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Massachusetts "Right To Repair" Initiative On Ballot, May Override Compromise 238

skids writes "MA voters face a complex technical and economic question Tuesday about just how open automobile makers should be with their repair and diagnostic interfaces. A legislative compromise struck in July may not be strong enough for consumer's tastes. Proponents of the measure had joined opponents in asking voters to skip the question once the legislature, seeking to avoid legislation by ballot, struck the deal. Weeks before the election they have reversed course and are again urging voters to pass the measure. Now voters have to decide whether the differences between the ballot language and the new law are too hard on manufacturers, or essential consumer protections. At stake is a mandated standard for diagnostic channels in a significant market."
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Massachusetts "Right To Repair" Initiative On Ballot, May Override Compromise

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  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:10PM (#41884769)
    As a classic car enthusiast, the only interface you need is your wrench set.

    With this said, modern cars are designed to be off-limits for DIYers. This specific issue is about preventing locking down cars to the level that even independent mechanics can't touch them. So question should read "Do you believe that all cars, 2012 and newer should be only maintained at the dealer shops, or should independent shops have a way to do more than just change oil?"
    • by Captain Hook ( 923766 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:18PM (#41884885)

      As a classic car enthusiast, the only interface you need is your wrench set.

      That seems a bit short sighted.

      What about the classic enthusiasts coming up behind you, prehaps your children who might want to restore the car he remembers doing family holiday in from todays line up of cars?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        There are two kinds of classic enthusiats: the ones who work on their cars and the ones who write checks. If you work on your car, you want something pre-1996 anyway. If you write checks, you can write checks to the dealer.

        • by sinij ( 911942 )
          Writing checks to the dealer is a lost cause. I recently had a cracked rear windshield. $800. Ouch, and I was lucky they could special order one. I wish I could manufacture my own glass...
          • I think most of the guys writing checks would not flinch at $800.

        • by Captain Hook ( 923766 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:32PM (#41885107)
          But as time goes on, those purely mechanical vehicles will get rarer and rarer, to the point where not everyone is going to be able to afford one.

          Evenutally you are going to get to the point where enthusiasts will need to decode the diagnostics codes to work on their own cars, maybe by then the codes will be well known, maybe they wont.

          There is something else to consider here. At the moment the manufacturers are using security though obscurity, the codes may become well known especially 25 years after manufacture but if there is no law which says consumers have to be able to decode the diagnostics themselves. Whats to stop the manufacurers encrypting the codes, possibly on an ECU by ECU basis? The reader has to be networked to head office and request the decryption code for each customer vehicle at least one in order to work out whats wrong?
          • by Hatta ( 162192 )

            But as time goes on, those purely mechanical vehicles will get rarer and rarer, to the point where not everyone is going to be able to afford one.

            Which is exactly what we are going to see with general purpose computers, when Microsoft finally locks down the bootloader.

        • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:19PM (#41885707) Homepage Journal

          Sure, now. Just like in '97, nobody would consider a '95 to be a 'classic car', just like in 1958 nobody considered the '57 Chevy to be a classic car.

          In 2020, that ;00 will be looking pretty classic, but impossible to fix up because the communications interface and protocols will still be deep dark secrets.

          • 96 is the magic year not because it is more than 15 years old, but because you do not have to pass an OBDII emissions check.

            • 96 is the magic year not because it is more than 15 years old, but because you do not have to pass an OBDII emissions check.

              Strange...I've had a couple of cars now newer than '96 ('97 vette, and a 2005 turbo mx5)....and I've never had an odbii check nor any type of emissions check.

              Ahh.....nice to live in states that aren't so restrictive about what you want to drive...

            • by tragedy ( 27079 )

              But in another twenty years, that magic year may cease to be relevant. For example, if 99% of cars on the road at that point are zero-emissions, they may not bother with emissions tests for old cars any more. Or, possibly, they won't allow them on the road and people will only have them for private tracks.

      • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:23PM (#41884979)
        Mid 90s and newer with few rare exceptions will be lost cause. Already some pristine mid-90s cars are having difficulties with dried/leaked out capacitors and ECUs going south. These are primitive systems compared to your typical car of today.

