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Government Transportation

"Right To Repair" Bill Advances In Massachusetts 478

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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  • 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.

  • 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:That's no right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:19PM (#29433469)

    All of them.

    Unless you know of a car manufacturer who publishes all their error codes, uses a common consumer standard cord (think USB) to connect to the car's computer, and makes software (or at least an API) available to read and clear that information. Although the law doesn't go that far, it is that kind of thing that the law is moving towards.

  • by Volante3192 ( 953645 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @07:34PM (#29433629)

    That's a poor analogy.

    It's not just that you can't find any information on how to repair it, you can't take it to the corner fix-it guy either because he can't decipher the error codes. You have to take it to a Certified Mr. Coffee Specialist who will charge you 75% the cost of the coffee maker to fix it and not tell you how he did it either.

    You SHOULD be able to fix your own coffee maker and not be forced by some DRM lock-in to take it to this specific certified repairman.

  • 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. [] This project has been around for some time, I'd sure like to put it into my car restoration.

  • 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.
  • by DrMrLordX ( 559371 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:03PM (#29433975)

    Various manufacturers have been making it difficult, if not impossible, to correct problems with ECUs/ECMs aside from doing simple stuff such as restarting them or forcing them to retrain/relearn. That is to say, if you're unlucky enough to have a car that is not beloved by hordes of tuners/ricers/etc., then no 3rd party will show the interest in figuring out how to reprogram your ECU/ECM to give it a proper tune. The car I own (Saturn Ion 1, 2004, Sedan) has an ECU that is widely unsupported by 3rd-party tuning apps, for example. If there's something wrong with any of the sensors or the ECU itself, better take it to the dealership.

    And this doesn't even touch on the notion of aftermarket tunes for better performance and/or fuel economy.

    If the manufacturers are forced to give up the goods on all the computerized components of autos, will this mean that any car, anywhere, will now be tunable by your local mom-and-pop repair shop or performance shop or what have you? Or, more importantly, will most of the 3rd-party tuning packages now work on anything provided you have a lappy and can hook up to the OBD2/CAN port? Will this be retroactive? Does that mean that my '04 Ion 1 will FINALLY be tunable?

    This might not be a big deal around here, but any number of performance enthusiast sites out there had better be jumping for joy over this.

  • 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.

  • Re:Yes! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:23PM (#29434137)

    As an Engineer at one of the Big 3 (Big 2, whatever)... i will tell you the system interactions between modules is difficult at best to diagnose. Quite often we are called into debugging vehicles at dealerships. Publishing the data will do nothing but cause larger repair bills b/c the mom/pop is not going to have the connections needed to get an engineer on the phone nor the needed systems engineering experience to diagnose issues...

    I will love to see all the attorney's general complaints over mom/pops charging 10 hours to diagnose something that even the OEM can't document!

  • by GospelHead821 ( 466923 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:24PM (#29434159)

    There are inefficiencies to both scenarios and I won't blindly accept your assertion that free markets are better at creating desired improvements than legislation and regulation. A company that wants to get into any market to make a specific improvement is either going to be at the mercy of patent holders or will need to reinvent the wheel to solve all sorts of design problems that existing companies have already solved. It is my opinion that barriers to entry are creating a situation that is harmful to consumers. We want cars or coffee makers or anything that are accessible to any repair person we might choose. If all of the existing players have intentionally taken away that capability, there are only a few general avenues that can be pursued: start a new company to meet the unfulfilled want, use economic incentives to persuade manufacturers to offer the functionality you want, have the government regulate to force manufacturers to offer the functionality you want.

    In this case, it seems that philosophically, you find the intervention of government the most unpalatable of the possible options. Many other people find it unpalatable to pay more for something that they feel entitled to. Note that I chose the word "entitled" deliberately. It is the philosophical crux of this argument. Are people entitled to the information necessary to repair their own purchased goods? The legislature of the state of Massachusetts seems to think that the answer is "yes" and I, among others, happen to agree with them.

  • by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @08:35PM (#29434251)

    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 their best to prevent it from being usable without paying big money to the dealer. e.g. some new ECMs won't run unless the dealer codes them to another module in the dashboard. It's a theft prevention measure but it's also a way for them to take money from unfortunate owners.

  • 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:Ron Paul (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:12PM (#29434635)

    Now of course, I do not have to do business with a car company that will not allow me to fix my own car. I can, instead choose to support any company that provides such information as necessary.

    No, you can't. All the manufacturers keep this info hidden. The only possible exception I can think of are smaller performance car makers, like Ariel or Ascari, but I wouldn't count on it too much. They're also all small trackday cars with face-ripping acceleration and enough room in the trunk for maybe a toothbrush and a small sandwich.

    Or I can search for a brilliant mechanic, computer tech, and electrical engineer who will work together to fix my car and we can open our own business.

    Good luck. Reverse engineering laws are hard to get around if you're going to commercialize your work.

    Or I can buy a car with no computer interfaces at all that I can repair with little more than a hammer. Of course such a car as in the last example would probably fail the state mandated emissions standards - boo state!

    Such a shame we don't have widespread smog problems in most major cities.

    Those computer interfaces don't just keep emissions down. They're also keeping performance and gas millage up, as well as vastly increasing the durability of engines. In well-built engines, there are almost never any mechanical problems within a car's reasonable lifetime. There's a bunch of sensors helping to keep everything tidy, and a given engine code is almost always the result of one of those sensors going out, not something like a piston connecting rod blowing through your hood.

