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MA Ballot measure: "Availability of Motor Vehicle Repair Information"

After looking at VoteSmart.org, I find that one of the ballot measures I’ll be voting on is regarding the “Availability of Motor Vehicle Repair Information”. As I read the summary, and the measure text, (http://votesmart.org/elections/ballot-measure/1737/availability-of-motor-vehicle-repair-information) it seems to me that it’s trying to make more available the info that’s already available to us geeks who plug a gizmo into our OBDII receptacle under the dash. What am I missing?
Also, it seems self-contradictory, because it wants to make the same diagnostic info available to everyone, but also says that it would NOT require manufacturers to divulge proprietary info, or trade secrets. Wouldn’t such secrets be the only stuff currently unavailable to us geeks with gizmos?
Can anyone shed some light on this?

  • K

You’re talking about the “Right to Repair” act which is a pretty divisive issue in the automotive community. It’s impossible to properly maintain and repair a modern car without extensive service information and access to manufacturer software and technical bulletins. The $100 code reader and so-called scan tools and gizmos that geeks plug in under the dash are nothing like the diagnostic and repair systems that professional competent shops use.

On the face of it, Right to Repair seems to have the public in mind, giving access to service and repair information to the DIY motorist and the independent shops many people use. In other words, you or your favorite independent shop would have access to everything they need in order to properly maintain and repair your car, as opposed to being “locked out” of the system forcing the driver to take the car to the dealer.

The problem with this is that none of the above is true. All the equipment, service info, and software updating (aside from safety recalls and a few things from Euro makes) is available to anyone anywhere anytime. No one is locked out of anything. When your local garage complains that they have to send your car to the dealer because they’re the only ones with access to the equipment, they’re wrong. It’s just that they haven’t bought the right stuff.

When a guy bought a new Oldsmobile in 1965, he could buy a tool set, order a complete factory service manual and go about maintaining his car from day one. He didnt get the wrenches and manuals for free–he had to buy them. The same is true today, except now we’re talking scan tools and software. “Right to Repair” would have carmakers giving the stuff away.

I really don’t know much about this. One thing I really liked with my Rivieras though with the touch computer screen, is I could go into diagnostics at any time. I could see what all of the sensors were doing, any codes that popped up etc. Then just go to the repair manual for the diagnostics. It was really informative for me and helped to understand the inter-relationships of the various sensors. I can’t see why all cars could not have this feature since it is all in the computer anyway. You just need to be able to access the ECM. So that much I would be in favor of. I might even be in favor of providing a CD of the service manual with the car. What would it cost, $5 max per car? Those interested would have the information, and those not wouldn’t bother to read it.

Now obviously a $20,000 plus piece of diagnostic equipment with all of the updates, plus a trained person to interpret the information is something else again. Actually I’ve used Onstar a couple times and you just call them up and they tell you what code is set and tell you further what it could be. I could even go for that as being a required service. But all in all I don’t mind paying the $125 or so to have diagnostics done by a competent person.

I’m in agreement with asemaster’s comments and could see several problems with this measure.
One would be whether people are really going to be aware that the measure says that a car owner or independent shop has to pay for that info and whether being presented a bill for that info is going to create a ruckus.

Two would be if an independent shop pays for the service, tacks on 50%, and then botches the diagnosis and/or repair anyway. This could lead to the ind. shop then trying to lay the blame off on the car dealer or manufacturer with the “their info told me…”.

Luckily I haven’t had almost zero problems with our vehicles…but when I do…I NEVER have taken to the dealer. Either I fix it myself or take it to a trusted independent. Neither myself or the independent have had any problem what-so-ever getting the information needed to do the repair.

@MikeInNH, that’s the whole point. There is absolutely no need to legislate that service information and equipment be available to anyone–it already is. Those who say that they can’t get needed info, software, downloads or equipment are too cheap or lazy to find it.

@ok4450, "if an independent shop pays for the service, tacks on 50%, and then botches the diagnosis and/or repair anyway. This could lead to the ind. shop then trying to lay the blame off on the car dealer or manufacturer with the “their info told me…”. That’s another very good point. Lots of these places that advertise “complete auto service” couldn’t fix a sandwich, much less a car. They wouldn’t know what to do with complete service information anyway, yet the want to get it for free.

