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"Right To Repair" Bill Advances In Massachusetts 478

Posted by kdawson
from the not-open-source-but-it's-a-step dept.
Wannabe Code Monkey sends along an article from the Patriot Ledger about an effort in Massachusetts to pass a "Right to Repair" bill. "Since the advent of congressionally mandated computers in vehicles more than 15 years ago (for emissions), cars have evolved into complex machines that are no longer just mechanical. Computers now monitor and control most systems in the car from brakes to tire pressure and all the electronics and engine fluids... [and] car manufacturers continue to hold back on some of the information that your mechanic needs in order to properly repair your car and reset your codes and warning lights... Massachusetts is now poised to solve this problem and car-driving consumers should pay attention this fall when the Massachusetts Legislature takes up landmark legislation that would force manufacturers to respect the right of consumers to access their own repair information. The legislation, known as Right to Repair, is seen by car manufacturers as a threat to the lucrative service business in their dealerships and they are massing their lobbyists on Beacon Hill in an effort to defeat it."
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"Right To Repair" Bill Advances In Massachusetts

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  • About durn time
    • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Abreu (173023) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:05PM (#29433281)

      This is very important, because if Ford* needs to release the information needed to repair the Focus* to the state of Massachusetts, they will basically make it available everywhere in the world where Ford sells this car.

      Similar to other US state laws regarding pollution or safe materials, this will affect us worldwide

      * Just as an example

      • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by tkw954 (709413) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:23PM (#29433525)

        This is very important, because if Ford* needs to release the information needed to repair the Focus* to the state of Massachusetts, they will basically make it available everywhere in the world where Ford sells this car. Similar to other US state laws regarding pollution or safe materials, this will affect us worldwide

        Or they'll add a state-specific encryption key needed to unlock the computer for repair work. And they'll only release the key for vehicles sold in Massachusetts.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          This is very important, because if Ford* needs to release the information needed to repair the Focus* to the state of Massachusetts, they will basically make it available everywhere in the world where Ford sells this car. Similar to other US state laws regarding pollution or safe materials, this will affect us worldwide

          Or they'll add a state-specific encryption key needed to unlock the computer for repair work. And they'll only release the key for vehicles sold in Massachusetts.

          That won't work. Currently, any mechanic can read the codes (there is an open standard for the chip that outputs the codes), the problem is that they don't publish what the codes mean (outside of the basic codes that are defined in the standard).

          • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Informative)

            by tkw954 (709413) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:48PM (#29433801)
            You're right that any mechanic can read the legislated OBD-II codes. However, manufacturers are allowed to use proprietary codes or protocols for anything that isn't emissions related, and it wouldn't be too difficult to lock you out of everything else, if they really wanted to. Reading OBD-II trouble codes is only the tip of the iceberg of what you can do when you have full read and write access to the ECU.
            • Re:Yes! (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:05PM (#29433991)

              You're right that any mechanic can read the legislated OBD-II codes. However, manufacturers are allowed to use proprietary codes or protocols for anything that isn't emissions related, and it wouldn't be too difficult to lock you out of everything else, if they really wanted to. Reading OBD-II trouble codes is only the tip of the iceberg of what you can do when you have full read and write access to the ECU.

              That is the point of this law, they currently "lock you out" by not publishing what those codes mean. I'm pretty sure that what you are suggesting would violate either the current OBD-II legislation or this new law. Additionally, the problem with releasing the key only for cars sold in Massachusetts is that the manufacturer can only know what cars are sold new in Mass, this law would also cover cars sold used.
              I find this business practice on the part of automobile manufacturers very offensive. On the other hand, I am very skeptical of additional government regulation. My suspicion is that the problem this law is designed to fix is one that was created by government regulation in the first place.

              • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

                by ral8158 (947954) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:28PM (#29434199)
                My suspicion is that the problem this law is designed to fix is one that was created by government regulation in the first place.
                Or it could just be that the corporations found a way to screw the consumer out of a quick buck, and that we don't live in a universe with unlimited resources and competition? Seriously, it is within the realm of possibility that a government can Do Good (tm).
                • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by xmundt (415364) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:31PM (#29434787)

                  Greetings and Salutations;
                            Actually, the car companies are doing exactly what they are mandated to do. We all have to remember that the job of the car companies is NOT to produce great transportation for Americans and the rest of the world. Their job, being a publicly traded company, is to make as much profit for their shareholders, at the lowest expense possible.
                            As long as this subtle difference in goals is in force, we will have the same situation of the car companies working to vacuum as much cash out of our pockets as possible, and, doing what ever they can to keep competition from rising.
                            Regards
                            Dave Mundt
                     

              • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

                by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@nOsPaM.jwsmythe.com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:35PM (#29434829) Homepage Journal

                    I've played with OBD-II a little bit, but... with the tools I've used, there are some standardized codes, which were required by law. There are others that are passed down the same bus, which can be decoded, assuming the decoder manufacturer or software developer knew what to use those values for.

