Join 3,496 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Taking back the catalytic converter.
May 20, 2009 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Bob Barr and Ralph Nader support the Right to Repair Act of 2009 -- to protect the rights of consumers to diagnose, service, maintain, and repair their motor vehicles.

"This aptly named bill would allow independent repair shops to compete for the business now guaranteed only to dealer-controlled establishments. This is important because car manufacturers now severely limit the number of repair shops that are allowed to have the tools, diagnostic codes and updated repair information essential to being able to repair late-model cars (which are heavily dependent on computers for performance and repair)."

Full text here. Status updates here. Click here to sign a petition.
posted by puckish (271 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
An internet petition? This is serious.
posted by found missing at 1:23 PM on May 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Click here to sign a petition.

Ooh! An on-line petition! They must be serious!
posted by dersins at 1:23 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Damn you, found missing!
posted by dersins at 1:23 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


hey!
posted by found missing at 1:24 PM on May 20, 2009


Really, an internet petition?
(just kidding)
posted by ddaavviidd at 1:24 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't mean to be an alarmist, but the state of intellectual property law is worrisome. Basically, auto manufacturers are using IP protection to prevent (presumably cheaper) mom-and-pop shops from tinkering with their products. Considering the recent news about genes being patented, does this mean that biotech companies could do the same thing? Will we only be able to go to Myriad- or Amgen-certified doctors to get treatments? It's apparently already stopping some people from receiving relevant care...
posted by spiderskull at 1:26 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Car Talks guys support this, so I do, too.
posted by alzi at 1:27 PM on May 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


Quick synopsis: Late-model cars are dependent on computers and electronics which dealers are locking to their own diagnostic equipment. Not buying OEM diagnostic equipment would violate the DMCA. Clever.

Would be nice if they'd just rewrite the DMCA with abandonment clauses or time limits.
posted by geoff. at 1:30 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I signed the internet petition, but then I learned that my car signed a competing internet petition behind my back.
posted by found missing at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


It does raise a broader question--as we move to hybrids and plug-ins, what will the gear-heads do? Who will be able to repair your car by the side of the road? Will you be able to do small repairs at home anymore? We'll all be like Doc Hollywood, trapped in small towns, waiting for our flux capacitors.

(I am all in favor of advanced vehicles, by the way, but to me it's an interesting question).
posted by oneironaut at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2009


Way to go Nader. If only he was our president then this issue would get the attention it deserves! He would sit int he oval office, regal, majestic, cranky, and send out internet petitions to world leaders.
posted by tkchrist at 1:32 PM on May 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Nader's appearance on Sesame Street was particularly memorable because it was the only time that the grammar of the last line of the song--"A person who you meet each day"--was questioned and corrected in the show. Ralph Nader refused to sing the grammatically incorrect line, and so a compromise was reached, resulting in Ralph Nader singing the last line as a solo with the modified words: "A person whom you meet each day."

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:33 PM on May 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


It's a shame that often times the internet and many of its products and tools are not taken seriously as examples of the wonderful things that can happen when information is publicly shared and allowed to be improved upon by anyone with the passion to figure it out. Especially as it 'threatens' to make the older, established ways of doing things obsolete.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:36 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christ, what an asshole.

That's nothing. He helped Dubya serve two terms as President.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:40 PM on May 20, 2009 [20 favorites]


Can we just pass a law that you get no copyright protection if you don't provide the source code please?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Irregardless, as much as we need a Right to Repair Act, we really just need to repeal DMCA or punish DMCA abuses by corporate interests.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:41 PM on May 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


If you think that all it takes is the right scan-tool to fix your own late model car, help yourself. We'll see you at the dealer when you or some other shop screw everything up.
I mean, should all of the training and special tools be made available, too? I work at a dealership and go to classes four or five times a year to stay current on the vehicles that I service. The computer tools and reference material don't get you very far unless you're extremely familiar with the technology.
Just ask yourself if you want just any old mechanic putting a brand new airbag or ABS control module in your car.

Over the past couple months, we've already seen a rash of vehicles come through our shop that have been mutilated, in one way or another, by an do-it-your-self-er or an aftermarket shop.

Also, having worked in a non-dealer shop, I can tell you that nobody wants to take on the financial liability of getting involved in repairs that they're not trained on. To an independent tech, replacing the more involved and complex computer control systems in a car looks like the worst quagmire and is to be avoided at all costs.
A more sophisticated shop, however, already has access to the high-end dealer-level scanners. Just run a search for companies like VAG-COM or Autologic. This stuff is already out there, for a cost. And don't say they need to be cheaper. The diagnostic computer at our dealership cost our shop 20 grand. In the auto industry, you have to pay to play.
posted by Jon-o at 1:42 PM on May 20, 2009


He also would have been the first real Arab president. It's like the difference between the Real Ghostbusters cartoon and Hanna-Barberians in a jalopy.
posted by kid ichorous at 1:45 PM on May 20, 2009


Irregardless, as much as we need...

erm...
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


What's sad is that the free software community used to point to cars as an example of the value and sanity of free software / unencumbered tinkering. "Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?" was the hypothetical question.

I guess the actual answer is, "Yes. Yes we would." Americans are losing that curiosity and drive to experiment, and it's going to bite us in the ass. See also chemistry sets and biohacking.


Relatedly, I've been thinking for a while the Libertarians and Greens would actually make a good team. There are a lot of issues both agree on, including intellectual property laws, biotech and sustainable farming issues.
posted by formless at 1:47 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I mean, should all of the training and special tools be made available, too?

Yes.

Which part of "hiding information to lock in customers" are you not getting?
posted by rokusan at 1:50 PM on May 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


"Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?" was the hypothetical question.
I guess the actual answer is, "Yes. Yes we would." Americans are losing that curiosity and drive to experiment, and it's going to bite us in the ass. See also chemistry sets and biohacking.


Nicely put. This, to me, is the real issue; proprietary concerns trumping the common good all the way to hell on a highway paved with alleged good intentions ...

Never trust a closed shop.
posted by philip-random at 1:51 PM on May 20, 2009


That's nothing. He helped Dubya serve two terms as President.

No he didn't.
posted by shmegegge at 1:52 PM on May 20, 2009 [10 favorites]


erm...

I was just riffing on Nader's and Metafilter's grammar fascist tendencies. No harm meant to the prescriptivist community.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


If you think that all it takes is the right scan-tool to fix your own late model car, help yourself.

yeah, I think there's a legitimate need to see whether uber-tools are a cause or a symptom of the unrepairability of cars. They night as well pass a Internet Repair Act that allows end users to modify the BGP tables in their ISP's routers. (note: this is a really bad idea).
posted by GuyZero at 1:55 PM on May 20, 2009


It does raise a broader question--as we move to hybrids and plug-ins, what will the gear-heads do? Who will be able to repair your car by the side of the road? Will you be able to do small repairs at home anymore?

Electric cars are WAY simpler than current combustion engined ones. There's just a motor, some electronics, and the mechanics in between. The former is copper coils. You can test those with the same tools you check electrical systems in cars with (namely, a multimeter). The bearings and gearbox should be familiar to any mechanic.

Now, the electronics -- amplifiers, DC-to-AC converters, etc. consist of relatively old tech. Servicing them is not really a big deal -- you test some high-power FETs and replace blown fuses.
posted by spiderskull at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


No he didn't.

I don't want to help a derail, but if his Florida voters supported Gore (even given those Nader voters who would have stayed at home and not voted at all) — failing that, he took money from the GOP in 2004 — it's safe to say that we would be living in a markedly different country today.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2009


In the campaign, Nader argued vehemently that there was no difference between Gore and Bush. Now I'm supposed to start trusting his judgment?
posted by found missing at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's about consumer freedom, Jon-o. You don't seem to believe in it.

If you think that all it takes is the right scan-tool to fix your own late model car, help yourself. We'll see you at the dealer when you or some other shop screw everything up.

So be it. At least I am free to try. You're arguing a win-win situation for yourself anyway, in that either the customer brings their car into your shop or messes it up somewhere else, ensuring that they have to... bring their car into your shop. Sounds like your only arguing because of that small minority that actually fixes it themselves and doesn't need your help.

I mean, should all of the training and special tools be made available, too?

Training should be available at whatever price two people are willing to exchange information for goods or services. Training doesn't have to come from the manufacturer, anyone that knows how can teach. As for the special tools, I'm of the opinion that if you can't open it, you don't own it, so I believe manufacturers should make tools available to everyone, but this is private enterprise and I don't believe in forcing them to do so by regulation.

Also, having worked in a non-dealer shop, I can tell you that nobody wants to take on the financial liability of getting involved in repairs that they're not trained on.

That's my decision to make, as I own the car and also am responsible for that liability if I make a mistake.
posted by TheFlamingoKing at 2:01 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


If they were really serious they'd take it to Twitter.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 2:03 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


So what you're saying is that if I'm in business, I need to train and invest in my competition?

The reality of the situation, from the perspective of an industry professional, is that the information isn't really hidden. Aftermarket companies make the tools and equipment to access vehicles on a dealer level. Repair manuals are pretty inclusive, too. I can say that pretty safely, having worked both in and out of a dealership.

Dealers aren't purposefully "locking people out" of their vehicles. In order to offer more features, more performance, lighter-weight vehicles, and so on, the high speed computer network has become a fast-growing automotive system. If it wasn't for networking, the wiring harness in a car would weigh more than the engine and transmission combined.
That being said, the complexity of the networks and the complexity of the individual computer functions requires specialized tools, equipment, and training to understand and service correctly.

There are independent techs who make their living by investing in the dealer-level technology and traveling from shop to shop and making repairs that a small shop isn't equipped to get involved in. If a small shop wanted to be able to work on every vehicle at a dealership level, they would have to buy over a million dollars in hard tools and about a half a million dollars in soft or computer tools.
I mean, I have complete access to all the resources that my manufacturer has to off, I work on these cars every day, and it's STILL HARD WORK.
Ever hear the expression "Jack of all trades, master of none?"

What many of you probably don't realize is that the parent manufacturer doesn't just give us all of this stuff for free. A dealership is a franchise and we have to BUY ALL OF OUR SPECIAL TOOLS from the manufacturer. If our scanner breaks, we've got to shell out the twenty grand for a new one.

