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Automakers Try To Keep Repair Codes Secret 513

An anonymous reader writes "Can't get the trouble codes out of your car's computer? Congress wants to help. I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox. Why aren't the automakers bashing these third-party code readers over the head with the DMCA while they still can?" This debate has been going on for several years.
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Automakers Try To Keep Repair Codes Secret

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  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:48PM (#9308016)
    Rachel Seymour, a college student from Portland, Oregon, has had her 2002 Kia Spectra serviced 12 times for a Check Engine light problem. Each time, she's forced to take it to a Kia dealership, where a technician hooks her car up to a computer, runs a battery of tests and charges her $120 to diagnose and repair the same problem: a loose gas cap.

    Well, no offense to Ms. Seymour, but she's one dumbass motherfucker. Who the fuck in their right mind pays $120 twelve times ($1440 in total) to be told the same fucking thing? After the first time they told me it was a loose gas cap and I knew that I was tightening it down as best as it could be done I would have ignored (or covered/disabled) the light (which she apparently did after her twelvth visit).

    I purchased my second new Saturn SL-series in 8/2002. I just had to take it in for a slipping clutch (at 29,900 which is unheard of as far as I am concerned). They offered me a rental car for free, service that would be finished the next day (probably because they were paying for the rental), and it was all under warranty. Now, like I said, it is unlikely that user error caused a slipping clutch at 30k but it is possible. No questions asked. Seems like they weren't trying to place the blame on the user here and just fixed the damn thing. I wonder if they didn't cover the first time or two and then told her to fuck off and started charging her for wasting their time?

    I suggest that Ms. Seymour smartens the fuck up about her car company choices or her insistence on bringing the god damn car back to people who are obviously fucking with her...

    I don't see how giving these fucking codes to the smalltime mechanics is going to help one fucking bit for a problem of utter stupidity. Ms. Seymour is going to see cause $$$'s in any automechanic's eyes. In fact, I would be more apt to trust a dealership's service department than some independent... YMMV.
    • by Kenja ( 541830 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:50PM (#9308059)
      But with the codes out in the open she could be charged by Joe Bob down at the corner 120$ to be told that the gas cap is loose rather then payign 120$ to the Kia repair place to be told the same thing!
      • Or her car-savvy son could do it for free.

        Of course, if she had a car-savvy son he'd probably have talked her out of buying a Kia.
      • by Yewbert ( 708667 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:07PM (#9308294)
        But with the codes out in the open she could be charged by Joe Bob down at the corner 120$ to be told that the gas cap is loose rather then payign 120$ to the Kia repair place to be told the same thing!

        More likely, she'd be able to get the same service at a non-dealer shop for a lot less than $120. I had to have the diagnostic code checked in my 2000 Subaru Forester, and the privately owned shop charged me $60 (turned out to be the same thing - an "oxygen sensor" was what tripped the light, and what tripped the oxygen sensor was the leaky gas-cap).

        In general, open up the playing field to more competition, and the price will go down. That $60 STILL seems ridiculous, considering the minuscule amount of work actually performed, but you're paying for the knowledge.

        The manufacturers have been keeping that knowledge secret from everyone who hasn't passed all the initiation rites and paid all the associated fees to become a "dealer" - anybody going to draw the obvious parallel to Scientology? :-)

        • "That $60 STILL seems ridiculous, considering the minuscule amount of work actually performed, but you're paying for the knowledge."

          While it might sound expensive, so is the scan tool. It's about 2k and requires additional updated proms to keep it updated. And yes, like everyting else knowledge and experience costs:-)

          ps... never heard of an evap leak diag code setting and weird o2 reading.
    • ...and charges her $120 to diagnose and repair the same problem: a loose gas cap.

      $120 for a computer diagnostics seems a little steep. Jiffy lube will run one for you for $15 bucks. Where is she taking it that is costing her $120.00 to run a computer diagnostics?
    • by the_rajah ( 749499 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:58PM (#9308174) Homepage
      It was before the lemon laws. The problem was that the car would just quit, right in the middle of driving down the interstate or wherever. After a few minutes you could restart it. After the third trip to the dealership failed to find the problem, I "revoked my acceptance" of the product, just like it was a bad hair drier I took back to Walmart. The dealer sputtered and argued for a while, but I got my money back and took it down the road and bought a different brand. It didn't take me 12 tries.

      "Do the Right Thing. It will gratify some people and astound the rest." - Mark Twain
    • by richmaine ( 128733 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:02PM (#9308222)
      This is "insightful"? I see a lot of sophmoric profanity, but no insight. Or does sufficient profanity equate to insight these days? I wonder if the poster even bothered to read the rest of the article. In case he didn't...

      Just because the check engine light indicated a loose gas cap one time, or even several times, that doesn't mean that the next time means the same thing. It might mean something serious. There is no way for Ms. Seymour to tell. Nor is there anyway for 3rd partly mechanics to tell. That was sort of the whole point of the article.
    • Since she said that one time the light came on when she was driving home from the dealership, and I doubt she adjusted the cap during that time, I expect the problem wasn't actually the cap. And so does she. However, more serious problems might be obscured by the light being on constantly (another guy quoted in the article had the problem that 'the Check Engine signal prevented him from using the car's electronic display') and driving around like this might even void her warrantee for other problems.

      I do

  • Biiig difference (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) * <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:49PM (#9308025)

    I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox

    Simple, a badly maintained car can cause death. A badly maintained Xbox will cost you $99 for a new one. Anyone else spotting the difference here? They arent helping YOU, they are helping the independant garages to keep your car in good shape and help prevent a fatality or two.

    Congress allowing reverse engineering of repair codes will allow third party diagnostics systems available at prices the independant can truely afford to pay. This makes them better at maintaining vehicles.