                    Unfortunately, that only covers the OBD-II portion of the system. It doesn't necessarily mean that you have information for your transmission, brakes, airbags, etc, etc, etc.

                    You are absolutely correct about the state issue. I bought my 2000 car used in 2001. As it turned out, it had originally been slated to ship to California, as it was configured for California emissions. The actual delivery to the 1st customer happened in Florida. Since then, it's visited about 30% the states in America. Not that I'd intentionally drive it to another state just to get it fixed, but there's always the possibility that I would move or temporarily live in a state. Someday I may sell it, and the new owner may live in Mass. The twin to my current car (but the 1998 model year) was first sold in South Carolina, and I had it shipped to Florida for purchase. A couple years ago, I sold it on Craigslist, and the new owner happened to be down from New Jersey and his car died, so he bought mine and drove home. :) That car also had been up and down both the East and West coast of the US, as well as all across the Southern half of the country.

                    In reading the article, they're asking for OBD-II. They want a way to be alerted for the problem causing the "Check Engine" light, and to be able to clear it. Amazingly enough, every car sold in America since the 1996 model year has this ability. A friend asked me to have a look at his 1997 truck. I happened to have my $100 code reader in the car, so I plugged it in, and voila, "here's your faults". 3 codes were present. One turned out to be a transient error. One wasn't all that important. One is indicating a future repair will be necessary, but isn't urgent quite yet. He'll want to make the last one before a long road trip, or when he has a few extra bucks. :) It's about $50 in parts, and will take me about 30 minutes to do.

                    Ya, I can't always just diagnose a vehicle by feel any more, but having the right tools makes it easy. But hey, you always need to have the right tools. There's a reason I have several toolboxes full of tools. I went on a trip, and part of that trip involved repairing several cars with different problems. I brought a couple hundred pounds of tools with me, and used most of them at some point. I'd like it if we could standardize things like bolt sizes, belt sizes, and (oh my gosh) parts. How many different versions of parts do we really need on the market? Is it really necessary to specialize crap cars so much that you have to know the MONTH it was built in, because the manufacturer habitually changes design of many parts two or three times through a model year?? It can really be a pain. My preferred cars use the same parts across many years. It's not like the old days, when I knew a smallblock Chevy was interchangable for decades.

              • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Abcd1234 (188840) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @11:07PM (#29435505) Homepage

                My suspicion is that the problem this law is designed to fix is one that was created by government regulation in the first place.

                Uh, and you come to that conclusion *how*, exactly?

                Here, let's play a little game. Let's pretend there were no regulations dictating the actions of car companies, no laws restricting reverse engineering (it's not clear to me that reverse engineering is actually illegal, here, but I can see it falling into a gray area), and no IP laws protecting their trade secrets. You know what would happen? The manufacturers would encrypt all output coming from their car computers, and would include decryption hardware on the gear they sell to the mechanics. Those mechanics would then be placed under a strict contract (which, according to Libertarian thinking, is perfectly reasonable... the government, after all, should exist primarily to enforce voluntary contracts between individuals) such that any attempt to break down, reverse engineer, or otherwise misuse the equipment would result in termination of their contract and repossession of the equipment in question. Voila! The consumer is completely screwed and they have absolutely no recourse (after all, the government getting involved would be evil socialism).

                Now, if you can find some clever libertarian solution to this problem, or can otherwise find an issue with my logic, please, show it to me. Because I just don't see it.

                And as an aside, one might say "Well, competition solves the problem! A competitor can just come in, keep their cars open, and voila they steal market share!" But, of course, that completely ignores fun things like barrier to entry (yes, believe it or not, it costs a fuckton to get into the car manufacturing business), not to mention good ol' fashioned collusion. 'course, libertarians do like to ignore inconvenient facts such as this.

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by z80kid (711852)
                  Insightful?