        The only classic cars on the road in 2030 will be the ones that are classic and are on the road today.
        • Bullcrap (Score:5, Insightful)

          by dutchwhizzman ( 817898 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:39PM (#41885203)
          People take so much time complaining about "modern technology" that they have none left to learn how to deal with it. I work on cars as a hobby and I'm doing fine even repairing modern cars that dealers can't get fixed. Yes, I use my brain combined with old school skills to fix all sorts of cars, modern and classic. Modern cars aren't that more difficult to fix or diagnose, it just takes a decent understanding of basic electronics and mechanics. Modern diagnostic computer systems should be standardized, so independent mechanics and hobby workers can still afford to work on them. It has always required mechanical skills, knowledge and good diagnostic skills to work on cars and that should remain the same, even if you need some computerized equipment to do some of the diagnostics. If a dealer can't fix it, it's usually because they have bad diagnostics technicians working for them, not because the computers are making it difficult. They had the same problem 50 years ago, when cars didn't have computers or electronics and the same applies to hobby workers.
          • ...Modern diagnostic computer systems should be standardized, so independent mechanics and hobby workers can still afford to work on them.

            Bingo: that's what the proposed law is about.

            Or, if not standardized, at least documented.

      • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:43PM (#41886035)

        What about the classic enthusiasts coming up behind you

        A wrench should be good enough. After all, he's got the element of surprise.

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      Just because a car has some chips in it doesn't mean they have to be locked down.

      • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:34PM (#41885155)
        Maybe this will help you understand. Do you remember your first computer? Well, imagine you _STILL_ want to use it today, only it was sitting OUTSIDE in the COLD, HUMID, or HOT weather.

        This is what electronics-everything in your car mean for its longevity. 20 years if garaged is doable, anything more and you are running in weird issues like capacitors going bad in all kinds of imaginative way, spikes forming shorts on solder connections, and resistor degradation.

        It is not IF, it is question of WHEN.
      • The car isn't locked down. What is locked down is the definition of proprietary codes. You just have no idea that code PXXXX for a 2006 Ford means you have engine knocking, or the A/C compressor isn't working, etc. You can get these codes, it just means many hundreds of dollars per manufacturer to get them from each. It's not a matter of the corner garage not being able to fix the car, it's a matter of them not being able to/wanting to buy all the documentation.
    • by Hadlock ( 143607 )

      Antique vehicles start at 1982 here in Texas (30 years). Cadillacs already had electronic diagnostic software by then (starting in 1979, I think). EFI on other GM vehicles wasn't far behind after the gas crisis. The venerable BMW E30 has had it's computer well mapped, but it's very primitive compared to what is going in to cars now. A ten year old 750i is only worth about $1200, nobody is going to pay a BMW dealership at dealership rates to diagnose it in twenty more years.

      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        $1200? I think you left off a zero, or I should just buy 10 of them.

        • by sinij ( 911942 )
          No, $1200 is about right. Your typical indie bill for minor-to-moderate fix would be $2000 and anything more involved (what could possibly go wrong with a V12, right?) is all but guaranteed write-off.

          If you don't wrench, you can't keep it on the road.
          • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

            To be clear, you are telling me I can get a 2002 750i for $1200.
            Which means I can get any parts I need for another $1200, since I could just buy another one for spare parts.

            I think I found my next toy if that is true.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by vettemph ( 540399 )

      We could really use a car analogy about now.

    • As someone who still enjoys working on cars, even modern ones, I say yes. I've got a very nice OBD-II tool but I have to pay an extra $400 to be able to read a small portion of BMW codes, another $400 for Mercedes, $400 for Subaru, $400 for Honda, etc etc etc. And that doesn't even cover all of the latest and greatest codes, either. What is the point of having an ODB-II standard if every manufacturer can chose to encrypt their manufacturer specific codes? Of course, I also wonder why we have a ClearQAM
      • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

        Are these codes not available on the internet?
        I would assume someone would buy them and then post them.

    • Off-limits? I wandered off-limits when I changed the timing-belt in my wife's car and installed new brake discs and oxygen sensors in mine?

      • by sinij ( 911942 )
        Get back to me when you need to reset a fault in a state that won't pass your emissions until you do so.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:13PM (#41884813)

    Something's wrong when I have to dedicate a laptop, play $350 for a special cord and software, and teach my self this software just to 'adapt' my VW's throttle body?

    BMW drivers have it even worst!

    Federal legislative language should read that EVERY manufacturer that wants to sell cars in the US must allow owners to look at and function every aspect of their own car without special dealer tools.