    • by Mz6 ( 741941 ) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:53PM (#9308092) Journal
      They are creating competition... If more service shops have these "codes" they are able to offer a better price than the dealership. This gives the consumer the choice of taking it there, having to pay less but also have less-experience machanics (for that particular model perhaps) work, or pay a slightly higher price and have the dealership do it. It creates a choice for the consumer rather than telling them they MUST go to the dealership to get it fixed.
      • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:01PM (#9308208) Homepage Journal
        There are still other ways for manufacturers to lock business into their dealerships. My father-in-law drives a Jetta with a horrible radio, and was told by an independent shop that a certain key is required (?) to remove the radio from the dash, and that he'd have to go to the dealer for that.

        Not only is he on his own to replace the piece of $hit radio and antenna built into his car, but he gets to pay dealer premium just to take the crap out! Has anybody else heard of this? It was news to me...
        • by Mz6 ( 741941 ) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:04PM (#9308249) Journal
          Yes.. this is the same with my car. Although we have found a couple ways around it. They integrated the radio, climate controls, and the LCD display for everyhting into one circuit board. Therefore, to do anything aftermarket creates a HUGE PITA. Even some of the biggest aftermarket radio manufactuers (Scosche, Metra, etc..) refuse to make any parts. With the repair cost topping $300 it's no wonder why they don't because of the liability if it screws someone's system up.
        • Depending on where you park the car, you could just leave it unlocked and someone will come along and remove the radio for you, free of charge!
          • Nah... (Score:3, Insightful)

            >leave it unlocked and someone will come along and remove the radio

            They'll leave the radio, because it's a POS they can't sell, but they'll take your airbag, your seats, rims, your dog, and the herb in the glove box, and then key your paint just so you know where it's at.
        • "Special key", huh? That's what I call my Dremel. {whiiiiirrrr}
        • by kuroth ( 11147 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:10PM (#9309232)
          > My father-in-law drives a Jetta with a horrible radio, and was told by an independent shop that a
          > certain key is required (?) to remove the radio from the dash, and that he'd have to go to the
          > dealer for that.

          The tool for this is widely available, and it doesn't cost that much. If the stereo shop your father went to doesn't have one, he should find a different stereo shop.

          Here [].

        • by jerkychew ( 80913 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:32PM (#9309478) Homepage
          Don't blame the auto dealerships, blame your father-in-law for not knowing how to do a Google search [] for the answer. Any stereo installation shop will have the tool you need. I had to remove my stock Ford stereo yesterday, and instead of the "special tool" I jused a coat hanger.
        • by Buran ( 150348 )
          A lot of people actually do like the newer VW radios, but of course, that's just individual opinion. As for the removal tool:

          Actually, in new VWs, you can build the removal tool from an old credit card. Go to and search for "radio removal tool" and you'll find instructions and even photos.

          However, he may want to keep the original radio around and put it in before going to the dealer in case he ever does have to - they won't hook their scanner up to cars with aftermarket stereos because
        • by Keeper ( 56691 )
          In factory radios these days, you need to enter a "key" into the radio after it loses power before it will function again. It is a theft deterrant. The independent shop can't do anything without the key, because after they plug everything back in they'd have no way of testing it.

          Your in-law should have gotten the key when he took delivery of the car from the dealership. However, the dealership should be able to look up the key if it gets lost.
    • Eh, well, not when you mod your x-box with a 12,000 watt psu and figure, "What the hell, these controller cables can handle the load." I'm dead now. Incidentally, I'm writing this from Hades where all the shift keys have been removed from computers and I'm forced to read EULAs for the rest of eternity.

    • by OECD ( 639690 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:03PM (#9308243) Journal

      Simple, a badly maintained car can cause death. A badly maintained Xbox will cost you $99

      It probably has more to do with the number of Congressmen who own a car versus the number who own an XBox.

    • by robmohr ( 301031 )
      Why does Ford/GM/et al hang the codes on a light? Why not have a spot on the dash that prints out the codes ASCII? check gas cap, water temp sensor bad, cold start injector not working. Why hide the results of the code from the owner?

      I venture that a marketing opportunity exists. This car, this model; it shows what the code is in actual text. You may fix it yourself, gas cap. Or you may have an indie mechanic fix it. Or you may decide to go to the dealer.

      Me? like Car Talk, I just put black electric
    • I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox.

      Congress people want their cars fixed cheaply. Congress people do not hack their XBox.

    • Also maintainance of a vehicle is necissarry for the proper operation of a vehicle, and there is an established business to do just this. By keeping these codes secret, they are monopolizing the repair market for their vehicles which hurts the consumer.

      On the other hand a video game system doesn't need repair. If something goes wrong with it, there is propably nothing you can do - just get a new one. So the console makers aren't monopolizing the repair market because it doesn't exist.

      So there is a differe
    • by PMuse ( 320639 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:12PM (#9308372)
      I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox.

      It's not so odd. It just indicates that Midas, BP Procare, Tuffy, Meineke, Firestone, Sears, Merlin's, Speedy, Monroe, Penske, etc. have a more organized lobbying effort than all those big-time xbox modding companies out there.

      They are making the case to congress that a lot of small businesses will be forced out by dealer repair departments if they cannot read the codes. They're movitated because this is a threat to a business they've had for decades, not just a wouldn't-it-be-fun idea.
      • by JohnnyComeLately ( 725958 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @06:17PM (#9309308) Homepage Journal
        They represent all the aftermarket manufactures for automotive parts. For anyone interested, here is the email I sent to the author of the Wired Article:

        I think the legislation allowing people to go to outside dealers for warranty work will be even better. In my case, I am an Engineer with a love for cars. I bought $700 software to reprogram my car, and another $400 on software to scan and log the data from the On Board Computer (OBD-II). A few years ago, I threw an SES (Service Engine Soon) light, and immediately scanned it with my gear. It read, "Low Flow - EGR Malfunction". I took the car in to the dealer, since emissions are warrantied for 100k miles in California, and I told them it was an EGR malfunction. The dealer serviceman looked incredulous. He replied, "You're not supposed to know that!" Long story short, I threw a code a week later and scanned it again. When I saw a repeat of the same error code, I looked closer at my repair sheet from the dealer. They had replaced my Air Pump, otherwise known as a Smog Pump, which is totally unrelated to Exhaust Gas Recirculation, or EGR valve. I bought an EGR valve off E-bay and just replaced it myself, thinking the issue would be over. After I installed the new EGR valve, the code cleared, never to return.