                  Let's pretend there were no regulations dictating the actions of car companies, no laws restricting reverse engineering... and no IP laws protecting their trade secrets. ... The manufacturers would encrypt all output coming from their car computers...

                  They have the ability to do that now, yet they don't. I don't see how less laws would change that.

                  Those mechanics would then be placed under a strict contract (which, according to Libertarian thinking, is perfectly reasonable...

                  So under a Libertarian society, there would necessarily be no limits whatsoever on contracts? The government would enforce slavery and prostitution? I don't think so.

                  You know, if you follow any ideology blindly as far as you can take it, you will come to an illogical conclusion.

                  Liberals say that everyone has a "right" to health care. Follow that to it's illogical conclusion, and you can say t

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by easyTree (1042254)

              and it wouldn't be too difficult to lock you out of everything else, if they really wanted to

              I guess the question we should be asking is "what's wrong with the world such that someone you've paid wants to screw you out of the thing you've paid for?". Really; how many more generations before this mindset dies for good? What is *wrong* with you ppl?

              • by fractoid (1076465)

                Really; how many more generations before this mindset dies for good? What is *wrong* with you ppl?

                It'll never 'die for good' while there's some personal evolutionary advantage to be gained by screwing the collective. Which will probably be never.

        • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MrKaos (858439) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:45PM (#29433771) Journal

          Or they'll add a state-specific encryption key needed to unlock the computer for repair work. And they'll only release the key for vehicles sold in Massachusetts.

          I think I'd just replace the entire ems with the open source engine management system. [diyefi.org] This project has been around for some time, I'd sure like to put it into my car restoration.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Master Moose (1243274)
      They will get around it. All it will take is for some car manufacturer to put in a EULA that you can not read until you have purchased the car. There will be no way to not accept this EULA. Starting the car to drive it back to the dealers will be seen as accepting all terms and conditions. If you were to install a new component to your vehicle for either repair or upgrade, your cars computer will assume that you are now a thief and the car will refuse to run.
      • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:14PM (#29433385)

        People might accept that behavior for a $30 piece of software, but they will *not* accept it for a $18,000 car. I almost wish some car company would try it, but then they'd crash in flames and we'd have to bail them out again.

      • EULAs though aren't usually legally enforceable. In fact, I hope they do include them to be struck down by various courts leading to the elimination of them for software too.
        • EULAs though aren't usually legally enforceable. In fact, I hope they do include them to be struck down by various courts leading to the elimination of them for software too.

          IANAL
          ... that's a little hopeful. But EULAs in which you can't read before buying and which you cannot refuse are not worth the paper (or whatever) they're printed (or whatever) on.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Totenglocke (1291680)

          The FTC is holding hearings on whether or not to continue to allow DRM and EULA's.

          http://action.theeca.com/t/2858/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=562

          At that site you can write a submission to the FTC about why DRM / EULA's are bad.

          I'm pretty excited!

        • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Informative)

          by Totenglocke (1291680) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:55PM (#29434451)

          The FTC is holding hearings on whether or not to continue to allow DRM and EULA's.

          http://action.theeca.com/t/2858/petition.jsp?petition_KEY=562

          At that site you can write a submission to the FTC about why DRM / EULA's are bad.

          I'm pretty excited to see how this turns out!

      • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:58PM (#29433905)
        Furthermore the vehicle will only come with one Vehicle Access License (VAL) for the purchaser (primary driver). Additional VALs must be purchased for each additional driver. VALs come in two forms: Standard for occasional drivers and Enterprise for secondary drivers. These licenses cannot be transferred from one vehicle to another unless you subscribe to the Vehicle Assurance program.
        • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Funny)

          by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:36PM (#29434269) Journal
          You forgot: Backseat Access Licenses(BAL) are necessary for all passengers. For single car households, your best bet is to get per-seat OEM BALs from your vehicle manufacturer. For multi-car households, you can get per-user BALs.

          Educational BALs can only be used by somebody with a current learner's permit; but may be treated as evaluation VALs for up to three (3) hours/day if at least one VAL has been purchased for the car and no other BALs are in concurrent use on the same vehicle.

          In order to ensure healthy demand for Small and Medium Family VAL/BAL licence packs, any single VAL holder of greater than eighteen (18) years of age is entitled to one "Guest BAL" for purposes about which our PR flacks will never speak plainly.
        • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Funny)

          by omnichad (1198475) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:44PM (#29434351) Homepage

          I'll be waiting for Ford Genuine Advantage to shut down my car, thinking it's stolen.

    • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

      by onionman (975962) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:16PM (#29433429)

      Yes!!!! It is about damn time. I hope the rest of the country will follow suit.

      My local Honda Dealership wanted over $350 to "fix" a busted key (the electronics in it were fine, but the metal shaft was bent) by selling me all new electronic components inside the car's ignition system as well as matching "new" keys. I thought that was outrageous, so I took it to a local mechanic who told me that he wasn't allowed to order the parts... but he took one look at the key and said, "take that to a smart locksmith," and then he recommended one. I followed his advice, and the locksmith fixed my key in less than five minutes FOR FREE.

      That's one more reason why I don't trust dealership service.

      • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Funny)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:01PM (#29433945) Journal

        And I'm guessing the fix involved putting the key on a hard, flat surface and hitting it with a hammer....

        • Re:Yes! (Score:4, Interesting)

          by onionman (975962) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:56PM (#29434457)

          And I'm guessing the fix involved putting the key on a hard, flat surface and hitting it with a hammer....

          Almost. Certainly if I had had the courage, then I would have tried that myself. However, the local mechanic actually warned me not to try it myself and said that modern Honda keys have pretty tight tolerances.

          The locksmith used a device that looked like two vices that could be stretched apart with a lever.

          I'm sure that some of the more handy slashdotters could have fixed it themselves, but I'm not so good with that stuff... which is why I went to the dealer in the first place. I thought they would either straighten it or charge me $20 for a new key and then punch in some code tied to the VIN number... I guess they need a bigger markup, though.

      • Re:Yes! (Score:4, Informative)

        by neowolf (173735) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:12PM (#29434621)
        I believe that dealer was definitely trying to screw you. The smart key (or whatever Honda's name for it) electronics in the car are already built to accept new keys, and the procedure for programming them is fairly straight-forward. ANY modern and qualified locksmith can hook you up with a replacement key. Hell- I got one for my last Honda from Ace Hardware- they have the "smart" keys and duplicating equipment for it, although they can't help you actually program the RFID to the car. That information is readily available online though.
        I don't remember the exact procedure anymore, but it was something along the lines of- "With an already-programmed key- lock and then unlock the driver's door. Then lock and unlock it with the new key. Then insert the already-programmed key in the ignition and turn it to Run, then Off. Then do the same with the new key three times within one minute." All these steps tell the car's immobilizer and ignition RFID system that you have a new key and want to use it. There are similar procedures for all such systems.
        I suppose it might be a bit difficult if you didn't have another working key, but you could probably fudge it by using the new key and just holding the broken one next to it so the car "recognizes" that you have a legitimate key.
        As far as the topic of providing ALL of the error code information, instead of reserving key information to drive up dealer revenue- I definitely agree, although it is possible it would result in overall car prices going up. I can't help but think the additional revenue of these repairs helps to keep prices down to some extent, and I have little doubt that repair revenue is what keeps many dealers in business. I do remember when I owned a Volkswagen that it was almost impossible to get any relevant error codes out of it using standard ODBII equipment. My "regular" mechanic couldn't do a whole lot with it, and I had to take it to the dealer or an expensive "specialist" to diagnose many of the errors (and there were a LOT of them). To their credit- I've never had a problem with my Hondas that wasn't easily diagnosed with an ODBII meter from Pep Boys. I found a quote online once along the lines of: "A Volkswagen doesn't exist to give its driver pleasure- it exists to provide a constant revenue stream to the dealer." Not to just pick on them, I actually loved that car and you could probably plug any car manufacturer into that sentence.
  • That's incredible. I can't believe they'd actually pass that kind of legislation, but it's some of the more promising news I've heard in a while. Too bad it isn't national. (or international) Most people aren't going to utilize that information anyway, but the companies definitely shouldn't be blocking those who would!
  • Hey Big Auto (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsborg (111459) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:01PM (#29433221) Homepage
    Listen, we bailed your asses out.
    Time you started listening to OUR needs.

    - The Taxpayers

    p.s., next time we'll just outsource your C-level jobs to India and China and keep the factory workers here.

    • Re:Hey Big Auto (Score:4, Insightful)

      by brian0918 (638904) <brian0918@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:39PM (#29433701)
      I didn't want to bail them out, I don't want their cars, and I don't want my freedoms disgraced further with the ridiculous notion that they now owe us something.