You're perceiving an unfairness that doesn't really exist.
posted by Jon-o at 2:04 PM on May 20, 2009


NO USER SERVICEABLE PARTS INSIDE is an invitation to most people I know.
I endorse this legislation.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:05 PM on May 20, 2009


Americans are losing that curiosity and drive to experiment

No we're not. We're losing the time to experiment and learn to do these things. We spend more time commuting in traffic, at our jobs, clawing around in the rat race just to make ends meet than ever before. Curiosity has become almost a luxury due to time constraints.

That, and shit's gone all complicated and shit.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:05 PM on May 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think consumers should have the right to pay unqualified people to fuck up all after-sale property. I think dealerships should consider this as job security, something sorely lacking these days. Everybody wins!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:07 PM on May 20, 2009


Relatedly, I've been thinking for a while the Libertarians and Greens would actually make a good team.

I'd call it the Greenback Party.
posted by qvantamon at 2:10 PM on May 20, 2009


I'd call them the Graspers and Gaspers.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:18 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


If our scanner breaks, we've got to shell out the twenty grand for a new one.

Is that the fault of:

(a) consumer
(b) franchisee
(c) franchiser

My dad wanted to adjust the timing of his Moto Guzzi and had to spend 300 dollars on a custom-wired serial cable and software. Ten years ago, he might have simply turned a screw head a quarter turn.

Let's face it: The main purpose of a computer controlling everything in a motor vehicle is to protect revenue streams.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:19 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jon-o has a valid point in that modern cars employ more complex systems and controllers. The problem though is that the automakers still often provide (provided) old-school warranties on those systems, which means that after 3 or 4 years, when your idle gets rough, you could be told that you need a new $800+ "computer", instead of a simple cleaning or adjustment, or changing one small part.

The complexity of modern cars is one reason why people often won't hold onto them for more than a few years - the repair costs are potentially a black hole.

If the car of the future can't be independently maintained and repaired, that's one less incentive to own a car and keep it for a long time. Maybe the new ownership model will be all leasing or renting.
posted by Artful Codger at 2:20 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Addionally, we're overlooking the anti-theft aspect of this conversation. Many of the expensive computers in a vehicle are "component protected" which prevents them from being stolen from one car and installed in another. When replacing a control module, with the vehicle connected to the scan-tool, I log on to our manufacturers server and authorize the replacement while I'm making the repair and code that module specific to that vehicle.
Is that kind of access going to be made public, too?
Look at how that kind of protection has reduced radio theft. It's sucks to come out to your car to find that your $200 radio has been stolen. Think of how much it would suck to try and start your car only to find that someone has stolen your $1300 engine control module.
posted by Jon-o at 2:22 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am in favor of this legislation.

I own a 10+ year old GM car. The specifications for doing routine repairs, like bleeding the ABS brakes with the assistance of the ABS computer, have never been published. Yet GM makes a tool for dealers that allows them to do just this.

If I want to bleed my brakes like the dealer does, I have to go on eBay and buy the special GM tool. It costs $1000, used. Without this tool, I have a lower chance of getting out all the air from the brake lines, meaning the repair takes longer and my car is less safe to drive.

You would think that in the decade since the car was made, someone would have reverse engineered the process and published it, but in the free market, when someone does manage to do this, they tend to create a tool that they then sell for slightly less than the official one.

If GM had published the full specs for communicating to the car's computer, there would be more choice for DIYers like me as well as independent mechanics, and we'd have safer cars to boot.
posted by zippy at 2:23 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


The main purpose of a computer controlling everything in a motor vehicle is to protect revenue streams [run integrated systems that are 100 times more complex than in the old DIY models to meet strict new safety and emissions standards].

Repaired that for you.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:26 PM on May 20, 2009


/end asshat subroutine
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:29 PM on May 20, 2009


A dealership is a franchise and we have to BUY ALL OF OUR SPECIAL TOOLS from the manufacturer. If our scanner breaks, we've got to shell out the twenty grand for a new one.

The fact that the manufacturers are screwing the dealerships with locked-in technology doesn't make it right for the dealerships to pass that screwing on to customers. You're defending a disgusting practice by saying "Hey it happens to us, too."

The manufacturers are to blame, of course. Imagine if instead of shelling out $20,000, you could choose from a wide variety of replacements made by different toolmakers, or build your own. Imagine if what made customers choose you was your skill or customer service quality, rather than the fact they have to deal with you because you have the fancy equipment.

That scanner is not worth $20,000. That's just how much they can take advantage of you for.
posted by rokusan at 2:31 PM on May 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Let's face it: The main purpose of a computer controlling everything in a motor vehicle is to protect revenue streams.

No. The main reason for a computer controlling an engine is because it's more precise, more flexable, it has adaptation built in, and it's VASTLY better for emissions.
Car's aren't adjustable any more because the computer is capably of making every single necessary adjustment. It prevents people from playing with their idle screws until their car pollutes.
Precision computer control has single handedly reduced emissions by over 90% over the past twenty years.

And if you want high performance, if you want to hack your car, there are plenty of companies that make aftermarket computers and flash-programmers for your vehicles ECM. Don't whine about being locked out. Cars are more tuneable than ever, if you want to get involved in that arena. If your car came from the factory with a turbo, chances are that for less than five hundred bucks in after market sofware, you could add over a hundred horsepower, just by modifying the computers conservative parameters. How's that for do it yourself hacking?
posted by Jon-o at 2:31 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jon-o: If you think that all it takes is the right scan-tool to fix your own late model car, help yourself. We'll see you at the dealer when you or some other shop screw everything up.

I've been working on my own cars my whole life, but I still need mechanics sometimes. I've gotten screwed over, overcharged, and completely ignored by every dealership I've ever worked with; but, looking around a little, I've always found private shops that are better. Anecdotal evidence, yes, but this seems to be the experience of every mechanically-minded person I know.

I mean, should all of the training and special tools be made available, too? I work at a dealership and go to classes four or five times a year to stay current on the vehicles that I service. The computer tools and reference material don't get you very far unless you're extremely familiar with the technology. Just ask yourself if you want just any old mechanic putting a brand new airbag or ABS control module in your car.

First of all, tools: the whole point is that there are far too many 'special tools' necessary now. Take diagnostic computers, for example: like, $1000 for a good one that works with a late-model car. What the fuck is that? I have a computer in my shop; why the hell can't I buy a USB plug that reads the codes and software that shows them? Because the auto makers know that they're making lucre off of their licenses to the manufacturers? And because they know they're keeping their dealerships in business by giving them an edge on the competition?

Over the past couple months, we've already seen a rash of vehicles come through our shop that have been mutilated, in one way or another, by an do-it-your-self-er or an aftermarket shop.

I would humbly suggest that these types of people are the ones most likely to bring their cars to a dealership anyhow. Sample bias.

Also, having worked in a non-dealer shop, I can tell you that nobody wants to take on the financial liability of getting involved in repairs that they're not trained on. To an independent tech, replacing the more involved and complex computer control systems in a car looks like the worst quagmire and is to be avoided at all costs. A more sophisticated shop, however, already has access to the high-end dealer-level scanners. Just run a search for companies like VAG-COM or Autologic. This stuff is already out there, for a cost. And don't say they need to be cheaper. The diagnostic computer at our dealership cost our shop 20 grand. In the auto industry, you have to pay to play.

Like I said above, this is simply bullshit and nothing more. A diagnostic computer that costs $20,000? Jesus Christ. Seriously, are you going to tell me this thing is some kind of supercomputer? Does it do 100 teraflops or something? Call me nuts, but I've looked at these things, and I'm dead certain there's not more processing power there than you'd find in an average home computer. Yes, these things could be cheaper. But they're not—why? Because the auto makers know that, beyond the money they make on licensing, they're driving their competition out of the market.

Can you give me one good justification for a piece of relatively simple—yes, relatively simple; I'm sitting here in front of a 64-bit Hewlett Packard Notebook computer, and I'm sure these diagnostic computers aren't more sophisticated than that—electronics costing twenty grand beyond "you have to pay to play?" You shouldn't have to pay to play; you should be good to play.

If you want to limit the mechanic's market, do the right thing: regulate mechanics further with government controls. But there's no way that the free market will do the job rightly, especially considering the fact taht the market is controlled by companies that have a stake in keeping it small.

And on the subject of training: you can say that 'nobody wants to take on liability,' but the fact is that I've had more trust for the few obsessives that know every part of every Ford or Subaru made between 1990 and 1998 simply because they went out of their way to focus on it than I ever will for the people who were forced to take a training class at the Ford dealership. In auto work more than anywhere else, you learn by doing; and a large part of the valuable knowledge that people can have about a car is the stuff the maker can't teach you: the real-world lifetime of a part, the little quirks that appear when you start running a car in its natural environment. I'll take the mechanic who's a car geek by choice over the mechanic that's had the 'official training' any day, for the same reason that I'd trust a person who can hand-code at five lines a minute and recite common registry entries from memory a hell of a lot more than someone who's Microsoft Certified™ trained in every area; because they clearly care a hell of a lot and they've put in the work to show it.
posted by koeselitz at 2:32 PM on May 20, 2009 [16 favorites]


Also, if GM gives you the procedure for bleeding your ABS control unit and you screw it up, resulting in damage to your vehicle or to yourself (ABS runs at thousands of p.s.i.) either during the procedure or after your brakes fail if you do it wrong, GM would be on the hook for all of that damage.
posted by Jon-o at 2:34 PM on May 20, 2009


It's Raining Florence Henderson: The main purpose of a computer controlling everything in a motor vehicle is to protect revenue streams [run integrated systems that are 100 times more complex than in the old DIY models to meet strict new safety and emissions standards].

Repaired that for you.


Oh, bullshit. Have you looked under the hood/heat shield of these things? They're still just internal-combustion engines, and most of the 'safety and emissions standards' were met in exactly the same way by cars Volvo was making twenty years ago; they're not space ships. That's just what the car companies want you to believe.
posted by koeselitz at 2:34 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Hooray! Cory's on the case!

And, of course, he calls it "DRM".

Oh, and Barr and Nader = Congress.
posted by Ratio at 2:35 PM on May 20, 2009


Jon-o: Also, if GM gives you the procedure for bleeding your ABS control unit and you screw it up, resulting in damage to your vehicle or to yourself (ABS runs at thousands of p.s.i.) either during the procedure or after your brakes fail if you do it wrong, GM would be on the hook for all of that damage.

