusetts right to steal intellectual property coalition".
Just one more piece of legislative crap for businesses to deal with.
@Williamweaver: Great point about the 3D printers and additive manufacturing machines advancing independents (not to mention, hobbyists) ability to crank out their own parts, Still, they need the 3D CAD models to do so and I don't have a problem with requiring them to purchase them for a fee. I don't know the details around the business models of car dealerships, but my guess is there are hefty fees related to gaining access to that critical IP.
As for an open source vehicle, there's all the stuff being done at Local Motors, which touches on the open source and crowdsouring paradigm.
Finally, given that so much of car repair is now all about diagnostics and reprogramming and fixes to embedded software, there is a case to be made that your average car mechanic and repair shop doesn't have the skills/training/equipment to service cars the way they used to.
ttemple - I'm with you. The less legislative "crap" the better. If there is a silver lining to this initiative, I'm all for market forces also being used to determine effective legislation. The MRRC is a state-wide effort that has created legislation at the state level. If it turns out to be fantastically destructive legislation, other states will not do likewise and Massachusetts would eventually repeal it. If it is win-win and car sales and repairs in the state increase, other states will rush to adopt and refine the idea.
My problem is with regulation at the Federal level that has not yet been tested by the states. There are no market forces when there is no choice...
Actually, this has been adjudicated before. IBM tried to keep third party parts and service companies from working with their mainframes. They lost, and the company was under a consent decree for many years. GE had a similar situation with products like aircraft engines.
As for some of the points made in the article, I do have to take exception with some. The Chilton manuals were ok, but they were not as good as the factory ones, and not as accurate. It usually was not a big deal.
As for the third party parts, some of them were ok, but many were not. In the past I did all my own work (to the point of rebuilding engines, transmission and differentials, for example). The cars were small sports cars and sometimes factory parts were hard to find. Many times I had to use an off brand part and then had to replace it not far down the line.
The other day my wife and I repaired her minivan. The automatic door locks in the sliding doors had stopped working. We bought the parts from the dealer. Real MOPAR. She decided we could do it based on videos she saw on youtube. We did the passenger door first, although the video was for the driver's side. The video, made by an individual, stated that the other door was similar. I was NOT! Fortunalely I had a lot of experience with cars and she is a Professional Mechanical Engineer. Of course, she didn't know what a torx screw was, but I had lots of torx screwdrivers and bits. We got it done, and now we need to work on the electric window on the passenger side. The car is ten years old, by the way.
What I wish I had was the official shop manual. I had that for all my old sprots cars and motorcycles, and it helped a lot.
ttemple; Are you also a fan of monopolies ? When 'too big to fail' was an issue, were you cheering for the banking industry to become more concentrated, and less regulated, because the resulting 'shake-out' would be so much fun ? Remember 'Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely' ? But, there is a slippery slope between necessary and onerous regulations. I don't know enough details about this legislation and what it is supposed to protect or prevent to say which catagory it falls into.
I don't get the analogy. My points are about intellectual property, and whether a business should be forced to divulge what it considers to be trade secrets. It has nothing to do with monopolies, or the size of a company.
If you invented something clever, and made your living from producing and selling it, do you feel like the government should have the power to force you to sell the plans to build it?
I for one don't believe that the government should have that power.
ttemple; I don't recall the legislation requiring divulging intellectual property - instead it was about making available diagnostic and repair tools.
Perhaps you have never had a bad experience with automotive repair ? I had a car problem that a repair shop diagnosed as the ignition control computer. Since it was a dealership item, the car had to go to a dealership. The dealership replaced the Hall Effect Sensor, and said the car was fixed. When I went to pick up the car, it wouldn't start. So, on a rainy Friday at 4 pm, I had to get to another dealership and back with a computer, before closing time. The dealership had taken the job without having the part in stock, and with no intention of getting one. And other customers had had similar repair problems.
So this is about the size of a company, the possible monopolization of a market - automotive repair.
I would categorize "diagnostic and repair tools" that are proprietary to some specific manufacturer as "intellectual property".
I don't see how a particular automobile manufacturer could "monopolize" car repair. Just buy a different brand if it bothers you that some things are confined to the dealer for brand x. If and when this issue affects the sales of brand x, they will change their ways. It doesn't take government action to "fix" this. There are more than enough car manufacturers to prevent a monopoly on car repairs.
We'll just have to agree to disagree, but it is a very slippery slope you go down when you give the government the power to decide that a business must share information (and equipment, and repair tools, etc.) that it reserves for it's own authorized dealers. I'm pretty sure if you were your intellectual property being fleeced, you would feel differently about it.
(For cases like GE with jet engines, where national defense is at stake, and the government is the main customer, I have a little more flexibility.)
ttemple; We do agree that this is not a cut and dried issue. When there are few suppliers, like car manufacturers, collusion is a possibility, and then there is no real alternative. The issue is not 'giving away' the diagnostic and repair tools, but requiring them to be sold at a fair price - part of a 'free market' ?
You think national defence merits flexibility on the protection of intellectual property. When a manufacturer ceases to supply parts and service for a product, should they be required to release the proprietary information to (alternate suppliers) competitors ?
Do you disagree with prescription drug patent protection expiring and generic manufacture being allowed ? If a company knows up front how many years they will be allowed tp profit exclusively from an invention, is that a fair trade-off for government enforced patent protection ?
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