        The story takes a funny twist at this point. I received a notice from California DMV that my car was being held up for registration renewal because of an uncorrected emissions recall. I look at the notice and it's for the EGR replacement. I took the car back to the dealer and they certified they replaced the recalled part. In other words, they certified they replaced a part they were unable to diagnose and that I ultimately had to replace myself. It's for reasons such as this that I sold my Trans Am and stopped racing. I spent thousands of dollars ensuring my '97 Trans Am had nothing but CARB (California Air Resource Board) approved modifications for low emissions, and high performance (427 dyno'd horsepower at the tires), yet $15 an hour greasemonkeys couldn't effectively manage the emissions process. It became too stressful trying to find a smogshop where people had a clue.

        John Schubert

    • by Syberghost ( 10557 ) <syberghost@syberghost. c o m> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @08:56PM (#9310623) Homepage
      The other reason is, people who want access to the code in their car are many, and bitch to their Congressman.

      People who want access to the code in their Xbox are few, and bitch on Slashdot.
  • by BodyCount07 ( 260070 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:50PM (#9308046) Homepage
    "Why aren't the automakers bashing these third-party code readers over the head with the DMCA while they still can?"

    Because the DMCA protects copyrighted information that is protected by some sort of security system (although the system is often lame). These auto codes are not protected by any security, besides obscurity.
    • If Lexmark's ink cartridges are protected by a security system (and thus, the DMCA) how long do you think it will be before your car's diagnostic system is? Or radio, filters, and tires for that matter? Can't have you using unauthorized third party equipment on that car when the dealership can sell you the same thing for twice the price...


    • These auto codes are not protected by any security, besides obscurity.

      Just like a number of other things the DMCA has been used with, like Adobe's e-book reader in the Skylyrov incident.

      And, after all, a password is just another form of security through obscurity. If you learn the right things to do (type the right letters) you can make the system work for you. If you don't know about the right
      string of letters, you can't. *All* forms of computer security are like that, actually.

      I don't see what the
  • by strictnein ( 318940 ) * <strictfoo-slashdot@yahoo. c o m> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:50PM (#9308047) Homepage Journal
    Most common use for modchips: pirating games (illegal)

    Most common use for car codes: fixing your car (legal - but most likely won't be possible with future cars)

    The similarity is that game makers make less money if you pirate a game (instead of buying it). Car dealers/manufacturers make less money if you fix your own car (and down pay for their overpriced service and "genuine rippof parts").
    • by ddelrio ( 749862 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:08PM (#9308314)
      Sorry, but I despise this argument. To use the "most common use" argument is weak. First of all, where's the evidence? The people I know with modded XBoxes use them primarily for streaming media.

      Also, even if an illegal activity was the "most common" use, it still doesn't excuse limiting actual modding. Piracy is and should be illegal--but modifying physical hardware that you purchased should be legal. We can still own property in the US, right? Where's the crime?

      If the music and software industries are losing money to piracy, they should concentrate on improving their business models rather than proposing legislation which limits the freedom and privacy of American citizens.
    • by antarctican ( 301636 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:08PM (#9308317) Homepage
      The similarity is that game makers make less money if you pirate a game (instead of buying it). Car dealers/manufacturers make less money if you fix your own car (and down pay for their overpriced service and "genuine rippof parts").

      Bullshit. Most of those who want to reverse engineer their hardware do it to gain flexibility not given by the original manufacturer. Let's take the Xbox example, I know a guy who's made a beuwolf of XBoxes for bioinformatics research.... why XBoxes? Because he found a bunch cheap. Why can't he reverse engineer hardware he owns.

      Or the original purpose of DeCSS, to watch them under linux. Reverse engineering is not the evil boogy man, nor should it be illegal. The parallels between a car and your XBox are there.

      As for the fellow who commented about the only security on car systems being obscurity... Alright, I here by patent security through obscurity, and will sue anyone who uses it without paying me royalties... as well, being an official security mechanism now, circumventing it is now illegal under the DCMA. ;-)
    • by Gestahl ( 64158 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:16PM (#9308428)
      Quoth Parent:

      Most common use for modchips in computers: pirating games (illegal)

      Quoth I:

      Most common use for modchips in cars: circumvention of emissions/rev limiter/speed governor limitations. Many of these will make the cars illegal in some areas. Car mod chips are not illegal.

      Try again.

  • "cheap" cars (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mz6 ( 741941 ) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:50PM (#9308054) Journal
    Wow... There is a lot of stuff going on in this story...Not to offend any Hyundai or Kia owners here...

    First off, when purchasing a "cheap" car, you get what you pay for. Most of the commercials you see on TV for Kia, Hyundai's and offer the 10-year warranty are crap for this exact reason. The car, a 2002 model is still covered under the manufactuers warranty, however, there's some stipulations. In short, it doesn't cover "user error". Here's a college student who has had the car serviced 12 times for the same problem, and each time told the same thing. Depending on where she lives, she may need to check into her state's lemon law.

    I help admin a Mazda 6 [] enthusiast site and have never heard of anything like this before regarding warranty problems. Any check engine light, whether the drivers fault or not is taken care of without a charge. Paying a $120 fee each time it gets services is ridiculous! Again, just another use to show you the hooks and gimmicks of buying "cheaper" cars thinking that a 10-year warranty will keep you safe from any problems. Our group was lucky. With the help of Mazda service mangers around the US, we were able to get a complete list of trouble codes posted. As was stated in the article the AutoXRay is a wonderful tool to help. It is fairly pricey, but if you have no other way of determining the problem, this would really help and saves on having the repair shop diagnose the problem for you. Instead alll it takes is this scanner to read the codes, determine the problem, and have them fix it. From the article...