Huh? Since when?

Why is it so hard for an auto maker to limit liability and still release information? Have you read the GPL? That's precisely what it exists for: as an absolute and complete denial of liability and warranty in case of misuse or damage.
posted by koeselitz at 2:38 PM on May 20, 2009


Thankfully in Canada the most important knowledge you need for auto repair -- how to disassemble parts united in rust by road salt -- is free.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:39 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just ask yourself if you want just any old mechanic putting a brand new airbag or ABS control module in your car.

Strawman alert! Strawman alert!!

I want my indy mechanic doing that work; he's had his shop for more than 15 years. In that time, countless families have brought all their cars there for all repairs and maintenance; they keep coming back because they get good, honest service at a fair price--things they too often don't get at the stealerships. He's quoted me prices on things that are dramatically better than stealership quotes and the work's been fine.

I get that there are good, honest mechs at the stealerships--I've known some of 'em. But it's too often f'd up by beancounters and higher-ups chasing numbers and getting sweaty at the thought of spending a fat bonus on Club Med and blow and maybe they could dangle those enticements, finally score with the kinda cute gal at the strip club. Because she really is interested.
posted by ambient2 at 2:40 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Seriously, fuck Ralph Nader.
posted by mullingitover at 2:41 PM on May 20, 2009


Also, manufactuers don't design every single component on their vehicles. Companies like Delphi, Bosch, Valeo, Siemans, etc all bid to supply manufacturers with components and even entire vehicle systems.
What if Bosch designs some really awesome piece of equipment that's specialized in some way that requires some new service tool? Should that be a dealbreaker for a manufacturer that wants to build a competative car? No! They'll award the bid to Bosch and then sell the special tool to their dealers.
There are so many special tools because every model year, there's a new innovation that needs to be serviced.
posted by Jon-o at 2:44 PM on May 20, 2009


Jon-o: Look at how that kind of protection has reduced radio theft. It's sucks to come out to your car to find that your $200 radio has been stolen. Think of how much it would suck to try and start your car only to find that someone has stolen your $1300 engine control module.

You're right! How could I have been so blind? The only reason thieves aren't stealing engine control modules is because they're component protected!

That's why they keep stealing my fuel pump and my injectors.
posted by koeselitz at 2:46 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


And if you want high performance, if you want to hack your car, there are plenty of companies that make aftermarket computers and flash-programmers for your vehicles ECM. Don't whine about being locked out. Cars are more tuneable than ever, if you want to get involved in that arena.

This varies greatly from one manufacturer and model to the next. My car, was produced pre- and post- OBDII. Most tuning companies have ignored the newer OBDII model, despite it being a popular car (4 different car makes sharing the same engine and transmission).

There wasn't a large enough production run of the OBDII version for reverse engineers to amortize their costs over, and the manufacturer never released the specs on the engine computer beyond the bare minimum for emissions testing (see my post above about bleeding the ABS system).

So newer cars are not always easier to hack, due to many factors including the production run of the car compared to older models with similar (but just different enough) equipment.
posted by zippy at 2:48 PM on May 20, 2009


The main purpose of a computer controlling everything in a motor vehicle is to protect revenue streams [run integrated systems that are 100 times more complex than in the old DIY models to meet strict new safety and emissions standards].

Repaired that for you.


Maybe you could repair my car. Mechanic added an oil rerouting kit and a new heater core, and now it won't start without me turning the key twice or three times. He shrugged his shoulders and said that it was probably the anti-theft system, which is a $2000 repair. Two other mechanics shrugged, said the anti-theft system is fine and suggested other work that is equally expensive.

The main safety feature that computers add is protection of the car companies' bottom lines, by designing the car to be so complex that most repair work involves swapping out expensive parts. The DMCA just helps the government help protect the car companies' profits. It's socialism of the acceptable kind.

Reminds me of the line in Robocop:

"I had a guaranteed military sale with ED-209...renovation program...spare parts for twenty-five years! Who CARES if it worked or not."

If Microsoft forced you to buy the time of a Microsoft technician, along with Microsoft diagnostic software and Microsoft anti-spyware software when your computer's operating system gets hosed, there'd be a lot of pissed off Mefites.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:48 PM on May 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


if his Florida voters supported Gore (even given those Nader voters who would have stayed at home and not voted at all)...it's safe to say that we would be living in a markedly different country today.
According to the Florida Department of State election results for president in the 2000 election, Bush beat Gore by 537 votes, 2,912,790 to 2,912,253. Nader got 97,488 votes in Florida. If 99 out of 100 Florida Nader voters had stayed home and 1 out of 100 had voted for Gore he would have won Florida, and the election.

posted by kirkaracha at 2:51 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


If Microsoft forced you to buy the time of a Microsoft technician...

You're not familiar with the MCSE certification then? Microsoft makes plenty of money by forcing/scaring businesses to hire Microsoft technicians.
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: "No he didn't.

I don't want to help a derail,


you mean the one you started? the one you've started many other times his name has come up? that derail? fine, let's not help it. better yet, let's not start it from now on!
posted by shmegegge at 2:53 PM on May 20, 2009


Jon-o: What if Bosch designs some really awesome piece of equipment that's specialized in some way that requires some new service tool? Should that be a dealbreaker for a manufacturer that wants to build a competative car? No! They'll award the bid to Bosch and then sell the special tool to their dealers. There are so many special tools because every model year, there's a new innovation that needs to be serviced.

If car companies aren't sitting down and thinking about the impact to their business model and to the competition of their dealerships when they sign licensing agreements with other companies like Bosch, then they're a lot stupider than anyone in Washington has claimed thus far. Stupider, in fact, than I can believe.

It can't just be a 'happy accident' for the auto makers that their actions have just happened to push smaller companies out of business and home mechanics out of their shops, resulting by mere coincidence in a higher profit margin for them.
posted by koeselitz at 2:54 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Strawman alert!

Look, I'm sure that your neighborhood mechanic is great. I was a great neighborhood mechanic too. But a small shop is limited to mechanical repairs and basic electrical repairs. The amount of training required to stay completely current and 100% knowledgeable about the advancements in technology and the differences in all makes and models from year to year would necessitate training for 7 months out of the year and only working the remaining five.

Any time a new car comes out, I go to a WEEK long class on it and I only specialize in one make. And it's not a bunch of BS either. The technology is legitimately different from year to year. And the amount of variation within one manufacturer is outrageous, also.

Indy mechanics have better prices because they have lower overhead, buy cheaper parts, and are desperate to undercut their local competition and the dealership. That used to be me.

Also, any half-assed decent mechanic can look at the repair manual, see the PICTURE of the special tool, and make one himself. I've done it about a dozen times.
posted by Jon-o at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're not familiar with the MCSE certification then?

Having worked tech support for roughly seven years, most people who run tech support shops understand the true valuation of an MCSE, I think.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:55 PM on May 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Nadar will always and forever be an inherent derail. Nothing you can do about that now.
posted by found missing at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


At this point I only ever let trained specialists that I trust (experience and recommendations from similar car owners) fiddle with my car (a 2007 Audi).

Past experiences with random shops have almost invariably resulted in a car that technically works but everything is off in terms of performance, handling and response. Yes they're still just combustion engines but at least the ones I've been driving need to be finely tuned or they'll run like a squeaky shopping cart (which usually also means they use more gas).

My current strategy is to find out where the dealerships/carmakers send their new high-end models to be fixed both mechanically and bodywise (if they're damaged during transport to the showroom or if they're being restored as certified pre-owneds after some reporter test-drove them across the Sahara). Those have been the best shops in my experience (and they're usually not the dealer's service dept).
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:56 PM on May 20, 2009


Nadar will always and forever be an inherent derail. Nothing you can do about that now.

To some extent, given his history, I wonder if he hurts the causes he supports, more than helps. I hope this legislation passes, regardless of his involvement.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:02 PM on May 20, 2009


Jon-o: Also, any half-assed decent mechanic can look at the repair manual, see the PICTURE of the special tool, and make one himself. I've done it about a dozen times.

Agreed. The real overhead is in diagnostic computers.

And I know for a fact that there are people (not me, unfortunately) who could, with little or no difficulty, reverse-engineer a diagnostic computer and build one of their own for, say, $100.

The only trouble is that the people who can do that rarely are in communication with the people who need diagnostic computers.

When will one of you supergeeks do this? It'd be pretty awesome, and it'd strike a blow against 'the man.'

Of course, until the software source is open, it won't make a penny, since the manufacturers still hold the license.
posted by koeselitz at 3:03 PM on May 20, 2009


Jon-o - Have you even read the thing?

"The most important thing the right-to-repair legislation does would be to require that car manufacturers make the tools and diagnostic information needed to repair their vehicles available to independent repair shops, on the same basis as to their dealer-operated shops."

How is that not fair? The law will give independent shops the same access (along with the same costs) that dealerships have.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:08 PM on May 20, 2009


Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?"

An apt question, and one I find myself contemplating more and more with technology. With computers, I've almost totally switched over to using laptops in my day to day life, and because of that, I have in essence bought a machine that is welded shut. I mean, I can easily upgrade the RAM or replace the hard drive, but for more serious issues, I'm kind of in the dark most of the time. So I accept that in this aspect of my life, I'm going to have to rely on the manufacturer and I know that going in.

Weirdly though, I find myself pushing back against this with cars. I'm growing more and more reticent to upgrade to a current generation automobile, as I don't like the fact that I can't easily do a lot of the work on it myself. And the strange part is that I normally don't even want to work on my own car. Outside of simple maintenance like replacing my starter or alternator, I'll happily hand over the car to someone better trained than me when a repair is needed. But it raises my hackles that I'd be limited to a single place where I can get work done so I've found myself sticking with older and older cars that I can take anywhere.

I guess the difference is that with a computer, as a tool, I can fairly easily replace it if it isn't doing what I need. With a car, if it isn't working, I'm pretty much trapped until I can get it fixed.
posted by quin at 3:08 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jon-o: Indy mechanics have better prices because they have lower overhead, buy cheaper parts, and are desperate to undercut their local competition and the dealership. That used to be me.

You're looking at it from the perspective of someone working for a dealership.