      - An American Taxpayer
      • Re:Hey Big Auto (Score:5, Insightful)

        by selven (1556643) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:46PM (#29433787)
        We own part of these companies now. Might as well salvage something out of this disaster and use our control.
      • Priorities? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Burning1 (204959)

        I like how more people are up in arms about financial bailouts and 'socialized medicine' than NSA wiretapping, denial of Habius Corpus, 'Free Speach Zones' and what not.

        We invested in them. They do owe us something.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          "Men more quickly forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony."

          --Machiavelli

          Aside from that, of course, you can (quite literally) get away with murder if the public is convinced that you are the only thing between them and the scary foreigners.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Dear Taxpayer.

      Go fuck yourself.

      Foreign automakers + Ford.

  • by greymond (539980) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:02PM (#29433249) Homepage Journal

    I kid, some of the best mechanics I've had work on my previous cars (one was a bmw z3) would do all the changes then stop by the dealership for me to have the computer reset. Going to the dealership itself has always been a price gouge - $400 for an oil change? Go fuck yourself in the pee whole with that oil.

    Seriously though, I think this type of law, allowing all mechanics access to the information and technical data on the cars they are certified to fix is a good idea and should be a federal law and not just up to some states to follow.

  • by bogaboga (793279) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:11PM (#29433349)

    You might wonder what I mean, so here's my take:

    If I have a corrupt Microsoft Office document, I should be allowed access to its "closed" file format in order to repair the document.

    How about that?

  • Lets see here... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:12PM (#29433363)
    Why would anyone oppose this? Lets see here our tax money has (without a popular vote even) bailed out most US auto makers, made it a crime to really reverse engineer computer systems in general, and has supported various pro-auto maker legislation. If they are going to take -our- tax money, and if the government insists on criminalizing reverse engineering and modification of cars, the only sane thing is that they must release documentation allowing everyone to do repairs themselves. Don't like it? Don't take our tax money, and lobby congress with all your $$$ to repeal various forms of legislation making it hard to reverse engineer things legally.
    • by jfengel (409917)

      Why would anyone oppose this?

      It's not completely insane to oppose it on "trade secrets" grounds. They're allowed to keep manufacturing details private to keep competitors from stealing their ideas. If you don't like it, they'd say, go buy yourself a car from somebody else. And if you force us to do this, who's coming after your company to disclose it's trade secrets next?

      I don't know how defensible that argument is, but it's the sort of thing that a lobbyist could arm a legislator with, after greasing his palm.

      If all else fails, the

      • I would agree, but the fact remains that in general we've already paid for it via bailouts. We didn't exactly have a choice (we meaning the average American, it was never put to a popular vote, not congress who could have rejected it) and its unfeasible to give away cars (requires too many raw materials). The lobbyists could have won if the auto industries didn't screw up so badly and "require" a bailout.
    • by brian0918 (638904)

      Don't like it? Don't take our tax money

      You seem to be confused about what constitutes "taking money". You may want to trace the path of the money, and observe where it was taken and what it was done with it. You'll realize the force occurred with the government - taking the money, and giving it to a private entity.

  • by nilbog (732352) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:15PM (#29433411) Homepage Journal

    So essentially the government is paying auto manufacturers to send lobbyists back to washington to lobby on behalf of the auto manufacturers which Washington actually owns?

    • by NoYob (1630681)

      So essentially the government is paying auto manufacturers to send lobbyists back to washington to lobby on behalf of the auto manufacturers which Washington actually owns?

      GM and Chrysler are partially owned by the US Government aka us. They were split up between the unions, bondholders, and the Government [bloomberg.com]. As you can see from the Bloomberg article, the percentages are still in the air for GM and I assume for Chrysler too. Chrysler I find really disgusting considering it's the second time that that shit company has been bailed out. It needs to die. The same for GM.

      You just know that they'll continue with their crap and it'll get worse because they pretty much have a Governme

  • Ron Paul (Score:5, Funny)

    by BitHive (578094) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:17PM (#29433435) Homepage

    This isn't fair to the automaker's shareholders, the government is infringing on their right to receive a return on their investment as determined by the objective free market. Forcing them to give up their intellectual property based on some absurd notion of repair rights (good luck finding that in the constitution) is just another form of wealth redistribution.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218)
      That would work... But we don't have a free market. Lets see here, oh you mean that we as the taxpayers have -paid- with our tax dollars to bail out various failing auto companies? I don't call that the free market. I call that wealth redistribution. Would you pay with your taxes for a new bridge and then accept not being able to drive across it for no reason? Taxpayers paid for these companies, it is not feasible with the current technology to hand out free cars because the raw materials cost money. Howeve
  • Expect it to be state mandated, state regulated, and cost an arm and a leg.
  • by MrKaos (858439) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:27PM (#29433553) Journal

    and found myself in an infinite loop...

    help

  • There already is a government mandated standard for getting access to engine information. It's called OBD [wikipedia.org] and you read codes off with a $100 reader. Your local AutoZone, etc. will usually even let you borrow a reader if you need to.

    OBD defines a set of specific codes for specific errors or measurements. It also allows manufacturers to define their own codes and measurements. I don't know of single vehicle whose manufacturer specific codes are not publicly available. Okay, you may have to pull out a
    • by BigDish (636009)

      OBDII has a very limited code set - primarily related to emissions. When my car got "Airbag error 15" OBD2 did not help, nor was it publically documented what error 15 was, as this is not an emissions-related issue.

      The tools are there and cheap for certain problems, and expensive (thousands of dollars) for the complete suite.

    • by OzPeter (195038)

      The funny thing is that just this week I just had to look at OBD codes on my car. I used this as an excuse to by a $80 code reader. The code that came up basically said "Misfire on Cylinder #4". Now as someone who does somewhat about how cars work, but is not a mechanic I sat there wondering what the hell was actually wrong with car.

      Without the experience to understand what those codes imply I am still in the dark as to what the problem actually is.

      So in the end I *still* ended up taking it in to be fix

      • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:46PM (#29434363) Homepage Journal

        Without the experience to understand what those codes imply I am still in the dark as to what the problem actually is.

        That has nothing to do with this.

        OBD-II means that you can talk to the Powertrain Control Module, or PCM. What you can talk to it about is what this is all about. Your code reader allows you to pull trouble codes, which will allow an experienced mechanic who has driven your car to make some educated guesses. A more advanced generic scan tool is usually able to additionally read the state of all of the vehicle's sensors, and view snapshot data that tells you what happened the last time the most serious code stored in memory occurred. The manufacturer's scan tool, which is usually based on one of about four [occasionally updated] models from the same people who will sell you generic or even vehicle-customized scan tools at outrageous prices, goes considerably further than this; however, there is much more than the tool itself involved.

        First, it's important to note that the scan tool is not the only computer involved in tuning the computers of modern vehicles. Most vehicles have, if not field-reprogrammable code, then at least field-reprogrammable maps which dictate fuel delivery under specific vehicle conditions. This data is usually delivered to the PCM via the scan tool, but it is usually delivered to the tool from a PC at the dealership. If you want to reprogram the factory computer for high-altitude operation (yes, this is a real scenario, yes, I think the cars should be able to self-adjust by now, so they can keep up with my ancient mechanical turbo-diesel) you're going to need access to this stuff. In addition, on the rare chance you actually get any of those mystery codes, the factory scan tool will know what they are. In most cases they're probably going to be some internal error that has to do with why some component failed, like perhaps the PCM. In some cases, they might be vitally important to understanding what the problem is. Who knows? They're secret!

        Eventually, some of this information sneaks out. Someone gets their hands on the tool and some OBD-II interfaces of some sort; maybe CAN, maybe the ISO or JEDEC standard, and they sniff the traffic and see what it looks like. You can plug in a module and reprogram a lot of diesels, for example, to be more efficient or more powerful. "Back in the day" when ECUs were simple and had an 8-bit microcontroller you had a lot of chip-replacement upgrades, but now you need to reprogram or replace the PCM because pieces of the car talk back and forth to one another in many cases, especially when there is traction control, an automatic transmission, and coil-on-plug (or often even waste spark) ignition.

    • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:52PM (#29433839)

      There already is a government mandated standard for getting access to engine information. It's called OBD [wikipedia.org] and you read codes off with a $100 reader. Your local AutoZone, etc. will usually even let you borrow a reader if you need to. OBD defines a set of specific codes for specific errors or measurements. It also allows manufacturers to define their own codes and measurements. I don't know of single vehicle whose manufacturer specific codes are not publicly available. Okay, you may have to pull out a book or look it up online (e.g. here is the list of codes for may BMW E46 3-series [e46fanatics.com]) but it's out there and it's an amazing thing. The newer cars will even give you details like your exact fuel/air mixture ... in real-time. 9 times out of 10 the code pulled off the reader will tell me exactly what's wrong my car. It amazes me how many hobbyist and even professional mechanics complain about this. The tools are there, and cheap, just learn how to use them.

      I went to that link, there were an awful lot of "UNKNOWN CODE" listed. I stopped skimming between 500 and 600 and found over 70 "UNKNOWN CODE" listings in that. Those "UNKNOWN CODE" listings are what this law is about. Those aren't unused codes, they are codes that BMW considers trade secrets and that are only published to mechanics working for BMW dealerships (other car manufacturers have similar codes).

  • by MoonRabbit (596371) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:50PM (#29433825) Homepage
    It's B. S. that every single model of car has a different computer. $700 for a used 93 Toyota ECM that consists of maybe $15 worth of parts? Make a single, universal cpu that can be programmed for whatever car it's going in. Then I can go to the junkyard, get a box out of a wrecked Chrysler, have it reprogrammed at the dealer, and stick it in my Toyota. They can make their software proprietary, I don't care. Make the hardware open. Imagine the state tech would be in if every computer manufacturer made its own cpu, motherboard, graphic processor, interface protocols, operating system and software, and they were all non-interchangeable between models. USB? Which flavor? The protocols would all be different: If you bought a flash drive to fit in a Dell laptop, it wouldn't work in a Dell desktop or any other model of Dell laptop, or anyone else's. Forget about any kind of networking. Software? You only get what the manufacturer loads on the machine. No upgrades, no third-party software. Oh, and if you buy a new machine, the software will all be different. Asinine? Yes. Unlike auto makers, tech manufacturers realized long ago that keeping every single thing proprietary wasn't a good business model. If nothing else, imagine the cost savings to manufacturers if they adopted a universal hardware architecture.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Alien Being (18488)

      The ECM has to interface with the rest of the car. They have over 100 pins on their connectors. It would be unreasonable to expect that every car be built according to that pinout. $15 is a bogus number anyway. I'd put retail value at about 10x.

      The $700 ECM Toyota doesn't surprise me. You could probably call AutoZone and get a certified one for a 93 chevy for about 1/3 the price. The Chevy is proprietary also.

      GM/Toyota can't stop 3rd parties from selling refurbed/repurposed hardware but they are doing

  • by waterm (261542) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:52PM (#29433843)
    The REAL problem isn't that the car repair info is hard to find, the problem is that every manufacturer has a different methodology and toolset to service vehicles. How can an independent shop be expected to have all of the hardware/software/expertise to diagnose vehicles? They can't!

    What is really needed is improved efforts on commonizing service approaches. Before that can be done however, the underlying components need to fall in line. This is happening with the roll out of common communication busses (ie CAN), diagnostic communication services (iso-14229), and open Electronic Control Unit platforms (ie: AUTOSAR).

    The OEMs are already taking steps that will facilitate easier service and support. It is in their best interests to do so because it lowers their cost to do business. Legislation won't likely speed that up process but probably hinder it by distracting their limited resources.
  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:54PM (#29433871)

    Do NOT buy a Volvo newer than '06 if you care about this sort of stuff. Any Volvo after about MY2006 requires something called "VIDA", which is the worst kind of crippled software. First, you need a several-thousand-dollar interface box. Second, the software requires a LIVE INTERNET CONNECTION. Cars after 2000 or so and before 2006 require "VADIS" and the same $$$$$ interface box.

    Get a load of this: every module in the car (and there are a dozen plus) requires firmware or "coding". That coding is VIN specific, and the software is ENCRYPTED TO YOUR SPECIFIC CAR by Volvo before it is transmitted to you (the reason a live connection is required.) Further, the download requires a payment to Volvo! Just the ability to use VIDA is subscription based, and you pay separately for diagnostic abilities, wiring charts, and technical information. As in, you have to pay for each one if you want it- it's not a package.

    On the Audi/VW side, there is an awesome program called VAG-COM which allows you to view all sorts of parameters, adjust values, read diagnostic codes, etc...almost EVERYTHING that can possibly be accessed or tweaked. Alarm motion sensor too sensitive? Tweak it. Want to be able to roll up your windows from the keyfob? Done. Want to enable one-touch-up on a window? Done. Want to install euro-code taillights with yellow turn signals? Done. Want to let your fog lights stay on with your highbeams, or run with the headlights off? Done and done. Costs a few hundred dollars, and that includes the adapter. You can buy the factory repair manual, and once you have, it's yours, and you can diagnose and repair many things yourself, replace components, etc.

    On the Volvo side...guess what? VIDA required. "What about ODB2?" you say? Well, ODB2 only encompasses the most basic live engine information and diagnostic codes. If you want anything actually useful, you need to know the custom ODB2 data fields (very similar to how SNMP is an open standard, but nearly worthless without vendor OIDs.)

    Truly, madly blows. There are a bunch of parameters that can be changed on my car, but they can only be done by the dealer, and they're guaranteed to charge for it. Nevermind that the whole car is networked with CAN-BUS and many of the mid-2000's models have huge problems with module failures, network bus problems, etc. Oh, and the best part: if a software update fucks up something, they can't roll it back. Volvo didn't design the systems to allow for going back a firmware revision. You can only install NEWER versions!

    • by tkw954 (709413) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:19PM (#29434095)

      On the Audi/VW side, there is an awesome program called VAG-COM which allows you to view all sorts of parameters, adjust values, read diagnostic codes, etc...almost EVERYTHING that can possibly be accessed or tweaked.

      I second the motion that VAG-COM is awesome. However it shouldn't be used to contrast VW/Audi with Volvo, since (to my knowledge) VAG-COM was reverse engineered entirely independently of VW after frustration with VW's use of proprietary codes.

      • by SuperBanana (662181) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @12:17AM (#29436035)

        I second the motion that VAG-COM is awesome. However it shouldn't be used to contrast VW/Audi with Volvo, since (to my knowledge) VAG-COM was reverse engineered entirely independently of VW after frustration with VW's use of proprietary codes.

        Actually, it should - because VW/Audi's code is private/proprietary, but with a few exceptions (namely, encryption/encoding used to match the dashboard cluster to the ECU and the immobilizer, for anti-theft reasons) nothing is encrypted.

        VW/Audi don't ship electronic modules and parts without software/programming. You may need to flip some bits, but VAG-COM can do it. And you can move parts between cars. And the software in a effing headlight (!!) isn't specifically and purposefully encrypted for one specific car. For Volvos, IT IS. And because of all that encryption, there will never be a "VLV-COM".

        It's a fundamental design and business policy difference, and one whose only purpose is to bone the customer and lock them into servicing their car at mechanics who do enough volume to be able to afford the outrageous VIDA fees. And in ten years when they stop making modules for a particular Volvo, you won't be able to go to the junkyard and yank a module.

  • My two cents (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shentino (1139071) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:25PM (#29434165)

    "The legislation, known as Right to Repair, is seen by car manufacturers as a threat to the lucrative service business in their dealerships and they are massing their lobbyists on Beacon Hill in an effort to defeat it."

    Translation:

    "We are getting rich off of keeping ourselves be the only ones able to fix our cars, and we don't want no smegging competition."

    Personally I think that this is anticompetitive.

  • by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:22PM (#29434701) Homepage

    "But will they run Linux?"

    Yes, but since they're not trains I'm afraid they'll have trouble running Ruby on Rails.

    (Ouch.)

  • by macraig (621737) <mark DOT a DOT craig AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @01:51AM (#29436477)

    The motivation here is roughly the same as that which inspired California's so-called Lemon Law. Contrary to common perception, though, California's law covers EVERYTHING (past a certain cost of manufacture), not just automobiles, and for a period of no less than seven years.

    For example, when my 21-inch Nokia CRT monitor died after six years, California's law explicitly guaranteed me a "right to repair". However, Nokia had sold their display brand to Viewsonic who, when I contacted them, politely told me to go fuck myself. Legally speaking, I could have sued Viewsonic for specific performance and the verdict would have been assured. I even spoke to one firm about the possibility of a class action suit (they decided the "class" wasn't large enough to be profitable for chasing that ambulance). Ultimately it wasn't practical to sue Viewsonic, but had I done so the state law would have guaranteed a slam-dunk verdict in my favor.

    Perhaps Massachusetts should consider broadening the scope of its proposed law as well? Why arbitrarily restrict it to only ONE type of product?

Computers are unreliable, but humans are even more unreliable. Any system which depends on human reliability is unreliable. -- Gilb

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