    "Bryan Hanks, who has taken his 2002 Toyota Prius to his local Houston dealership four times since a single sensor malfunctioned and the Check Engine signal prevented him from using the car's electronic display, said automakers should incorporate USB ports in dashboards to allow consumers to download error messages to a laptop."

    Any legitimate scanner will allow you to also download a freeze frame and trouble codes to your laptop or monitor real-time data that may not be available to you through dashboard guages.

    IMHO, if after 12 times, I think common sense has to play a big part in the determination process of what's going on. With the advent of cars having tons of microprocessors and computers on-board to control everything from real-time air/fuel ratios to your cabin temperature settings it's no wonder why CEL codes will light up for inane reasons, the gas cap one being the most common. When the reason shows up on the diagnostic computer it most likely shows a fuel leak (depending on car manufactuer). Out of perspective, it seems like a pretty serious problem. However, once all of the fuel lines have been pressure checked and show no leaks, the only problem could be with a loose gas cap. This can go 2 ways.. either she is taking it to the dumbest dealership service department or she is a complete twit herself.

    • Re:"cheap" cars (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Funny, I just bought a Hyundai Santa Fe (tops its class in owner satisfaction, highly ranked in safety and reliability), and the first thing the dealer showed me was how to properly tighten the gas cap, complete with warnings about how the "check engine" light would come on if I did not.

      He made it very clear that any "Check Engine" light should start off with me tightening the gas cap several clicks to ensure that's not the problem.

      Apparently miss Seymour either didn't get the spiel, or didn't listen. Ha
    • Re:"cheap" cars (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stratjakt ( 596332 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:01PM (#9308209) Journal
      Well, what did the dealership tell the girl?

      "There was a problem with the gas cap, $120 please" - leading her to assume they'd replaced/repaired it.

      Or did they actually explain "There's a sensor that monitors the proper pressure in the gas tank, if it gets low that light comes on because it may be leaking. It was only getting low because you didnt twist the cap on tight enough."

      I have a mitsubishi shitbox and have done the same thing. I know better, and when I see the light I take the cap off and put it back on tightly. I wouldnt expect everyone to know better. A bright red light on your dashboard that says "Check Engine" freaks people out with visions of being stranded on some dark street or desolate country road at 3 AM.

      Besides, the point is, she paid 120 bucks a pop when the local garage probably wouldn't have charged her ANYTHING because they'd want her to come back.

      People joke about the small-time crooked mechanic, but it's the big dealership chains that really stick it to you.
      • Re:"cheap" cars (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JabberWokky ( 19442 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:18PM (#9308440) Homepage Journal
        I'm going through this with my 100k mile Kia Sportage. I'd had no problems until last week when the check engine light came on and it suddenly started idling very rough (as in two stroke rough), and couldn't get above 60mph. Turns out the computer detected a misfire and put it into "limp mode", which I'm guessing isn't that far from two stroke.

        The dealership charged $650 to reset the computer and fix the issue - a oil leak onto the coil, which caused problems (we'll ignore the engineering issue; it's a cheap truck, I'm happy with 100k miles trouble free).

        That was Friday. Yesterday, on the way back from Baycon, I was climbing a pass when the check engine light came on again and it went into limp mode... I think... as when I pulled over and restarted the engine, it was fine for the rest of the hour and a half trip. It's been fine since, but the check engine light is on. I think it just needs to be reset, but...

        $98 to diagnose it from PepBoys, the dealer or the Mom and Pop down the street. Dammit. I'm thinking of disconnecting the battery a day and seeing if that resets it.


  • Why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Kelz ( 611260 )
    The car companies make money doing service on your car (unless its under full warrenty), or commisioning other companies to fix your car. Its about lost profits.

    Me? If I see a check engine light in my car, I want to know what it is before I shell out $150 to get the "problem", if there is one, repaired.
  • Excuse me a second. But aren't the diagnostic codes already available if you shell out the money for the aftermarket code readers? And don't just about all of the better auto fixit shops have the code readers? Heck even JCWhitney catalog carries code readers for all but the newest models. So how exactly is congress making the car companies release these codes something that is "new" and something worth wasting my taxpayer money for?
    • by velo_mike ( 666386 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:03PM (#9308240)
      Excuse me a second. But aren't the diagnostic codes already available if you shell out the money for the aftermarket code readers?

      They used to be. A family friend who turns wrenches for the local Chrysler dealer was telling us that now they hook the car up to the computer, it sends the trouble code data to detroit, and an "engineer" in detroit sends the fix back to the dealership. They don't even release the codes to the local mechanics, as they would rather not have a mechanic open his own shop with the codes.

  • Hood welded shut? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by suso ( 153703 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:54PM (#9308098) Homepage Journal
    So in a sense people are already buying cars with their hoods welded shut.
  • Not too puzzling. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrEldarion ( 114072 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [0791uhcsm]> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:54PM (#9308103)
    I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox.

    It's easy. How many of them do you think own a car and use it frequently? Okay, now how many of them do you think own an XBox and use it frequently? It's something they're just not familiar with.

    They KNOW it's a good thing for people to be able to repair their own cars. How many do you think know what an XBox is, why people would want to mod it, etc? If they have no idea why someone would want to do something, they can't really make an informed decision on it.