From the perspective of independant mechanics, they:

  • don't have to pay for cruft, and can focus on quality

  • don't have to rely for their overhead on a notoriously shifting business model

  • aren't saddled with the rules and regs of the manufacturer, which prevent a mechanic from fixing any badly-designed or inadvertant parts of the vehicle.


  • You say they have lower overhead and buy cheaper parts; but my Volvo mechanic (one of the best I've had) buys only OEM and keeps a database (he's shown it to me) of all the parts that they've put in that have failed according to manufacture; so, when he goes to replace (as he's doing right now) my fuel pump, he can say, "I've had x manufacturer's pump die on me, but the OEM one is a lot sturdier." He has this database mostly memorized, so that I've been amazed when I've offhand mentioned the front left fender or the right windshield wiper or the secondary fuel pump or some such and he's said, "yeah, the OEM part is flawed; we've found another manufacturer that works better." It is awesome to have a mechanic that's obsessive about the cars he's fixing; my car may be ten years old, but unless this legislation passes, I don't think there will be people like this in another ten years.
    posted by koeselitz at 3:12 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Blazecock Pileon: "Nadar will always and forever be an inherent derail. Nothing you can do about that now.

    To some extent, given his history, I wonder if he hurts the causes he supports, more than helps.
    "

    Christ, me too. On that I am completely in agreement. Remember when he used to actually accomplish good things for people? Seems so long ago. Oh, that's because it is.
    posted by shmegegge at 3:15 PM on May 20, 2009


    You're looking at it from the perspective of someone working for a dealership.
    No. All of my statements about independent shops are the result of having worked at one.

    The profit margin on making the kind of "locked out" repairs (which are the topic of discussion) is very low. Something like a failed ECM is very difficult to diagnose (many customers hate paying for diagnosis, by the way) and the labor involved in replacing it is pretty minimal. Not many independent shops are willing to make the investment of time and equipment involved in that kind of diagnosis and then take a thousand dollar (part cost) risk if they're wrong. They'd much rather stick to high profit jobs like timing-belts.

    Good tools are expensive. I know, I buy all of my own. I know the cost of what it takes to actually work in this industry, in and out of the dealership. I don't complain about how much a quality voltmeter or compression tester costs. I grit my teeth, pay the price, and know that my diagnostic equipment is more accurate than my competitions and I'll profit more from that.
    Proprietary scan-tool equipment is the same as any other tool in my tool box. If I think it'll make me money, I'll make the investment.

    What nobody here really realizes is how much is actually available to the aftermarket. Any time you've been turned away from an independent shop isn't because they can't fix your car, it's because they're using the technology as an excuse to avoid getting involved in your complex diagnosis or unfamiliar technology. If a shop really wants it, they can get it.
    posted by Jon-o at 3:30 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Have you looked under the hood/heat shield of these things? They're still just internal-combustion engines, and most of the 'safety and emissions standards' were met in exactly the same way by cars Volvo was making twenty years ago; they're not space ships. That's just what the car companies want you to believe.

    I have, actually. My chainsaw is also "just [an] internal-combustion engine," but I wouldn't try to drive it on the freeway. For clarity, both of my sons work in the auto industry - and not for auto makers or dealerships - so I'm definitely not arguing in favor of dealership controls. However, my car is an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle with the following features:
    Electronic On-Demand 4WD; Automatic Limited-Slip Differential (Auto LSD); Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control (TRAC), Power-assisted ventilated front disc brakes and solid rear disc brakes with 4-wheel Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist;
    Electric power steering (EPS): power-assisted rack-and-pinion with electronic power-assist; Hill Start Assist Control (HAC); Downhill Assist Control (DAC); Cruise control with brake deceleration feature; Direct Tire Pressure Monitor System (TPMS); Driver and front passenger Advanced Airbag System; Driver and front passenger front seat-mounted side airbags and front- and second-row roll-sensing side curtain airbags.

    Now granted - these aren't your "just meeting the standard" basics (and I just quickly grabbed this list from an online list of features, so I apologize in advance if one or two of these aren't actually linked to my computer system), but they aren't bullshit add-ons mimicking things that a 20 year-old Volvo used to do better with a steam pump and an abacus in the good old days, either. My point is that computers can add real value to a car's safety, performance and usability. I'm all for making it easier for customers to work on their own vehicles and for non-insiders to compete. I just don't agree that the computers are only in there to assure the dealer monopoly. Yes, I mourn the day when I used to be able to fix my own car. But not enough to forgo the features that are now too complex for me to fix. In fact, sucker that I am, I actually paid extra for a few of those features. Sure, you can build machines that don't need them, but they aren't honestly going to be comparable machines. For better or worse, we're talking apples and oranges, here. Or apples and lemons, as the case may be.
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:31 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I know the cost of what it takes to actually work in this industry

    And I know that anyone who pays $20,000 for a diagnostic computer is being fleeced.
    posted by oaf at 3:33 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Also, back to component protection:

    The reason that nobody's stealing fuel injectors out of your car is because they're relatively cheap and smash-and-grabbers aren't going to have the endless variety of different sockets that it might require to remove the fuel rail. Electronics are the best smash and grab targets because there's typically not much holding them in.
    That's not something that can be said about the infotainment control head in your late model German vehicle. Y'know, the one on the fiber-optic data bus and costs two grand because it has the sat-nav, sat-radio, and bluetooth modules built in.
    posted by Jon-o at 3:36 PM on May 20, 2009


    Having worked tech support for roughly seven years, most people who run tech support shops understand the true valuation of an MCSE, I think.

    And yet they cost thousands of dollars and everyone has one. I agree that it's a pretty empty certification as an idiot can get a MCSE and still be an idiot. But my point is that MSFT does exactly what you're saying people would complain about.
    posted by GuyZero at 3:42 PM on May 20, 2009


    Relatedly, I've been thinking for a while the Libertarians and Greens would actually make a good team. There are a lot of issues both agree on, including intellectual property laws, biotech and sustainable farming issues.

    Yes, mostly where they are both wrong. Anyway, how do Libertarians and Greens (both of which come in a large number of flavours) agree on biotech and sustainable farming? Greens would like to regulate biotech strictly (indeed, in Europe they stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Catholic church on such issues as stem cells), whereas most Libertarians would be more offended by such regulation than by human-jellyfish hybrids. As for sustainable farming, the Libertarians' take on "sustainable" is: "whatever the farmer wants and can pay for", which is hardly the same as the Greens'.

    Anyway, such an alliance would be highly fissible: just mention "greenhouse gasses" and watch the fur fly...
    posted by Skeptic at 3:43 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    the stealerships

    Oh man, last time I went to the stealerships, there was this vending machine in the lobby and I tried buy a can of Croak-a-Cola from it, but the damn can got stuck inside, so I tried shaking the machine to get it out. The result was that the machine fell on my face, breaking all my teeth, so I had to go to my dumbtist to get them repaired. She, of course, recommended that I floss more often and brush my teeth with Crust after every meal. I was like, "yeah, I know I should, but it's weird to carry my toothbrush to work at Goldman Sucks, everyone would laugh at me." She said she was worried that I cared too much about the opinions of others, and recommended that I find a good therapist. I said, "if I cared what others thought of me, I wouldn't have shaken that Croak machine." She said, "touche."
    posted by notswedish at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2009 [14 favorites]


    So, my question is:

    If I think the hospital is too expensive and these doctors are withholding proprietary information from me, I can just start doing surgery in my basement? CAT scan machines are too expensive and they should make them cheaper and easier for me to operate myself.

    Oh, but I might hurt myself or hurt someone else so I need to be specially trained and certified before I start cutting people open.

    But, we should just let anybody work on thinks like adaptive cruise control, stability control, traction control, and supplemental restraint systems, right. Those don't require any training or proprietary knowledge.
    posted by Jon-o at 3:52 PM on May 20, 2009


    As far as I am concerned, Ralph Nader burned all his automotive credibility with me when he killed the Corvair with his lies.

    Suck it, Nader. Suck it long, and suck it hard.
    posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 4:03 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    You're seriously comparing surgery to car repair? Well, I guess Americans have gotten used to getting screwed over by both industries...

    P.S. You still haven't explained why a diagnostic tool with all the computational power of an NES costs more than my last four vehicles combined, if it's not simple protectionism.
    posted by Dr.Enormous at 4:08 PM on May 20, 2009


    "But, we should just let anybody work on thinks like adaptive cruise control, stability control, traction control, and supplemental restraint systems, right. Those don't require any training or proprietary knowledge."

    Why are you trying so hard to ignore the actual law you're arguing against? The law wants to open access to the proprietary knowledge. That's it. It assumes right up front that this work requires special knowledge. That's the point.
    posted by y6y6y6 at 4:27 PM on May 20, 2009


    I'm not comparing the activity, I'm comparing the consequences and liability. Poor quality car repair can kill or maim you just the same as poor surgery. Also, you should take the time to look into how difficult diagnosis and repair of late model cars can be. You might appreciate your mechanic more.

    Let me tell you about why our diagnostic tool costs so much, since you're a skeptic and a cynic. Imagine a device the size of a new iMac that's fully ruggedized, has a number of different probes and built in meters that interface with different vehicle systems, has a large color touch screen. It also has an oscilloscope and five-gas analyzer. The $20k also includes a number of break-out boxes for testing modules while they're in the system. It has a lot more power than an NES, by the way.

    I'm not sure people understand the scale of what would be involved in being able to fully service every vehicle on the road.
    Here's an example:

    Say that four brands offer blind-spot vehicle detection whereby a radar system in the bumper can alert the driver if there is a vehicle in their blind spot. (Ps. This exists, for real.) Now, say that these four brands each went to a different provider for this system. That means that all four systems get calibrated a different way. I know from experience that calibrating this system requires a literal array of reflective calibration boards and takes a huge amount of space to store. I'm sure that a body shop, if they had the resources could buy all four arrays that it would require to service all four brands when they replace bumpers. But who's gonna do that? Who's going to make the investment of time, space, money, and employee training to be able to service every blind spot detector, every radar guided cruise control system, and so on and so on?

    You've got to understand that due to the complexity of todays vehicles, it doesn't matter if it's all made available because nobody's going to get involved in most of these repairs unless they're EXTREMELY specialized.