The problem has been that some manufacturers like Volvo and VW have kept their information proprietary. The “Right to Repair” bill is intended that they provide access to their repair data at reasonable prices, such that all shops can read their fault codes and provide service to their vehicles.

If the populace wants this law then there should be an addition to it. That would be that any request for info be accompanied by a specific VIN and then code that info into the system at the car manufacturer and dealer.

That way, when Customer John Doe comes in with a problem car or warranty issue it can be quickly determined that someone else was stirring the stew so to speak. Mr. Doe can then be pointed to the door because some cars in situations like this simply aren’t worth the aggravation of bringing through the service bay doors.

I also wonder what a reasonable price would be? Engineering is non-stop and entails millions of dollars even on vehicles and unit parts that are now obsolete when bugs have to be sorted out. This leads to TSBs, Recalls, and so on and I can’t see enough users at 9.95 ever meeting a break-even point.

Make it 49.95 and the complaint then will be gouging.

Offhand, it sounds to me like the Napster thing. The artist spends years and countless hours producing a copyrighted album and then people got upset when their source of free music was cut off.

@mountainbike - Since I’ve never owned a VW or Volvo I didn’t know that. You may be right. And if that information is proprietary then they should release it. This happened to the computer industry 30+ years ago. IBM was sued by Memorex. Memorex made disk and tape drives that ran on IBM’s mainframe computers (for about half the price). IBM made some subtle changes to their systems and Memorex disk and tape drives no longer worked. They sued saying that it was unfair competition. IBM LOST. It’s not all cut and dry, but in general companies are suppose to NOT hide that information that make it impossible for other companies to compete. I’m amazed that there has to be a special law for this.

Mike, to me it’s kind of like the different software philosophies of Microsoft vs. Apple. Apple chose a “closed architecture”, Microsoft chose an “open architecture”.

I have mixed emotions about whether this should be controlled by law. The free market is what allowed Microsoft to prosper over Apple. And I think that auto manufacturers pay the price of maintaining proprietary software as well. People don’t need to face the problem too often to look for something more owner-friendly for their next vehicle. Perhaps if there is a law it should require manufacturers who restrict their technology to somehow advise consumers in their advertising and let the consumers be free to make the choice.

The free market is what allowed Microsoft to prosper over Apple.

Actually Apple is LARGER then Microsoft. But that’s a different point.

Working in the computer field for 40 years I have a different view on the market. I worked on IBM mainframes. IBM was trying to control EVERYTHING. They sniffled competition. I’m going to say that if IBM was allowed to keep doing what they were doing…then we wouldn’t even be close to where we are technologically. I’ve been working in the Telecom industry for over a decade. Take a look at the leaps and bounds the telecom industry took AFTER AT&T lost their monopoly.

I do believe in a free market. But I think companies having complete control like that is NOT a free market.

It may be GREAT for the company…but NOT very good for the consumer.

Wow. I was unaware that Apple had surpassed Microsoft.

My feeling is that allowing manufactureres to behave in this manner and suffer the consequences of its actions is the basis of the free market. But I understand your perspective. I’m commenting on the auto manufacturers’ market, you’re looking at it from the perspcetive of the repair and maintenance marketplace.

This has been discussed here before at great length- http://community.cartalk.com/discussion/2142434/right-to-repair-bill-in-ma

One aspect that may not have been floated in this latest go-round is witholding information that gives your preferred vendors a leg up. Microsoft has done this since day 1. There are lots of commands that are only disclosed to their preffered developers to give them a leg up on the competition. No reason to think that automobile manufacturers wouldn’t do something similar in support of their dealer franchised service centers. Hey, you can eventually fix the car with the data we provided to the unwashed masses but not as effectively as our service centers can with this enhanced data stream…

I agree with @TwinTurbo about that the information can be made available, but at a cost or at a way that it’s there…but not necessarily ALL the information. But enough information to get the job done…just that the dealers may have a little more information that makes it easier for them.

Much of this can be reversed engineered.

I’d just HATE to see a car that GM or Toyota made that can ONLY be worked on at the dealer. Would it be OK for Toyota to manufacturer a car that requires a special key that only the dealer has just to unlock a box so you can change the oil filter?? This may be extreme.