    Go ahead and write them, comparing the two, inform them a bit and maybe you'll see a difference in their attitudes when they're more informed.
    • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:43PM (#9310098) Homepage
      It's easy. How many of them do you think own a car and use it frequently? Okay, now how many of them do you think own an XBox and use it frequently? It's something they're just not familiar with.
      I suspect they are quite aware of what an XBox is, or can find out quickly via their staff if they need to. I also suspect they know the difference between a tiny community that wants to hack XBoxen for something cool to do... And a large community whose very livelihood is threatened and who may end up on the welfare rolls and not paying business taxes if the auto codes are not opened up.
      Go ahead and write them, comparing the two, inform them a bit and maybe you'll see a difference in their attitudes when they're more informed.
      It's fascinating how many people in this thread have insisted that this is true, that XBox mods are auto codes are the same thing... Yet not one is able to marshal an arguement that supports this claim.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:55PM (#9308109)
    The problem is that Congress didn't grow up with the IT business, but they all knew the guy who owned the gas station on the corner. It is conceptually easier for a congressman to comprehend the needs of the local auto repair shop back home, than the needs of the geeks in his home district trying to run an IT business.

    This does provide an opportunity to educate Congress by showing them that the needs of both professions with respect the DMCA (and other horrors) are basically very similar at heart.

  • Who would have ever guessed that Government would take one side of the issue, and then at the same time, take the other?...

    Oh wait... it's about money... that's right.
    The RIAA versus the people: the RIAA has the money.
    The Car Makers versus the people: The Car Makers have the money.

    It's not about principle, it's about money.

    There is only one way to fix this: get GOVERNMENT out of the way. Politicians will ALWAYS be bought and sold, unless they lack the power to do anything in the first place. If th

  • Thats an easy answer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by haplo21112 ( 184264 ) <<haplo> <at> <>> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:55PM (#9308118) Homepage
    ...Because cars have always been, and remain one of the last bastions of the DIY'er. Its expected that most people have at least some small ability to diagnose and repair thier own car. The car makers have been taking that ability away inch by inch the car-codes problem is just the most obvious outward evidense of the problem.
  • by macshune ( 628296 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:56PM (#9308132) Journal
    This is a little bit off-topic, but one reason why young folks buy Kia's and Hyundais is because of the extra-long warranty period, 10 years, I think. A quote from the article helps me to realize that Kia's warranty is probably fraught with small-print and legalese that helps them to cover their butts with their decade-long warranty.

    "Instead of explaining anything to me they just pull out a warranty sheet with a highlighted portion indicating that they don't cover Check Engine light problems."

    They don't cover check engine light problems? I can see, on one hand, why they wouldn't do this (money-wise), but on the other, it's not very nice to offer someone what is evidentally perceived to be a blanket warranty for the whole car and then charge for small repairs. I think that Kia and other similar, low-cost automakers should be more forthcoming in their commercials about their warranties.
    • The check engine light is basically the "GPF" of the auto world. "Something is wrong, but it would take way to long to explain it to you and there's nothing you can do about it right now anyway..."

      I had a jeep once that it turns out was hardwired to have it's "check engine" light turn on at 85,000 miles on the odometer - No Matter What. This was covered in the owner's pamphlet (I refuse to call it a manual, those are those telephone-book sized things). The reason for it? There was an oxygen sensor in t
  • Here we go ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nbvb ( 32836 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:56PM (#9308143) Journal
    It's all part of the same racket.

    Here in good 'ol New Joisey, any 'newer' car (I believe '96 or newer) gets a computer test instead of the rod-up-the-tailpipe test. If your check-engine light is on, you automatically fail the test -- they won't even plug into the computer.

    If it's not on, they read the codes in your engine, and if everything is OK, you pass the smog test.

    Now, do you smell a racket here or what?

    State inspection: free. Inspection at a "PIF" (Private inspection facility): $75.

    Isn't it in your mechanic's interest to conveniently have that irritating-yet-not-telling-you-anything check engine light go on, so you have to bring it back to be inspected for $75?

    Grr... just another screw-job.
    • It was always nice how easy it was to "disable" the bulb behind the check engine light on my old camaro...
    • When I lived in New Jersey, you paid the PIF $75 and then they told you what was wrong with the car right before giving you the certificate. Some PIF sites just handed out certificates and didn't seem to do any testing at all.
    • Here in good 'ol New Joisey, any 'newer' car (I believe '96 or newer) gets a computer test instead of the rod-up-the-tailpipe test. If your check-engine light is on, you automatically fail the test -- they won't even plug into the computer.

      That's because the 'check engine light' indicates an emissions problem, 99% of the time. Therefore if it is turned on, your emissions system is not performing to spec and you will not even be tested until the problem is resolved.

      Now, do you smell a racket here or what
  • by blueZ3 ( 744446 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:56PM (#9308144) Homepage
    I know that many cars already come with OBD II compliant ports ( and there are interfaces out there to hook your laptop to the OBD port and check the engine management software. Indeed there are tools to remap the engine software that use the same OBD port (I've installed this on my BMW)

    Given that this type of standardized interface exists, and that tools for "exploiting" it are readily available and fairly cheap, I don't see how it would be possible to keep this information (error codes and the like) secret.
    • VAG-COM (Score:3, Informative)

      by ajlitt ( 19055 )
      A few enterprising people have reverse-engineered the KWP-1281 and -2000 protocols that VW and friends (VW, Audi, Seat, Skoda) use on their cars. One of the most recognized is VAG-COM [] which pretends to behave just like the expensive VW shop scantool in almost every respect. The only potentially useful feature it doesn't replicate is the ability to update firmware to the various control modules in a car. It even adds the ability to graph various sensor values, and with a cut-and-paste to an Excel spreadsh
  • by joshmccormack ( 75838 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:58PM (#9308172) Homepage Journal
    People just depend too much on their cars, and there's too much of a tradition of allowing people to have their cars fixed as they'd like them to be, to allow car manufacturers the right to restrict access. It's something people feel strongly about.

    The days of the common man being able to modify and repair their own car seem to be coming to a close. Cars are made of too many different metals that are not as easily worked with as steel, and there are too many electronics and computers. But even so, manufacturers trying to put a strangle hold on repair shops to make them be registered and have the proper codes is just wrong.