    Also, any shop can call up a dealership parts department and order special tools over the counter. But again, only the dedicated and specialized make that kind of investment.
    posted by Jon-o at 4:27 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    But my point is that MSFT does exactly what you're saying people would complain about.

    Until Microsoft lobbies the federal government and gets legislation passed that require service be done by Microsoft technicians less you suffer criminal and civil penalties, it's probably not really a comparable point with what automobile companies are trying to do here.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:41 PM on May 20, 2009


    Also, any shop can call up a dealership parts department and order special tools over the counter. But again, only the dedicated and specialized make that kind of investment.

    You're making a fine argument that technicians are equipped to use certain tools. I couldn't argue with you about the value of the tools you use, and nor would I want to. But you're missing the point:

    What you haven't explained to anyone's satisfaction is why car companies should be allowed to coerce the legal system to restrict the use of said tools. Specifically, they are abusing the law to restrict tools and knowledge to a certain, select monopoly of service providers.

    It is not obvious why lifting the application of that law would adversely affect your ability to purchase and use the tools to do your work. Nothing in this bill actively prevents you from making a living, other than your own anguish over not being able to charge whatever you please to a captive market.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:49 PM on May 20, 2009


    "You've got to understand that due to the complexity of todays vehicles, it doesn't matter if it's all made available because nobody's going to get involved in most of these repairs unless they're EXTREMELY specialized."

    I'm pretty sure you're just making that up in your head. The idea that independent shops will go out of business if they have better access to tools and training is silly.
    posted by y6y6y6 at 5:07 PM on May 20, 2009


    Let me tell you about why our diagnostic tool costs so much

    It would cost less if the manufacturer weren't able to abuse their monopoly power.
    posted by oaf at 5:09 PM on May 20, 2009


    Poor quality car repair can kill or maim you just the same as poor surgery.

    It's true; home mechanics and indy shops are why there's a rash of cars exploding and running off the road all over the country.

    Imagine a device the size of a new iMac that's fully ruggedized, has a number of different probes and built in meters that interface with different vehicle systems, has a large color touch screen. It also has an oscilloscope and five-gas analyzer.

    Oooh, an oscilloscope and gas analyzer. Well, in that case..

    I've spent my whole life working in laboratories. You can (and I have) run much fancier equipment than that off of a 150 MHz CPU running Windows 3.1. I'm not even an engineer, and I can think up three different types of gas analyzers that you could build with mostly Radio Shack parts. But I guess yours has a color touch screen.

    And I appreciate my mechanic just fine, because unlike the dealerships, he never lied to me
    posted by Dr.Enormous at 5:09 PM on May 20, 2009


    Specifically, they are abusing the law to restrict tools and knowledge to a certain, select monopoly of service providers.

    Why should it be legal to force companies to train their competition?
    posted by Jon-o at 5:20 PM on May 20, 2009


    >Why should it be legal to force companies to train their competition?


    When you start thinking about your customers as your competition, you're going down the wrong path.
    posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:29 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


    Why should it be legal to force companies to train their competition?

    Well, for one thing, so somebody can repair my damn car when Saturn stops existing.

    And, yes, GM is still around, and yes, my car is quite repairable by other mechanics. But for fuck's sake, in a day and age when auto companies are coming apart at the seams, the disadvantages of vendor lock-in for a multi-thousand-dollar object become increasingly obvious.
    posted by Tomorrowful at 5:48 PM on May 20, 2009


    Law or no law, you can handle it this way: Never, ever buy a new car in your entire life. Buy a three-year-old car with low milage. It will have lost half its retail value at least, and been driven perhaps one-fourth of its useful life span. There are so many cars in America right now it's absurd. We could stop making the things entirely tomorrow, and I doubt there'd be a real shortage for at least 5 years, if people could content themselves to drive perfectly good used cars for a while.

    It's a crazy viscous cycle we're in. So many good cars get dragged off to the junkyard over minor collision damage because the repair would cost more than the value of the vehicle. The vehicle has no value because the market is flooded with new ones. What a frigging waste.
    posted by Devils Rancher at 6:22 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


    When you start thinking about your customers as your competition, you're going down the wrong path.

    Any mechanically inclined person can still do routine things to their cars. Anyone can change spark plugs, air filters, brakes, oil, etc, on just about any car on the road today.

    Anyone can buy a couple hundred bucks of laptop based diagnostic software and look at all of the on-board data that a trained technician can access. But unless you have training and experience, an average person will probably have no idea what they're looking at.
    Like I said, there are plenty of companies that make dealer-level software for just about any make or model.

    But should manufacturers train anyone other than their authorized technicians?
    I worked hard to gain exclusive knowledge and experience that gives me an edge in a competitive industry. How else do skills and abilities have value?

    And the dealer doesn't have a lockdown on their vehicles. Recently, I've seen more and more routine maintenance find its way to independent shops. I do fewer and fewer high-profit jobs like brakes and front-end repair as customers look for better deals than the dealership. There's no monopoly there. The kind of work I've been seeing more of is the big pain in the ass stuff that independents are reluctant to get involved in like transmission repair and various electrical nightmares.
    posted by Jon-o at 6:25 PM on May 20, 2009


    Irregardless, as much as we need a Right to Repair Act, we really just need to repeal DMCA or punish DMCA abuses by corporate interests.

    Especially because you USians are forcing your DMCA crap into everyone else's laws. I hope everyone signs the internet petition to affect some change, or this whole progress thing isn't going to be worth beans. Tell those lazy fat fucks in Congress to shape up!

    did i miss any recent memes?
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:25 PM on May 20, 2009


    Addionally, we're overlooking the anti-theft aspect of this conversation. Many of the expensive computers in a vehicle are "component protected" which prevents them from being stolen from one car and installed in another. When replacing a control module, with the vehicle connected to the scan-tool, I log on to our manufacturers server and authorize the replacement while I'm making the repair and code that module specific to that vehicle.

    That doesn't exist to prevent theft, it exists to prevent consumers from exercising their right of first sale. It's a scam.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 6:27 PM on May 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


    Jon-o, you make good points about why the official dealer tools (and presumably the Snap-On work-alikes) cost a lot. They're professional tools designed for high-volume use. So yes, they're ruggedized and they're probably designed for abuse from all directions. I understand this, because I know that professional cameras (for example) are built for greater durability (and a smaller potential buying audience) than the cameras I buy.

    In the case of this legislation, I'm not asking that GM sell its tool for below cost, I'm asking that they publish the standards that their electronic tools use to communicate with the car, in the same way that they publish the details of the transmission internals or the electrical system.

    If they simply say "here is the standard for communicating with the ABS computer on car X, and here are the error codes for this subsystem and what they mean," then it is so much easier for people like me to build tools to adhere to these standards.

    In my case, I am happy to go with a Craftsman level tool rather than a Snap-On one. I'm just working on one car (mine) and I am not going to benefit greatly from a completely ruggedized, bulletproof tool.

    With a published spec, there's a much greater chance of someone building a Craftsman-level 'prosumer' tool that I can use to work on my car. And that's fine with me.

    Hell, with a published spec, even I have a shot of creating the tool. I've got an EE and CSE background, so writing solid tools to spec is no problem. The problem currently is that, unlike every other part in the car, no matter how simple (air filter), or critical (valves and springs, fuel injectors) or complex (transmission), the specs for the electronic systems are not published, so I have no chance of understanding and working with these systems unless I buy the special dealer tool. I don't need the dealer tool (though I'd love to buy one), I need someone to make a solid work-alike that I can use in my application. Published specs make this more likely.

    Sure, it would let some Chinese company make a "150 in 1 ABS brake bleeder," but it would also allow an informed, skilled shade-tree mechanic to understand and work with the vehicle as the designers intended.

    The ruggedized dealer tools are not the specification, they are an embodiment of the specification.

    I don't need their source code, just the APIs that they have already produced and published internally that allowed them to develop the ruggedized dealer tool. With these specs, I can make my own tool, open source coders can make their tools that run on laptops, and Sears can make their pro-sumer priced non-uber-rugged tool.

    That would make me happy.
    posted by zippy at 6:54 PM on May 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


    I'm asking that they publish the standards that their electronic tools use to communicate with the car, in the same way that they publish the details of the transmission internals or the electrical system.

    It's tricky because they don't always own all of that information. Any number of systems or modules could be manufactured or included in the vehicle under license from another vendor and the vehicle assembler (GM, etc) might not have the rights to publish some of that information.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:25 PM on May 20, 2009


    And too much open-sourcing can result in negating fantastic anti-theft advancements like vehicle immobilizers that use key-to car communication to prevent hot-wiring completely.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:29 PM on May 20, 2009


    It's tricky because they don't always own all of that information. Any number of systems or modules could be manufactured or included in the vehicle under license from another vendor and the vehicle assembler (GM, etc) might not have the rights to publish some of that information.

    Understood. This is a common problem in the computer hardware world too (especially with graphics cards and wireless networking devices).

    I think that part of the problem, in the car case you describe, is that the vehicle assembler has no incentive to request or require the parts manufacturer to give the assembler the right to publish the information.

    I suspect that if it became a priority for GM, they would find a way to work with the parts manufacturers on this issue. I see legislation like this as making it easier for GM to secure the rights from its suppliers, in the same way that they currently get the rights to publish detailed information on the electronic emissions systems, due to emissions legislation in the US.
    posted by zippy at 7:41 PM on May 20, 2009


    It's a crazy viscous cycle we're in.

    We're in the thick of a sticky situation, one might say.
    posted by dersins at 7:43 PM on May 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


    Jon-o: And too much open-sourcing can result in negating fantastic anti-theft advancements like vehicle immobilizers that use key-to car communication to prevent hot-wiring completely.

    And too much open sourcing can result in making computer systems that are less secure because people who try to crack the system already know how…right?
    posted by koeselitz at 9:00 PM on May 20, 2009


    And too much open-sourcing can result in negating fantastic anti-theft advancements like vehicle immobilizers that use key-to car communication to prevent hot-wiring completely.

    Obscurity isn't security. Don't pretend it is.
    posted by oaf at 9:13 PM on May 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


    Anyway, how do Libertarians and Greens (both of which come in a large number of flavours) agree on biotech and sustainable farming?

    Here are several issues with sustainable farming and biotech that they probably agree on:
    Agricultural subsidies benefit larger farms/businesses and are unfair to small farms. FDA regulations and rules also unfairly impact small businesses and remove choices for consumers (e.g. raw milk). Many civil libertarians don't like the intellectual property restrictions that have been placed on genes in custom seeds and other agri products. Greens obviously aren't fans of Monsonto and other companies that use these policies to harm farmers in third-world countries.

    For a great example, look at Joel Salatin (some previous posts).
    posted by formless at 9:30 PM on May 20, 2009


    And too much open-sourcing can result in negating fantastic anti-theft advancements like vehicle immobilizers that use key-to car communication to prevent hot-wiring completely.

    I'm sorry, but this is completely false. PGP isn't weak because it's open-source. Being open-source only makes it stronger. Security through obscurity doesn't work, even for cars.

    Your fantastic anti-theft devices are just that. Fantastic.
    posted by formless at 9:37 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    There's a lot of misinformation in this thread (Jon-o seems to be the only one who knows what he's talking about here). There are published specs for the minimum diagnostic data link requirements, hardware and serial data protocal, for any OBD-2 compliant vehicle. This means anything sold in the US from 1996 on. This information is available to anyone that wants to make what is called a generic scanner. This will allow you to read and clear diagnostic codes, as well as monitor engine parameters in real time. I don't have a link in front of me, but you can buy software for your PC along with a data link converter that will allow you to do this yourself, and it isn't very expensive.

    However, these scanners don't have the manufacturer-specific device controls that command actuators to do things like bleeding brakes, or slewing idle speed. If these commands are done at the wrong time they can destroy an engine or cause an accident, and some dickhead will sue us. Think of this as like the limiting caps that carb adjusting screws had in the 1970's - the vehicle is certified to pass emissions by the manufacturer, and if it's tampered with it will probably emit more pollution, violating its certification - that's what the 100 hp plus aftermarket cals do (some of them also advance spark, causing knock and holes in pistons).

    One last point - the reason the dealer tools cost so much is that there is a hell of a lot of engineering involved in creating and updating the whole diagnostic system, of which the actual piece of tester hardware is one small part. There's a tremendous amount of software in all of the different modules in a modern car - it's much more complicated than a PC or Mac (and when is Apple going to open source its software?).
    posted by rfs at 9:40 PM on May 20, 2009


    I don't want to help a derail, but if his Florida voters supported Gore

    Regarding the 2000 election, whatever you do, don't blame the faulty voting systems, don't blame the discarded votes in Republican counties (in many states), don't blame the organized disenfranchisement of minorities in FL and many other states, don't blame the Bush campgaign for their dirty tricks and don't blame the media for their unfair treatment of Gore and FOX for its downright biased reporting. Don't blame the starry-eyed Catherine Harris, James Baker, or the terrible, terrible decision by the Supreme Court. Don't blame any of this.

    Blame Ralph Nader. He was the most honest voice of that campaign (even though he's turned sort of cranky and obnoxious in recent years). Yeah, blame him and forget all that other stuff.
    posted by zardoz at 9:45 PM on May 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


    I don't expect to troubleshoot my laptop to any great extent. I can replace the memory and drive, I might be lucky and have a removable wireless controller, and that's about it. Can't even replace the CPU. Can't even fix the power plug: it's proprietary.

    I do expect to perform an oil change and change the brakes on the car. I'm not entirely sure what else there is I could do. It's all way the hell beyond simple mechanisms and circuits. I've got an OBDCII reader, but I've doubts it'll ever provide actionable information. Even if it could control the engine to a fine degree, it would not be able to perform the kinds of digital-to-analog-to-digital system diagnostics that a specialist machine could perform. With all the sensors packed into a car these days, you can test for efficiency by manipulating the inputs and analyzing different stages of the output. No little consumer-level OBDCII reader is going to be able to do that for every make and model of car out there.

    I've admitted that it's all way beyond at this point. The car, it goes back to the OEM shop, just like the laptop goes back to the service center, same with the TV, same with most everything.

    Strange that for all the technology and proprietary systems, today's cars aren't appreciably more efficient than they were thirty years ago. Downright weird, that.
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:14 PM on May 20, 2009


    rfs writes: This information is available to anyone that wants to make what is called a generic scanner. This will allow you to read and clear diagnostic codes.

    My ABS threw a code recently. The ABS system scan codes for my car have not been published. So I do not have access to the easiest way to tell which sensor is off, unlike the dealer. Instead I have to follow the manual steps in the factory service manual, testing each sensor individually. So even in this simpler scan code case, published specs would help a great deal.

    But you do bring up the point that with access to the information that controls the car, I could get in trouble. Sure. Same as any repair involving a critical system. See also: brake lines, fuel lines, timing belts/gears, etc.

    (and when is Apple going to open source its software?).

    Here you go: www.opensource.apple.com
    posted by zippy at 10:16 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    “The Car Talks guys support this, so I do, too.”
    *favorites uproariously!*
    I moved from a POS truck to a BTS Jeep. So, moot point for me. Jeep is all about aftermarket and DIY.
    But yeah, the concept on this whole thing is evil. Like – any agrarian minded person can still plant tomatoes and make a garden. But should Monsanto allow any seeds to germinate other than their authorized genetically engineered crops?
    Crazy. This stuff doesn’t have to be complex. I used to have the same beef with people over outfitting and weapon systems (and defense contractors). Doesn’t matter what the best firearm is – what matters is having common ammo, parts, only having to worry about fixing one kind of thing etc. etc. That’s what keeps you alive. Why a few corporations should have this kind of lock on the majority of our transportation system is beyond me.
    posted by Smedleyman at 10:29 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Regarding the 2000 election, whatever you do, don't blame [...]. Don't blame any of this.

    That's a pretty good list, but I think you're missing the real culprits: Bush voters. Why doesn't anyone ever blame them? There were a whole fuckload more of them than Nader voters, that's for sure. You'd think they'd be the ones considered responsible.

    But, anyway, I hope this thing passes, although of course there's no way in hell it will. Eventually I guess I'm going to have to get one of these fancy-ass modern computerized cars; I'd like to at least be able to get it fixed.
    posted by equalpants at 11:10 PM on May 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


    equalpants, that would require liberals to hate conservatives more than they hate leftists, which simply isn't going to happen.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 11:55 PM on May 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


    formless Here are several issues with sustainable farming and biotech that they probably agree on:

    Agricultural subsidies benefit larger farms/businesses and are unfair to small farms.

    They most definitely don't agree on that. Libertarians perhaps. But Greens (or at least European Greens) think that some current agricultural subsidies are unfair and benefit large farms over small ones. As for the remedies: Libertarians would like to do away with the subsidies, whereas Greens are all over the place over the matter: some would agree with the Libertarians, others would increase the subsidies, but only for small organic farms. Some lambast agricultural protectionism, others would heavily penalise "food miles".

    FDA regulations and rules also unfairly impact small businesses and remove choices for consumers (e.g. raw milk).

    Again, the Libertarians would deregulate, but the Greens? Certainly not the European ones: they may be in favour of removing some restrictions on organic farming and "traditional" methods, but they are also big on the "caution principle" and consumer protection (not exactly a concept dear to the Libertarians).

    Many civil libertarians don't like the intellectual property restrictions that have been placed on genes in custom seeds and other agri products.

    But most right-wing Libertarians are big fans of any sort of property rights and would regard their removal as Communism in disguise.

    Greens obviously aren't fans of Monsonto and other companies that use these policies to harm farmers in third-world countries.

    Yes, Monsanto has a specific department dedicated to thinking of new ways of hurting poor Third-World farmers. Fer chrissakes, get real! Monsanto is just another corporation trying to make a buck. It may not be very fussy about whether this is to the benefit or to the detriment of others, but in general the economy isn't a zero-sum game: if farmers choose their products, it's generally because they believe it's also to their benefit.

    Here's what Greens and Libertarians have in common: in the US, they both have a snowball's chance in Hell of reaching any sort of real government position. They therefore can hyperventilate as much as they want about popular real and perceived wrongs without having to explain in much detail what they'd do about them, or having to bother with potential unintended consequences.

    Unsurprisingly, European Greens (at least the continental ones), who have real experience of government, are a much more circumspect bunch. Of course, all the biggest European Green parties, like the German Greens, have been before through bloody civil wars between so-called "Fundis" and "Realos". Where the realists won, the Greens have become a real political force. Where the fundamentalists won, they are still limited to the tinfoil corner...
    posted by Skeptic at 4:02 AM on May 21, 2009


    Look, I'm not saying that "obscurity is security." Your link is to a site that describes researchers hacking car door locks. Researchers.
    If immobilizer data and access were made fully public and available, someone could get a key, steal a car, code it, and have it running much easier than they would have previously. Most stolen cars these days are older Japanese vehicles because their security is easily defeatable. Higher end stuff doesn't go missing as often because of sheer investment required in gathering the technology to interface with the cars security.
    The actual teeth on newer high end car keys have very little variation between individual vehicles and many of them actually open each-others doors and turn each-others ignition. But the immobilizer is what prevents the car from firing up.
    To program these keys, the dealer logs on to the manf. server, and authorizes the key programming with the diagnostic tool linked to the vehicle. After, of course, verifying in person that the customer is indeed the vehicle owner.
    posted by Jon-o at 4:05 AM on May 21, 2009


    today's cars aren't appreciably more efficient than they were thirty years ago. Downright weird, that.

    That's false.
    Vehicle emissions are VAAAASTLY cleaner than they were thirty years ago. There were absolutely ZERO ultra-low emissions vehicles thirty years ago and now, Honda (just for example) makes a Civic that has tail pipe emissions that are cleaner than the polluted air that enters the engine.
    Todays vehicles manage to be light-years cleaner than their predecessors without being choked and under-powered by smog controls (as you might remember some cars from the late 70s and 80s being). The idea of a clean vehicle that makes over 250hp thirty years ago was UNHEARD of. Today, it's routine.
    Thanks computers.
    posted by Jon-o at 4:29 AM on May 21, 2009


    We're in the thick of a sticky situation, one might say.