  • by Tokolosh ( 1256448 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:28PM (#41885043)

    Why should you have the right to do maintenance on a car that you probably do not own outright?

    http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2012/10/29/supreme-court-grapples-with-copyright-law-and-the-resale-trade/ [wsj.com]

  • Why stop at cars??? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bobthesungeek76036 ( 2697689 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:32PM (#41885111)
    I have a Sun Enterprise M4000 server that has the fault light on. In order to clear the fault light, I must run the "clearfaults" command on the service processor. You must get a special password from now Oracle in order to execute the command... I should be able to run the command myself without paying Oracle for a support contract.
    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      I would agree. This sounds like extortion.

    • by dalias ( 1978986 )
      I have an easier way to make the light go out: clip the cable.
    • I had a friend who, years ago, was running an old Altos 8086 based Unix machine. Altos was already out of business, but the disk format command required a password. My friend ran strings -a on the format binary, and happend to notice the string "sotlA" in the binary, which was the password.

      Pop the ROMs and see if you can find the password in them. (You may need a heat gun to do that though...)
  • don't get it (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:32PM (#41885117)

    I'm a MA voter. I read the law. It sounds like the data needs to be made available in a standardized and un-encrypted way for all future cars. If you have all ready conceded to making the info available, what is the problem in doing it in a non-proprietary way?

    That was a rhetorical question. I'm voting yes.

  • Not that I don't agree with it personally it doesn't really affect me. I've always been able to track down whatever code I've needed on the internet. I understand an actual garage may not to want to rely on the internet for all it's needs, but for me personally just like I'll make due with the $20 Haynes and not the $800 Bentley manual I don't really need officially blessed. But then I'm not in the business either.
  • With a title like "Right to Repair", I thought I was going to be reading about another state trying to duplicate the purpose of California's so-called "Lemon Law", which literally is a 7-year right-to-repair mandate not just for automobiles but all mass-produced consumer goods with a cost over $100. In California, thus, manufacturers are obligated to make available the parts and documentation necessary to keep a product in service for no less than seven years.

    This Massachusetts proposal seems to be a lot more limited and specific to vehicles.

    • It's not like CA's lemon law, it's even more important. This is about having the keys to your own car's diagnostic data, sometimes fairly literally as you can't even get the data out (let alone understand it) without doing weird things to the PCM.

      • by macraig ( 621737 ) <mark@a@craig.gmail@com> on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:03PM (#41885503)

        They serve two completely different purposes, then. California's law was about thwarting or reducing the impact of planned obsolescence, but it didn't mandate that consumers have direct control over the repair process; third parties were presumed to be involved. While this law is also about restoring more control from the manufacturers to the alleged owners of vehicles (only), it's not so much about planned obsolescence.

        • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

          Sounds right to me. In addition, MA also has a "Lemon Law". I don't think ours is so much about planned obselecnese as simple consumer purchase protection. That is... a consumer may cancel a sale if the person who sold it to him doesn't honor what ammounts to a mandatory 90 day warrantee. (with a $100 max deductable... and the option to, to buy back the vehicle instead of repairing it)

          It appears to apply to private sales too, but, in the case of private sales only applies to finding problems with the vehicl

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Yeah, when I read "right to repair" my first thought was about Apple. But no, this is car-only. The legislators are too short sighted to defend citizen rights against corporations unless one of the lawmakers is personally trying to fix his car and his "cheap" mechanic refused because the dealer doesn't share codes and readers or something like that.
  • by ElitistWhiner ( 79961 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @03:49PM (#41885329) Journal

    VW upgraded my new car's diagnostics software. ALL shift points, RPM ranges and throttle positions changed resulting in a new car that drives nicely like an olde lady would expect. So radical was this upgrade that it changed the handling and performance of the vehicle to something I would never buy.

    VW have refused to re-install OEM software back to the new car fitment. So MA are onto the NEXT contentious issue for consumers paying $$$ hundreds of dollars monthly for product they have absolutely no control except paying rents to manufacturers

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:15PM (#41885649)

    I run my familys NAPA AutoCare center and this year we had a 2007 Dodge Caliber come in with a customer complaint of one headlight not working.... Even after replacing the bulb.

    Only one of my techs knew that the TIPM module had to have the circuit reset with our $4,000 + Snap on scanner.

    Yes I have read that you can do something with the battery cables and I am also aware of reasons not to do this... At the end of the day, a computer was needed to change the headlight on this particular vehicle.. Kind of insane..

    • All you need to do is pull the negative battery cable and the onboard systems will reset. You'll lose the radio programming, and any other onboard counters (like oil or tire pressure) will be reset.