    When people say they used to be able to repair anything on their car with a wrench and a hammer, they're not looking at the full picture.

  • Re:Unexpected (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NJRoadfan ( 1254248 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:21PM (#29434687)
    One reason I like owning a VWAG built car. Someone reverse engineered the vehicle's computer interface and a $350 3rd party cable now replicates most all the functions the $2500 dealer diag system does. VW even uses the product themselves. []
  • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <> 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:3, Interesting)

    by JWSmythe ( 446288 ) <> on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @09:59PM (#29434975) Homepage Journal

        I liked your IT analogy, but let me add personal experience to it. I've had MCSE's call me (primary a Linux and Cisco guy) to help them fix their Microsoft problems. I look at the problem as the problem, not as "What should I click to fix it."

        I've had a lot of people ask me about problems on their cars. One recent one was a BMW. The owner was quoted $1,200 in repairs. I went over the quote, and the list of the customers complaints, and came up with a $250 quote to completely rebuild the part of the car that the dealer had quoted $1,200 for. I then dismissed everything in the quote. As the owner was told "This is essential to do today. Your car isn't safe to drive." My diagnosis was fair. "You have about a year before this becomes a problem. Bring it to me in 6 months and I'll fix those items. My estimate is approx $250, which may change a little if the parts prices change." I then proceeded to do about $200 worth of work for other items that were actually problems that weren't even addressed by the dealer quote.

        I couldn't fix the airbag light, because I don't have the tool to diagnose the airbag computer. The dealer refused to address it also.

        I've been working on cars since I was a kid, and know an awful lot by working on various vehicles for friends and family over the years. I've probably taken over $100k worth of work away from big shops, just because I can do it, and do it right. I don't recall any vehicle ever being brought back to me with the same problem repeated. Then again, I take the time to ensure the problem is fixed, rather than just replacing a few parts, and handing it back. It may take me an extra hour to ensure the problem is resolved, but it's worth it for the people who I do repairs for. Big shops simply don't care as much, and they get extra hours of work for the return visit.

  • Re:That's no right (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mikael ( 484 ) on Tuesday September 15, 2009 @10:03PM (#29435007)

    Right-to-Repair Law To Get DRM Out of Your Car []

    Right to repair proposal []

    Congressmen want automakers to cough up diagnostic codes []

    The EFF's Fred von Lohman, however, pointed out that there's a certain irony in this widespread public support and Congressional interest. What the bill suggests is that the sort of market created by the DMCA, in which companies are given the right to encrypt and protect information of their choosing, shouldn't apply when it comes to autos. To be clear, there are implementation differences. The DMCA could still apply in that third-party tools that provide access to encrypted data in a car would still run afoul of the law. But the need for these tools would be severely reduced by the fact that the manufacturers would be required to provide an equivalent. That would also, presumably, eliminate most of the incentive for manufacturers to take action against the providers of third-party tools.

    From Car Makers Put FPGAs In The Driving Seat []

    ProASIC3 devices are also designed with an on-chip 1024-bit non-volatile flash ROM (FROM) and a built-in 128-bit AES decryption core, which facilitates independent, secure, in-system programming (ISP) of both the FPGA core array fabric and the FROM itself. This allows designers to implement a number of secure features. For instance, an AES master key can be preloaded into the device in a secure programming environment. Users can then ship 'blank' parts to an insecure programming or manufacturing centre for final personalisation with an AES encrypted bit stream.

    Actel Drives FPGAs 'Under the Hood' Into Critical Automotive Powertrain and Safety Systems []

        Actel also announced today that Delphi Corp., a leading global supplier
    of mobile electronics and transportation systems, will be using the Actel
    ProASIC3 FPGA in a production engine control module being designed into a
    heavy-duty diesel engine. Additionally, Magna Electronics has selected the
    Actel ProASIC3 FPGA for its automotive vision systems (see release "Magna
    Electronics Chooses Actel's ProASIC3 FPGAs to Enable Automotive Vision
    Systems" also announced today).

    Magna Electronics expansion in Rochester Hills to focus on developing electric car program for Ford []

    Magna Electronics discussed plans for what it calls its intelligent power systems group during a news conference at the Rochester Hills City Hall. The expanded unit, which is expected to add 90 employees over five years, will develop hybrid and electric drivetrain systems and electronics that control motors.
    The parent company, which is working with Ford Motor Co. to develop a battery-electric small car by 2011, ...

    Magna Powertrain and Hyundai announce joint venture []

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <mark.a.craig@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> 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?

  • Re:Ron Paul (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sgtrock ( 191182 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2009 @09:50AM (#29439365)

    I'm driving a '97 F150 4x4 with more than 267,000 miles on it. I bought it used in August of that year when it had 12,000 miles. 5 speed manual transmission and the small V8. I'm on my second rebuilt transmission, but the engine and clutch are still original. (My dad taught me to drive back when Kung Fu was still on TV. "Learn to shift as if driving on rice paper, Grasshopper!" :-) )

    Over the years I've had to do some other maintenance work, and I'm due for another break job. I'm debating whether or not it's worth my while to go buy another used pickup or keep maintaining this one. I figure as long as the frame is sound (I live in a state that makes liberal use of road salt, so corrosion is an issue here), I might as well.

    I sit next to a guy who gets restless when his car gets to be a couple of years old. I'm not sure he's ever paid off a car before trading it in. He gives me a hard time for my 14-16 MPG when his year old diesel BMW is getting 30+. He still hasn't figured out which of us is being more environmentally friendly, and why. :)

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard