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.
Market forces say people in New York City should have access to more taxi cabs. But they don't because the taxi companies have a monopoly created by pressure on legislators to limit taxi medallions. So, market forces don't always make consumers winners.
The same thing happens in many markets. Few people will buy a car or truck based on whether or not they can repair it themselves. But those who want to do their own repairs should have the opportunity. I never advocated giving consumers access to source code or design information, but if they want to work on a vehicle they should have access to the tools and information the dealers have.
TexasTJ: A great example of what you're talking about is the Toyota floor mat situation. It's not even a repair. But if the owner uses an "uncompliant" floor mat, or stacks eight floormats around the accelerator pedal (as one owner did), it's Toyota's fault for not taking that into account during the design stage.
I can tell you from my own personal experience that not all tools are made available to the shade tree mechanics like myself. More common tools are usually available from the after-market auto parts retailers. But the very specialized tools are not readily available. I had parts departments in three seperate dealerships refuse to sell me a specialized tool for my Ford truck. They all pointed out that they sold the tool to their own mechanics, but would not sell to me because I was not a factory authorized repair facility. I eventually had to fabricate the tool myself.
In this case, as Ford has a monopoly on the tool, I do not believe they have the right to refuse my request to purchase it. If the tool is considered proprietary, they can patent or copyright it as appropriate and maintain their ownership of the design.
So I hope the bill passes. It will be better for all of us.
By the way I maintain my four cars myself. A mix of Ford and GM vehicles. Do everything up to major engine overhaul.
Special tools for Fords are generally sold under the Rotunda name. If you look at your Ford Workshop Manual (which you should have- I can tell you where to buy one if you need it- you won't like the price), you will see lots of references to Rotunda part numbers for special tools. Required tools are typically listed at the beginning of each procedure in manuals for late-model vehicles.
Rotunda tools are available online at rotunda.spx.com. They will sell you any tool they offer, which should cover most of your Ford specialty tool needs. The Rotunda site has a nice feature (if you want a long list): it can give you a listing of all available tools for your vehicle (search by year, make, and model).
While your local Ford dealers may not be very helpful (mine aren't either) (passing the law won't force them to sell you anything), I am, so if you need a particular tool, post the information and I will look it up for you.
Keep in mind that special tools are NOT CHEAP! In some cases, the tool would cost more than having the work done by a dealer.
What I find most interesting is that this discussion seems to be limited to automobiles. Clearly, repair parts should be available for purchase to all, but only after the warranty on having them replaced for free has expired. That would protect the competitive edge, and possibly improve the warranties a bit.
How about service information on other items that we buy, like TV sets and other electronics. Service parts are simply not available to any except "authorized service" organizations, and those folks are so proud of their talent that few can afford it. I can't get any service information about internal adjustments on my 2 year old TV, and I am certainly not going to just discard it, since it was not a cheap one. Nor are any service parts available, not even knobs and cabinet parts.
So you may read all about this brand and model in the "monkey" section in a few weeks.
Really, no service information or even source for parts is available for th vast majority of products that we purchase these days. The problem is not jus with cars.
One more concern is that one community near where I live has decided that residents are not allowed to replace their failed water heaters themselves. The demand is that the work must be done by a licensed plumber. The law was passed without consulting the residents, so it certainly looks like a cozy deal with the local plumbers. Replacing a water heater is a quite simple task, the only real challenge is removing the failed unit.
Of course, it is true that there are some folks who should not try to replace the water heater, but most of those people should not handle any tool sharper than a soup spoon.
William K, right you are. I had the same problem with a TV. Although the front-panel light flashed some sort of error code, I never could find any info about what it signified or how to get it serviced. Of course we don't know this when we make a purchase. On the other hand, when I buy a Sears Kenmore appliance I know I can get service information and spare parts. We live in an imperfect world.
Your recent comment in this blog is very well put! I also believe that not everyone should repair their own equipment, but those of us who DO have significant electro-mechanical ability should NOT be barred from doing so after the sale. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I don't think that the core of this new MA. law is to make the firmware of the engine control computer available as a download to JOHN Q. PUBLIC, as some have suggested, I see no harm in the "manufacturing for repair" concept.
Modern-day manufacturing has become so automated that I believe it is one of the reasons why we no longer are inclined to repair an item. For example, I recently had a CANON EOS 50D camera body fail. The unit wasn't that old, but the CANON warranty had expired. I took it to an independent photography sales/service outlet with whom I've done business for many years. The proprietor told me that he would have to send it to CANON for repair, as he was not able to diagnose and/or replace the main circuit "board". Evidently, CANON uses computers to repair their camera models. This fellow has been servicing cameras of several makes for several decades, but even he isn't technically able to repair the latest models. I found that explanation VERY DISHEARTENING!
Many years ago my son purchased a rather "high end" camera used. It quit working after a few weeks and he took it to a camera shop to see if he could get it repaired. They informed him that it was an internal computer problem and that he would need to pay quite a bit, in advance, for them to even evaluate the camera. A very unhappy son brought the camera to me to see if there was any hope of my fixing it. The first area that I opened exposed a wire that had become unsoldered from the stainless steel surface that it had been attached to. I resoldered the wire using an aesy trick that I had learned about soldering to stailess steel, put it back together, and returned it to him to see if that had fixed it. The camera worked perfectly from then until it was replaced by a digital camera ten years later.
From this we learn that many folks claiming to be able to diagnose problems not only lack the skill to correctly interpret the symptoms, but, far worse, they lack the integrity to admit that they don't have a clue about it.
As for automotive software or firmware, most of what we would repair does not need any information about the internal code or algorithms, since it is usually a hardware problem. Except for microsoft brand produts, software seldom breaks. All that I usually require is a circuit diagram and possibly the "truth table" for any complex switches, and what voltages should be in any external analog connections.
Are they robots or androids? We're not exactly sure. Each talking, gesturing Geminoid looks exactly like a real individual, starting with their creator, professor Hiroshi Ishiguro of Osaka University in Japan.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This discussion will examine what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.