      It's a PITA, but we've been doing that on oil changes for decades now. If you change your own oil, you'll need to swing by Advance or Autozone (or NAPA for their "know how") to get the "Maint Reqd" light to go off.

      Or just pull the battery cables.

  • by rickb928 ( 945187 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @04:30PM (#41885849) Homepage Journal

    I made a good living servicing Selectric typewriters back in the 90s and uo to about 2002, entirely due to the court decision that forced IBM to permit independent servicers to purchase manuals, tools, and parts. And a little mechanical aptitude. Untimately it was about product owners being able to fix their own stuff, and engage whoever they wanted to. This decision had effects in other industries.

    At the least, car manufacturers should be required to publish the specs for the diagnostic interfaces, and then sell the manuals (reasonable price was part of the IBM decision, IIRC) and let us service what we do in fact own. If they are claiming that the software is licensed, not sold, we need to have that fight.

    FWIW, I drive a 1998 Saab 900 SET Convertible. What a fun car. If you hose up the top, for instance repositioning any of the potentiometers that feed back position data to the computer, you will be going back to the dealer or someone who purchased the very expensive Tech II tool, which is not just an OBD2 reader, but interfaces with various onboard computers and make settings etc. I've done some terrible things to the top so far, and no need to reprogram, but that's just because I was warned in advance. My local dealer gave me the radio code when I had the battery replaced - they didn't have to do that for free, but they did. I'm pretty interested in this, since I prefer to buy beaters, and soon there will be no such thing, just high-mileage cars that need trips to the dealer to solve specific onboard computer problems.And there will be more, not less. problems with this. Despite major improvements, I don't see these onboard computers getting that much better, and the automobile is a terrible environment for anything like that. With Saabs, the 9000 was notorious for problems figuring out just which computer was causing the error, and the TCS system would put you in limp mode at the drop of a hat. Perfectly good car, just the computer choosing to be broken. ABS, climate control, seats, top, etc, there are 7 computers I know of in the 1998 Saab 900, not counting ther SID and cruise control...

    And Saabs, of course, are orphaned. Why would they withold info if there is no more business to protect? Mine can suffer any number of problems and that's the end of it, no part to fix it with. Windshield moldings seem to be gone now, so you use generic rubber. Parts for the top are becoming terribly precious.

    • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

      The IBM consent decree (1956) was a corrective action taken because of a classic anti-trust violation. IBM was using it's dominance in one area (making tabulating machines) to get an unfair advantage in another area (servicing tabulating machines). Note that this decision did not spell the end of IBM. Instead of charging high rates for service, they switched to charging higher prices for the machine itself.

      The same thing will happen here. As soon as there is a law requiring manufacturers to open up thei

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2012 @05:18PM (#41886391)

    As a mechanic (some time...) that specializes in electrical / electronic / computer issues, here are some thoughts:

    The meaning of "non discrimnatory price", as used in the ballot question will be tied up in lawsuits for years. I can tell you that most of the independent shops out there *CAN NOT* afford to buy Factory Diagnostic Software or Hardware, as a business matter, for more than one or two oem's. Now, granted a lot of this stuff is available via piracy...

    Now, if a shop does a lot of one particular make, then yes, it will invest in the "official" factory diagnostic equipment.

    Just to give you an idea:
    Early 1990's to current Ford Motor Company brand vehicles: Ford IDS (software) / (VCM) hardware combo. price aprox $3,000.
    Circa 1980 to early 1990's Ford brand vehicles: Ford / Hickok "NGS" (price aprox $700 on ebay) (antiquated, but highest PID update rate on these vehicles)

    And, it's even worse for the independent heavy truck repair shops out there:
    (purchase cost + subscription, does not count the specialized interface hardware)
    Caterpillar ET software: $1,200.
    Cummins Insite software: $1,200.
    Detroit Diesel software: $1,800.
    Thats the most expensive, but there are a lot of other systems on heavy trucks are computerized too, and take additional expensive propritary software packages to diagnose and service.

    For anyone out there who thinks the most expensive diagnostic equipment from Snap-On or OTC is equal to factory, You're wrong. Even the most expensive aftermarket diagnostic equipment out there, has functionality gaps compared to the OEM stuff.