    Why shouldn't you be allowed to use your XBOX how you'd like, and Congres is trying to protect your right to use your car how you choose? Well, I'm not so sure you should be so restricted, maybe Congress should have said something earlier, but if you like the idea of being able to use whatever you buy, this is something to get behind.
  • by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:58PM (#9308173)
    The problem is that the greybeards in Congress remember when they could work on their own cars, before all the computerization and emission-control crap was added. So they sympathize with owners who "want to be able to fix their own cars, but the newfangled ones are too '1337."
    This contrasts with computers and technology, because the members of Congress never knew how it worked, so of course there's no reason to open the hood, to extend the metaphor. "Computers? Well, them's crazy things, you better ask my 9 year old nephew... take it apart? Why, you'll probably break it anyway!"
  • Go buy one of the many, many aftermarket products that do exactly what is this. Interface with te cars serial port, and display in colorful graphics on your laptop or Palm, exactly what the particular code(s) means.

    Anywhere in price from $80 [] to several thousand. AutoTap [] is probably the best midrange one, at $200-300.

    Now...if you lack the skill to put a gas cap on correctly, these may not help you.
    • by Otto ( 17870 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:09PM (#9308334) Homepage Journal
      If you don't want to buy your own reader, drive by an AutoZone and ask them to read it for you. Guy will come out to your car and plug the thing in and check the codes and even explain what it means (assuming he knows what it means, which I'm sure varies from person to person). It's a useful way to determine if you actually need service or if it's just complaining about the gas cap or low oil or something.

      Disclaimer: I work for AutoZone and have for about 2 months now. However, I'm trying hard not to be a shill, sort of thing. Still, if you don't feel like dropping $100 on a reader, this is an alternative you'll want to look into.
      • I want to give a sincere thanks for that tip. As a guy who loves his car but has never even managed to change his own oil, I'm a big fan of AutoZone, for four reasons:

        a) I live in Memphis, their HQ city;

        b) AutoZone graciously provides space for many of the Memphis Linux user group [] meetings;

        c) Every time I've gone to AutoZone, the people have been polite and I don't feel like I'm getting screwed;

        d) They've been sued by SCO ;)

        I own a 2000 Monte Carlo. It has an on-dash LCD style display which pops up any
  • by Otto ( 17870 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:00PM (#9308197) Homepage Journal
    ... you just have to pay for it. One place you can get this sort of stuff, off the top of my head, is ALLDATA []. There's many others, I'm sure.

    The info is out there and many of the car companies do indeed offer it. They just don't much advertise it. They're too busy making cars to be selling information about them. Don't chalk this up to malice so fast, is what I'm saying. Mark it down as stupidity instead. It seems more likely.
    • Even ALLDATA doesn't have all the codes. The trouble codes are more or less freely available, they're found in the factory service manual. This is not what this bill is about. The bill is about all the other assorted manufacturer-only codes which you don't have access to. They are used by the manufacturer's scan tool to show information on sensors, switches, and so on. Anything the ECU or BCM knows can be read out on the scan tool. You can find out, for example, if the climate control head unit is asking fo
  • It's called ODB-II. There's a standard diagnostics connector, probably under your dash, that a $100 code reader will interface with and give you error codes for most of the standard problems. I think they're talking about more advanced, manufacturer specific codes. If you're buying a car without checking into how easily and cheaply it is to get repaired or how reliable it is, then you better not plan on keeping it past the bumper to bumper warranty. If more people start buying older used cars so they can ge
  • I'm of the opinion that people like Microsoft, the RIAA, and the MPAA are shooting themselves in the foot by trying to "secure" their IP rights by attempting to rewrite laws about fair use. Of course, there are people that will circumvent copy-protection efforts for theft; but aren't there enough honest people out there that could actually benefit from this technology? I've been wondering lately, how many honest people out there are making negative decisions about purchasing these types of things because
  • Take it to Autozone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Sketch ( 111112 ) * <mister.sketch@gm ... om minus painter> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:02PM (#9308226)
    If the light is on constantly, you can probably just take it to Autozone, they have a free check engine light service.

    I had a check engine light on, that had been on for months, but never worried about it, but when it came time for emmissions check they refused to pass my car because of the check engine light. So, after calling around and the running rate was $100 or so, I took it to Autozone they jumppered a connection under my dash, turned the ignition and my panel flashed a diagnostic code, and they put it into their computer. The problem: bad O2 sensor, so I open the hood, and there is a cable hanging under the O2 sensor not connected to anything, so I plug it into the sensor, turn the car on, no check engine light and I pass emissions.

    I also asked the guy at Autozone if I could keep the tool used to jumpper the connection and he said sure so now I check my own check engine light problems :).
  • Alternate fixes (Score:5, Informative)

    by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:06PM (#9308282)
    Go to Autozone. The nice man there has a code reader, and will read the code, for free, and tell you what it means. Of course he wants you to buy some parts to fix it, but you don't have to.

    Alternatively, you can look it up here [] Input your car model and year, and the specific code.
  • Not so odd (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jacrawf ( 691 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:07PM (#9308297)
    I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox.
    It's not so odd really. Remember that our government is still composed primarily of old guys. The thing about old guys (and most guys) is that they think they know how a car works, and think it is silly that a person can't work on a car if they want to. Every single one of them has probably gotten his hands dirty fiddling with the carburetor on an old clunker and likely misses those days from his youth.

    Computers, on the other hand, are Magic Boxes. They don't know how a computer works, are possibly afraid to learn, and hate it that 14 year old boys know more about it than they do and can cause so much trouble with one. They see the results and power of these fine general problem-solving tools but don't know how to harness it for themselves which frightens them, so they think it's better to regulate it until they do (or so that they don't have to worry about it anymore).

    I grant that this is a pretty broad generalization and there are certainly counter examples of my characterization of these men (for instance Al Gore or maybe Jay Inslee) but never underestimate the pride and ego of an old man. It's practically a force of nature.

  • by chaffed ( 672859 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:10PM (#9308343) Homepage
    The codes are available on the net if you know where to look. Often they are found on auto enthusiast websites. Websites like []

    Not only that there is a great project for retrieving codes under linux. The project is called FreeDiag. It can be found at []

    Not only that, there are some great "open" cables you can build yourself. the BR interface is my fav []. It happens to work very nicely with freediag.

    Hope this helps people that are interested.
  • by Matey-O ( 518004 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:25PM (#9308541) Homepage Journal
    Between the Haves and Have nots. From 1986 to 1992 Corvettes could display error codes using the SES light and a jumper...From 1997 on, all Corvettes can give you a VERY COMPLETE error code with a couple of keypresses on the trip computer buttons.

    (Turn on key but don't start car. Press 'reset' untill all warnings are cleared, press and hold 'option' while pressing 'fuel' four times. The system will then list through all major control sections for any current or recent past error codes.)

    My PT cruiser has a similar process (press and hold the trip button while inserting the key and turning to run.)

    Why is this such a big deal? _I'd_ like to know when my O2 sensor is kaput and not trust the guy behind the counder saying my muffler bearings need rotating.

  • by misleb ( 129952 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:26PM (#9308562)
    Hasn't technology evolved to a point where we don't need to extract and look up arcane codes to determine what is wrong with our hardware (computers or cars)? I understand that there was a time when storing the text for error codes used up precious RAM/ROM, but come on!

    I mean, how hard would it be to fit a car with an LED/LCD readout that says "Your gas cap is loose or missing." It doesn't have to be a fancy voice like in luxury cars. Just a little readout on or under the dash that tells you exactly what is wrong (as far as the car's sensors can tell, anyway). Maybe a nice message that tells you, "Your transmission has exploded. Seek professional help."


  • by British ( 51765 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:26PM (#9308579) Homepage Journal
    Okay, probably a 1 in a billion shot of happening but..

    Hypothetical situation here:

    Say you own a 2003 Yugo. Yugo goes out of business, or closes down all dealerships in your neck of the woods. Yugo never revealed their diagnostic codes outside the company. Your car breaks down with some weird diagnostic codde you can't decipher. What do you do?

  • by DunbarTheInept ( 764 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:30PM (#9308647) Homepage

    I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox.

    It's simple. They understand cars enough to know what the danger is. They don't understand computers enough to see the same dangers there. (Your XBox example doesn't really highlight the problem, since it is just a game after all - a better example is things like voting machine code and proprietary device drivers.)

    Really, that's all there is to it. It's simple familiarity. Screw with people's ability to fix their own cars and you impact a lot of people the congrescritters know personally - they grok what's going on because everyone's got cars, everyone's opened hood on them, and everyone either knows how to fix minor things on them or is just one relationship hop away from someone who does. Now, how many congressmen know the first thing about how computer software is made? How many of them realize just how artificial the line is between software design and software fixing? It's not nearly as clearly cut as the line between designing a car and fixing a car.

    Secondly, a congresscritter would never accept that it's okay for someone to get free access to the blueprints from a car manufacturer for how to make the car, but they understand that people should have access to the diagnostic tools. What they don't understand is that that distinction doesn't exist in computer software. The "user-servicable" part of a software program is...the whole thing. And only a programmer can really understand how true that is.

  • Voice of experience: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by stienman ( 51024 ) <adavis.ubasics@com> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:40PM (#9308805) Homepage Journal
    I have an OBD-II scanner. It's about $100 or so, hooks up to my laptop, and the software is free and the codes in the software are frequently updated. I've never had a code in my car that's undocumented.

    The interface is simple, there are now only 5 protocols and interfaces that need to be supported by any given ISO compliant scan tool (ISO9141, PWM, VPW, Keyword, and CAN). These protocols and interfaces are available for a huge fee from ISO and other standards organizations.

    There is enough information online and in various electronics magazines to interface without getting the standards, but the real problem is that there are only so many well-defined codes. Every car supports those. But each new model the manufacturers add more codes that are manufacturer, and sometimes even model, specific.

    The vast majority of the codes are available, what this legislation does is make it so that when a new code is defined for a specific make/model/year, then it's instantly published. Even now you have to wait a year or 5 before the codes come out because warranties take care of the vast majority of work. Its the heavy use customers, and the shady dealerships that make it necessary to have the codes as soon as the model is available, but the dealerships and manufacturer have every incentive to not provide the information in a timely manner.

    This legislation is to codify what, how, and when to release this information, whereas now the auto industry has tried to avoid regulation by volunteering incomplete and late information.

    There is one open hardware project to support one of the protocols, and some open software to support the hardware, but it still leaves out 1/2 of the vehicles, and doesn't cover more than one car.

    I've been working on making a completely open, compliant hardware and software product to comply with all the current standards and allow easy updating of codes. I have access to the standards, hardware, and only lack time and money. Hopefully within the next two years we'll see $20 code scanners with online code lookup (hardware is actually fairly easy) but assuming we don't, email me about the interest and I may move this from the back burner. I still have two projects in the pipeline that have to be finished, but I could have something before the end of the summer if there is significant [mailto] interest. It would have to be fully open hardware/firmware/software.

  • by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @07:36PM (#9310054)
    I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox.

    Perhaps this is because a car is something tangible. Every Congressman understands the need to work on your own car. Perhaps many Congressmen have worked on their own cars in their 20's. It is simply very widely accepted that people fix their own cars, and for that reason, Congress has no problem protecting your rights to do so.

    On the other hand, your XBox, or your computer, or whatever, is relatively new and the need to mess with these things is not very well understood. Why would you want to open that box and mess with the chips inside? Only because you're some pimply faced geek with no life, most likely, and that's just plain stupid. That is probably how Congress sees it.