    FYI: Now your "average" shop around the corner is usually running a mid range scanner (~$3,000.) taht can do most of the things a mechanic actually needs day in day out. But when you get some whiz-bang software / electrical / electromechanical issue, you get the wrong diagnosis and ineffective / expensive repair. If you have a good honest mechanic, He'll tell you he's limited and suggest a dealership performed service. It's not ideal, but it's having integrity.

    Now as a computer / software hobbyist:

    Even If I want to code up my own GPL'd diagnostic software, I am limited as to the diagnostic and special test functions that I can implement.

    Standard OBDII functions, no problem, It's a semi open standard promulgated by SAE. J1939 standard functionality for heavy trucks, no problem again, another semi open standard promulgated by SAE.

    Now lets say i want to implement a standard cylinder contribution test (standard diagnostic test you run all the time). Much more difficult. In today's world You have to license (directly or indirectly) the proprietary protocol info from each manufacturer (under very restrictive terms) you want to implement code for. So that pretty much, kills that.

    If you were really hard core about implementing open diagnostic software that could do all (are some sub-set of) the propritary functions for a particular vehicle / engine manufacturer, then you're looking at some serious embedded hw/sw reverse engineering. And,in many cases prior to the mid 1990's, you have multiple proprietary protocols within a given manufacturer / model / year / controller range. That said, there was code and protocol reuse, but... That's why the "open" diagnostic software out there today just doesn't do the specialized stuff. Yet, anyway...

  • OBD II (Score:3, Informative)

    by TigerPlish ( 174064 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @05:25PM (#41886471)

    I'm an old-car junkie. I have none right now, but I have in the past. I spent 3 years as a mechanic for the USAF, and I've wrenched on every car I've had to some extent or another. My last car was OBD I, it blinked, like Capt Pike, to tell you things.

    Now I have an OBD II car. The amount of data it captures is remarkable. One would need a sizable battery of old-school analytical tools to match what OBD II gives you for free. You just need to pay a little for the scanner.

    For today's car, you need an OBD II reader with freeze-frame capability. Less than 100 bucks. Or, you can get a wi-fi OBD II dongle, and use one of the multitude of scanners and realtime dataloggers for a variety of platforms, iOS and PC included.

    Hearing all the whining about how modern cars are not for the shadetree mechanic makes me wince. All it tells me is that people are unwilling to adapt, change and learn new tricks.

    I've used a 90 dollar OBD II scanner, a forum and the car's Factory Service Manual to diagnose and conclusively repair the two Check Engine Lights I've had. I tracked both down to dirty solenoid connectors. Why were they dirty and grimy? Long story, but the source of this trouble has been vigorously flogged, and they've lost my business forever.

    The language in TFA is weird. What exactly is this info that makers are allegedly holding back? If by "holding back" they mean spend the $120 on the factory service manual, then don't be such a cheapskate and pony up the dosh. I have the FSM for my car. The real FSM, not some Haynes or Chilton wannabe. Every single code my car uses is in there, and I can read them all with a 90 dollar OBD II scanner with freeze-frame. For some of the more exotic things you need a datalogger that records OBD II data realtime. Like I said above, lots to choose from for multiple platforms.

    The info is available, you just have to pay for it. Is that so much of a burden?

    Mechanics of old had to keep a battery of test equipment (ignition testers, tach/dwell meters, exhaust analyzers, etc) and had to keep up-to-date reference material, all of which cost money. Why should today's mechanics be any different? What, you want the car's codes for free? Na. You need to shell out the $$$ to get the factory service manual. You've always had to.

    • Er, the problem is most (all?) car manufactures use proprietary codes apart from the standard ODB II's standardized diagnostic trouble codes. Some are very useful, like enabling sport mode, or setting the RPM ranges for gear shifting. Some people have found these through trial and errors, some are yet to be found. The manufactures should publish these. If it is a feature on my car, I need to know about it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by EmagGeek ( 574360 )

      The problem you will run into with this approach is that OBD-II only defines a minimum standard of telemetry data that is available at the port.

      Manufacturers are free to add to that minimal dataset in any way they wish, using any type of encoding or obscurity to hide their meaning.

      The minimal set of OBD-II diagnostic codes is pretty useless for determining what ails your vehicle. You might get an evap leak error, but that only tells you there is a leak in your evap system. The manufacturer extended codes wi

  • by slew ( 2918 ) on Monday November 05, 2012 @05:53PM (#41886757)

    Apple should be paying close attention to this. One day, people will demand "right to repair" for thier iDevice and Apple will be sitting where the car manufacturers are today...

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"