    Maybe in 20 years, we'll have people in Congress who are sick of not being able to boot whatever operating system they want on their computer, and then they'll understand the need to protect your rights in that regard. But the big software and media companies are pushing as strongly as they can to make information rare and expensive, and to make sure that anybody who copies it for whatever reason (legitimate or not) is a pirate and should suffer punishments worse than 1000 murderers, rapists, and kidnappers.

    This is what we must fight against. We must make it known that it is retarded to fight against the nature of information. Ooooooooooh well.

  • by sbaker ( 47485 ) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @08:08PM (#9310283) Homepage
    I don't think anyone mentioned this yet - so I will.

    I'm running a project to write a GPL'ed car diagnostic tool that runs under Linux (and probably BSD too). It's called 'freediag' and the current version works well enough to read out error codes (and possibly zero them) on at least a few types of car.

    You'll need to buy or build a cable to connect a laptop to the OBD-II port on your car. A simple serial cable won't do because you have to have optoisolators to protect your valuable laptop from the rigours of the crappy signal quality you get from most cars. If you buy one, it'll set you back maybe $70.

    Anyway - the project needs developers - and it needs testers (there are lot of different interface cables and a lot of different subtle variations on the supposed standard car interface).

    If you are interested - head over to (of course!) and sign up to the developer's mailing list.
  • by Awptimus Prime ( 695459 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @08:42PM (#9310525)
    Okay, this is another fine example of /. getting the ignorant all worked up over nothing.

    Here is what I do:

    1) Stop by the dealership to get the problem diagnosed by the computer. This costs nothing.

    2) Once the official cause of the diagnostic code is determined, request they fax you an explanation of exactly what needs to be done.

    3) Call non-dealers and get quotes for the repairs. Use your faxed description so you can express the problem clearly to the other mechanic.

    4) Take the vehicle to the lowest bidder.

    See? That's not all that hard. The problem with /., they incite the exposure of ignorance by offering up one-sided, hot headed, articles and everyone runs with it like it's an "outrage". The true outrage is when people do not think their options through before going on a tangent about how evil empires are out to drain your pocket books. Of course, they are. That is what a business does. If you want the simplest, 1-step, solution to your problem, it will ALWAYS cost you more than if you did not mind putting a little effort into it.

    This whole thing reminds me of a scene where George Jetson presses a button on his food making machine, it doesn't work the first time. He then sprains his index finger on the second push. The end result was him kneeling to the floor crying about how difficult life is. Don't be like that. :)
  • Poster is an idiot (Score:3, Insightful)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @10:02PM (#9311003) Homepage Journal
    I think it's odd that they think it's your God-given right to reverse-engineer your car, but not your XBox.

    Because, you fucktard, the DMCA applies to copyright enforcement devices and nothing else. No copyrighted content, no DMCA case.

    I'm just so sick of people (particularly on slashdot) bitching about the DMCA, copyright law, trademark law, and just about everything else IP without having any clue what the laws actualy say.
  • by JRHelgeson ( 576325 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @12:26AM (#9311724) Homepage Journal
    Who cares about an Xbox gaming system... It doesn't make me money. But going without a car? I'm out of a job.

    I paid $20+ thousand dollars for this hunk of metal and you're telling me that I'm supposed to just kowtow to the almighty dealer every time I want my check-engine light turned off? I don't think so. I should have the option of going to the dealer, to be sure, but if I'm having a drivability problem, I want to go to someone I trust with my car, someone that charges less and I'm happier with.

    I've got an older Jeep Grand Cherokee with drivability problems. Thing is that Chrysler (Dodge) keeps pretty close tabs on their trouble codes so every time my car acts up, if I want to plug it into a computer to find out why its running rough I have to go to the dealer, pull into the service bay, talk to some dipshit who tells me to wait in the waiting room. By the time the technician 'calls my number' the car is running fine and I'm charged the minimum $75 fee for plugging the reader into my car. Because its just running rough, no trouble codes are set in the computer, and therefore the only way to catch the problem is when its happening.

    Conversely, It started happening again and I called my local mechanic telling him that I'm coming over, "Its acting up again". I pull up and he walks out with his code reader in hand, wiping his hands on a red shop towel. Plugs in the computer and sees immediately that I've got a widget stuck in the maniform valve, giving the ejection seat a prematurely high voltage which was advancing the ignition timing to fire way before tea-time.

    I dunno what was wrong that time, but all I know is it was a $110 part and $75 in labor and my Jeep is running like new...

    Dealers have their place, but not in every case.
  • by Thunderstruck ( 210399 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @12:38AM (#9311821)
    There are different standards applied to your car and your computer, hence different application of things like the DMCA.

    1. The owner of a car has a duty to keep that car in safe operating condition (if it is going to be used on the roads) If the law burdens a man with a responsibility, it must also provide him the means to carry it out. This generally precludes the law from tying him to a single vendor. (Think insurance, you can pay for it or post bond and insure yourself. You can pay for auto service or
    buy tools and do it yourself.)

    2. The law does not presently burden the owner of a computer to keep it in operating condition (if it is to be used on the internet.) Thus the DMCA may be enforced without creating a conflict.

    3. It might be beneficial to require the same standard of care for your computer that we require for your car, but don't hold your breath. Car accidents LOOK a lot more damaging than unsecure computers.
  • Says it all (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lee Tacker ( 768368 ) on Wednesday June 02, 2004 @02:08AM (#9312229) Homepage
    This quote from the article sums up almost all future computing legal issues. "The legislation argues that consumers own their vehicles in their entirety and should be able to access their onboard computers." All debates about piracy center around this idea. As we, as a society evolve into computing (just ask any 9 year old how to program your cell phone), we can only hope that the government falls on the side of the consumer as witnessed in legislation pending regarding cars. The future of computers and of programming will depend on one's ability to continually manipulate code to suit one's need. I will be damn proud if my son decides to reverse-engineer anything. Jon Lech Johansen's father must be the proudest father on the planet

In the realm of scientific observation, luck is granted only to those who are prepared. - Louis Pasteur