    My goddam spell checker suggested that, for some reason. I spelled vicious so badly that the correct spelling wasn't even an option, I guess. Anyone waiting for good typing from me is surely backing up. And of course, that fancy edit window... nah.
    posted by Devils Rancher at 4:44 AM on May 21, 2009


    http://www.bentleypublishers.com/
    http://www.autel.us/
    http://www.asttool.com/front_page.php

    It took me maybe ten minutes to find those resources. If a shop wants to make the investment to specialize in a brand, the resources are available. I'll admit, it's not cheap. But, working in this feild, I can tell you that cheap tools (of any quality) are few and far between.

    I'll say it again:
    If your vehicle has been turned away from an independent shop, it's not because they are denied the information required to fix it. It's because the shop doesn't think it's worth while to invest in the sophisticated equipment and they're after the easier money.
    posted by Jon-o at 5:48 AM on May 21, 2009


    formless: ""Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?" was the hypothetical question. I guess the actual answer is, "Yes. Yes we would." Americans are losing that curiosity and drive to experiment, and it's going to bite us in the ass."

    Interestingly enough, Volvo had a concept car that featured no hood whatsoever, targeted at women: To work on the engine or even replace/add oil the dealership would remove the front end from below. The advantage that Volvo was touting was that you could get a loaner engine while the broken one was in the shop. I know it was designed by women "for women's needs" but really- a car that you can't even open the hood on? What kind of wimpy little twits did they think women are?

    I like girls who can change their own tires.
    posted by dunkadunc at 5:51 AM on May 21, 2009


    As much as I appreciate how hard it is to work on modern cars, hearing dealer mechanics argue against open access to specs and tools smells a bit like hearing rich people argue that rich people get taxed too much, or hearing successful CEOs argue how awesome the free market is.

    I also fail to see how consumers benefit from a system in which needlessly complex, poor, and proprietary design leads to higher repair costs and worse reliability.

    Why do you have to take off the timing belt to get to the water pump? Why doesn't the engine block slide out the front of the car on rails with bearings and kickstands so it's easier to work on? Why don't seats just pop out so I can get to the carpet under them? Why the hell is my VW "comfort module" that controls the locks and stuff under a panel under the driver's seat so that it costs $150 to just have the mechanic look at it? Why can't people design a window mechanism that's good for more than 50 uses? If you know stuff is going to break, you should design it so that it's trivial to get to. Unless of course the goal is to soak the consumer for as much money as possible.
    posted by freecellwizard at 7:51 AM on May 21, 2009


    Regarding the 2000 election, whatever you do, don't blame the faulty voting systems, don't blame the discarded votes in Republican counties (in many states), don't blame the organized disenfranchisement of minorities in FL and many other states, don't blame the Bush campgaign for their dirty tricks and don't blame the media for their unfair treatment of Gore and FOX for its downright biased reporting. Don't blame the starry-eyed Catherine Harris, James Baker, or the terrible, terrible decision by the Supreme Court. Don't blame any of this.

    You can blame all those folks, and I do, too.

    But the bottom line — the number of people in a corrupt swing state who could have voted for Gore, but chose to vote for Nader — that bottom line gave Bush enough edge to take over the country through quasi-legal means.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:12 AM on May 21, 2009


    The engine block doesn't slide out on rails because it would COST TOO MUCH to mass produce. I spend my time at the front line of the manufacturer's conflict between making lightweight and easy to assemble components and making them easy to service. I can tell you that a lot of design goes into making tightly packaged cars even serviceable, let alone easy to service. The seats don't just "pop out" because YOU would just "pop out" in an accident. Your "Comfort and Convenice" module (J393) is behind a panel because people don't want to look at a jumble of boxes and wires. It costs $150 because the facility needs to pay for technician training and the equipent to diagnose your car. It costs that money because an EXPERT is looking at your advanced vehicle. And often, after the EXPERT gives a diagnosis, the thrifty customer will buy their part and have an indepentent shop install it. Unless the customer really values expert work, that hundred fifty bucks is all we'll see of that job. And as a tech, I probably see, benefits included, about twenty bucks from that.

    What you are completely unaware of is how much money has been spent on keeping complex vehicles serviceable. The resources that go into engineering a diagnostic interface and diagnostic tools to repair the complex features of todays automobiles is what keeps the cost prohibitive. If you want a cheap car with no features, buy an old Beetle.

    I'm sorry your amazing, advanced, reliable, technological marvel of a car requires more than a greasy wrench and a mechanical inclination to repair. I'm really sorry that your car makes millions of calculations per second to keep you safe.

    You all seem to be operating under the mythology that cars can be fixed like MacGuyver with a paperclip and a drinking straw, if you're familiar with them.
    That hasn't been the case for years. The problem is that old shade tree mechanics have spent forty years hosing the public into thinking that simple cars were complex. Now that they genuinely are complex, honest technicians like me are at odds with a skeptical public.
    If you don't believe me, ask why companies like BMW, Mercedes, and VW/Audi send their new technicians to up to a YEAR of training before they let them in a dealership? Why, after years of technical school and years of experience do I still go to training twice every quarter?
    posted by Jon-o at 8:26 AM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Jon-o -

    I understand that cars are much more complex than they once were, and that we've gotten a lot of safety and emissions improvements in the same time. I guess I just don't buy the idea that cars are at some sort of peak where all the complexity is necessary, and that the smartest people in the world are unable to make any improvements. I feel like if they were twice as complicated as they are now with the same mileage, same emissions, and a $40k instead of $20k diagnostic tool, you'd be making the same argument.

    I'm not trying to pooh-pooh your years of experience at all. I'm just saying that as a consumer, I am often dissatisfied with the quality of cars I buy, and that as a pretty smart lay person, I see design choices that make no sense. Interestingly, my very good non-dealer mechanic complains pretty regularly about design problems, things that are pointlessly expensive or hard to get to, etc. So I think the car industry can do better.
    posted by freecellwizard at 10:04 AM on May 21, 2009


    Look, I'm not saying that "obscurity is security."

    If immobilizer data and access were made fully public and available, someone could get a key, steal a car, code it, and have it running much easier than they would have previously.

    Yes, you are saying that obscurity is security.

    If your vehicle has been turned away from an independent shop, it's not because they are denied the information required to fix it. It's because the shop doesn't think it's worth while to invest in the sophisticated equipment and they're after the easier money.

    Proprietary information comes with that proprietary equipment. The fact that it's proprietary does not help anyone but the OEM and its dealers.
    posted by oaf at 10:54 AM on May 21, 2009


    I see design choices that make no sense. Interestingly, my very good non-dealer mechanic complains pretty regularly about design problems, things that are pointlessly expensive or hard to get to, etc. So I think the car industry can do better.

    Um, you do know that the parts for your VW aren't made in this country, right? It's sometimes hard for dealers to get parts. If your VIN number begins with a "W," that means that OE parts for that car are going to come from GERMANY. Of course it's going to be expensive and hard to get.
    All the design choices have a point. Why's your control module under the seat? Because it's central to all the components it needs to control. It cuts down on wiring and weight to put modules close to their sensors and actuators. Many systems are modular, also. They can be installed in other vehicles with addional options and something that might look out of place in your vehicle might make much more sense in another model. Stuff that's hard to get to, in one way or another, saves money during design and manufacture and increases available options. I agree that it's hard to do some things. I have to disassemble entire front-clips for routine stuff like A/C compressor R+R some times. Get over it.

    What cars are you buying that you're unhappy about? Within the past thirty years, cars have gone from having warranties that last 12 months 12 thousand miles (or less) to having much more extended guarantees, with many companies offering 6 years 60 thousand miles. Cars used to fail, fall apart, or require significant adjustment within the first 24 months of their life. A hundred thousand miles used to be and unheard of service life. Even if I think some companies make cheap junk, the average quality of every vehicle sold in the US has gone up dramatically in our own lifetimes. That's absolutely beyond dispute.
    Modern suspension might be complex and expensive to service but todays tires can last up fifty thousand miles. That's more than some ENTIRE CARS used to last!
    posted by Jon-o at 11:01 AM on May 21, 2009


    Oaf, I've said it a few times already. THERE ARE COMMERCIALY AVAILABLE DEALER LEVEL DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS ON THE MARKET. Most shops just don't want to pay the money, invest in the training and time, or take on the liability of the complex jobs. I SAY THIS FROM EXPERIENCE. Small shops want volume and fast turn around. A small shop with four or five techs rarely wants to sacrifice the total output of the shop by getting involved in major diagnosis. Nobody has their foot on anybody's throat here.
    When a shop says, "You need to take that to the dealer," it's really code for, "I don't need that headache in my shop."
    posted by Jon-o at 11:06 AM on May 21, 2009


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jETv3NURwLc
    posted by Jon-o at 11:11 AM on May 21, 2009


    I'm with Jon-O, cars have become a lot more efficient in the last 30 years. Cars today are essentially self-tuning and (if properly designed) can run almost forever with only fluid and belt changes. Fuel injection, a computer to manage it, and sensors to provide feedback are a huge advance.

    I suspect that garages today have fewer billable hours per customer than garages of 30 or even 20 years ago because of this.
    posted by zippy at 11:14 AM on May 21, 2009


    Jon-o, having dealer level diag tools available to plebs like myself doesn't amount to a plate of beans if the manufacturer is going to serve me with a DMCA notice for distributing the information about their SEKRET CODES on the internets, even if I've reverse engineered them myself. That's the idea here.

    And if making available information about how anti-theft systems function makes them less secure, then yes, that's security through obscurity. You may be an excellent mechanic, but you don't seem to understand how PKI works.
    posted by kableh at 12:06 PM on May 21, 2009


    So, if I put my money in a bank, they should give me the code to the vault?
    posted by Jon-o at 12:14 PM on May 21, 2009


    And if you think somone is going to trust the security of their car to a "decentralized grass roots web of trust" you've got to be nuts. I bet your desktop computer doesn't cost $75k-$120k. The cars that I work on do.
    It's one thing to be able to access everything in your home computer, or your other electronics. If you mess up your computer, it'll just sit there on the desk and be broken. If a manufacturer gives out the tools to mess up their cars, they WILL get sued when you hurt yourself or someone else.

    There's a lot in a vehicle that I don't have the authorization or the equipment to tamper with or modify, even at the dealership level. There are features programmed into these automotive computers that are available in Europe and I can just change a simple code to activate them on these cars. But, I'm not allowed to because of the liability. I can't program it to open and close the vehicle windows via the remote key, for example, because if a kid gets pinched in the window, there's be hell to pay. The car is perfectly capable of it, though.

    Someone could figure out how to turn their airbags on and off and when they and their kid die in an accident, it doesn't matter that they took the responsibility on themselves. Their surviving family can still sue the crap out of the manufacturer.

    Look, if there's one thing that genuinely infuriates me, it's when my personal liberties are slighted because of other people's stupidity and ineptness. But, as smart and responsible as I'm sure everyone here is, there's no guarantee that somebody's modified or experimental software will be in ANY WAY SAFE FOR ROAD USE.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:36 PM on May 21, 2009


    Jon-o, you're missing the point of what kableh is getting at with public keys. Did you check out the link? With public keys, the interfaces can have open specs and car thieves won't be making their own keys.
    posted by dunkadunc at 12:37 PM on May 21, 2009


    Yeah, I must be missing something because I don't see how it'd work in this context.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:44 PM on May 21, 2009


    THERE ARE COMMERCIALY AVAILABLE DEALER LEVEL DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS ON THE MARKET.

    And if only one manufacturer can make the necessary part, the price goes up.
    posted by oaf at 1:04 PM on May 21, 2009


    Jon-O I bet your desktop computer doesn't cost $75k-$120k.

    Also, if cars crashed half as often as desktop computers, I'd just walk, thank you very much.
    posted by Skeptic at 1:08 PM on May 21, 2009


    So basically this thread is one guy who mostly doesn't know what he's talking about and enjoys the benefits of the inner workings of particular automobiles being treated as secrets for him to profit on and everyone else, am I understanding that right?
    posted by Pope Guilty at 1:42 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I know dick-all about cars and have no particular dog in this fight, , but from an outsider's perspective this thread appears to be ia bunch of guys who don't know what they're talking about BUT HAVE STRONG OPINIONS DAMMIT AND HAVE READ SOME STUFF ON THE INTERNETS< DAMMIT! arguing with one guy who actually does know what he's talking about because he has an insider's perspective.
    posted by dersins at 1:46 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Plus me with the multiple typos.
    posted by dersins at 1:47 PM on May 21, 2009


    So basically this thread is one guy who mostly doesn't know what he's talking

    Did we read the same thread?
    posted by jmd82 at 1:58 PM on May 21, 2009


    inner workings of particular automobiles being treated as secrets

    Give me an example. What's a secret that you'd like to know?
    posted by Jon-o at 2:02 PM on May 21, 2009


    Do you want KFC to tell you all the 11 herbs and spices, too? Or are they just profiteering from some "seeeecret" information?
    posted by Jon-o at 2:04 PM on May 21, 2009


    I know dick-all about cars and have no particular dog in this fight, , but from an outsider's perspective this thread appears to be ia bunch of guys who don't know what they're talking about BUT HAVE STRONG OPINIONS DAMMIT AND HAVE READ SOME STUFF ON THE INTERNETS<>

    And that is different from every other thread how?

    posted by tkchrist at 2:06 PM on May 21, 2009


    There's nothing that I, in particular, want to know because I don't work with cars. I'm not sure why you asked that question, unless it was for the rhetorical purpose of implying that somehow I don't have a right to ask, or that there really aren't secrets, both of which are ridiculous. You haven't made an argument in this thread that hasn't been immediately shot down as bullshit.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 2:08 PM on May 21, 2009


    And I know you're just being a condescending dick, but yes, I do believe that all ingredients in food should be disclosed to the consumer. You have a right to know what you're eating.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 2:10 PM on May 21, 2009


    See, I didn't go there. I wasn't pejorative or insulting but thanks for taking this too far, dude.

    I'm trying to lend some perspective to this as someone who's worked in the feild, in and OUT of dealerships but I can see that the majority of folks want to demonize car makers and technicians without bothering to gain any understanding about the real work that goes on.

    I thought I was being reasonable, but I guess that's too much to ask from Metafilter.

    There's a reason I hadn't posted a comment in over a year.
    posted by Jon-o at 2:17 PM on May 21, 2009


    Ever notice how it is really hard to call someone a condescending dick without being a condescending dick?

    yes, I see the irony
    posted by found missing at 2:20 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    See, I didn't go there. I wasn't pejorative or insulting but thanks for taking this too far, dude.

    Oh, totally. You were really, genuinely interested in my opinion on the disclosure of Kentucky Fried Chicken's recipes and that's why you asked.

    And look, man, sometimes you're wrong. People aren't shooting down your arguments and demonstrating them to be faulty because they're stupid meanieheads who don't know anything about anything, they're doing so because your arguments are deeply flawed. Suck it up and don't flounce just because people have valid refutations for your arguments.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 2:22 PM on May 21, 2009


    People aren't shooting down your arguments and demonstrating them to be faulty because they're stupid meanieheads who don't know anything about anything,

    In fact (again from an outsider's perspective) they don't appear to be shooting down his arguments and / or demonstrating them to be faulty at all. To someone with little knowledge of the subject matter at hand, Jon-O has appeared to be the consistent voice of reason in a thread full of ANGRY INTERNET DUDES WHO JUST WANT INFORMATION TO BE FREE, MAN!
    posted by dersins at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Give me an example. What's a secret that you'd like to know?

    I'd like to know why my car won't start up properly, that doesn't involve swapping out expensive parts like an entire anti-theft system or fuel pump, just to "try things out".
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:30 PM on May 21, 2009


    All I'm doing is pointing out that this situation is more complex and has more consequences than making personal computers and electronics more open-source.
    A car is potentially a moving weapon. Your modem likely isn't.
    I'm also pointing out, from experience (being the only person here with any, that I can tell) that there are plenty of resources available to aftermarket shops that want to specialize in a brand. This is unnecesary legislation and, as someone who works for a living, I'm concerned that my competative edge and years of hard work might be legislated away.

    What other argument is there that I'm not participating in?
    posted by Jon-o at 2:30 PM on May 21, 2009


    What's a secret that you'd like to know?

    I'd like to know why you park on a driveway, but drive on a parkway.
    posted by found missing at 2:32 PM on May 21, 2009


    I'd like to know why my small car comes equipped with the equivalent of a clown-car horn. I'm embarrassed to honk in public.
    posted by found missing at 2:34 PM on May 21, 2009


    I'd like to know why my mechanic advised me that my headlight fluid was low, when he had just replaced it the last time I was in.
    posted by found missing at 2:37 PM on May 21, 2009


    Those are mysteries, not secrets.
    posted by Jon-o at 2:43 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I'm also pointing out, from experience (being the only person here with any, that I can tell) that there are plenty of resources available to aftermarket shops that want to specialize in a brand. This is unnecesary legislation and, as someone who works for a living, I'm concerned that my competative edge and years of hard work might be legislated away.

    That's kind of arguing both sides of the issue, though, isn't it? I mean, if there are really plenty of resources and the legislation is unnecessary, then how can it also erode your competitive edge?
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:48 PM on May 21, 2009


    I'm concerned that my competative edge and years of hard work might be legislated away.

    If you can't compete, then your current job is socialized, essentially, by existing laws. This new law will not prevent you at all from making a living, if you really know your stuff and can compete in the marketplace.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:48 PM on May 21, 2009


    I'm worried that the legislation would be something of an official condemnation of dealerships and manufacturers when, in reality, a condemnatino is unwarranted. It would also give credibility to the belief that we exist to rip people off, which is not the case.
    posted by Jon-o at 3:03 PM on May 21, 2009


    I'm concerned that my competative edge and years of hard work might be legislated away.

    Competitive edge? You've stated very plainly that you don't want to compete. You want high barriers of entry to prevent people from competing with you.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 3:03 PM on May 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


    People still own cars? Suckers.

    Also, why stop at cars? Why not apply this legislation to all consumer devices?
    posted by mrgrimm at 3:30 PM on May 21, 2009


    Nobody cares what congress thinks, says, or implies about anything. They only care about the law (if that) and the result. The only way that this legislation could hurt your bottom line is if significant numbers of non-dealer mechanics are able to use this to consistently and effectively offer complete competent repair service at or below dealer pricing. You have, however, made many arguments that this will not actually be the case. The bottom line is that the status quo either gives you an unfair advantage or it doesn't. You have made many arguments that your advantage is not based significantly on withholding proprietary specifications. If that is actually the case, and you honestly believe that, then your objections to releasing those specifications seem to be mostly an emotional reaction to a perceived insult. Which I don't think is sufficient justification for making technology policy decisions.
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:42 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I won't deny that there's an emotional component at work here, too. I mean, I put myself through tech school and worked my ass off to excel. I then worked in the field as in independent tech and worked my ass off to excel. Fed up with the LACK OF INTEREST in cutting edge technology, I applied to a factory training program, worked my ass off to get in and then worked my ass off to excel at the program. Now I work my ass off at a dealership and make sacrifices to keep going to training. I earned some exclusivity, I think. And someone wants to just give that away? Any old shmo could sign up for the same training courses I take? There's two sides of the fairness coin.
    posted by Jon-o at 4:02 PM on May 21, 2009


    Now see, I 100% understand where you're coming from on that one, Jon-o. Everyone in my family is pretty much in the "got where we are because we work our asses off" camp. Despite this, I have to say that if someone has the talent to compete with my experience based on advanced training and natural skill, well, that's progress, I guess. We all become obsolete at some point, and that will include both you and me. And those who replace us probably won't have earned it the same way we did, and indeed, it won't be fair, but they will have their own, different burdens, and those, too, will be brushed aside one day by some young punk as if they meant nothing. We are merely pistons in the four-stroke engine cycle of life.
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:22 PM on May 21, 2009


    Any old shmo could sign up for the same training courses I take?

    So basically you want special treatment based on, uh.... what, exactly? That you regard yourself as hard-working? Should you get to decide who does and does not get sufficient training to be able to compete with you?

    Nobody has the right to be the only one offering a particular service or possessing a particular skill. That way madness lies.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 4:35 PM on May 21, 2009


    Nobody has the right to be the only one offering a particular service or possessing a particular skill.

    Agreed. But to varying degrees I think many if not most of us are guilty of guarding our professional secrets (or maybe the purity of our crafts, trades, or other obsessions) with some jealousy from time-to-time. It may not be the healthiest expression of trust, and is probably pointless in the long run, but I think it's too common and natural an impulse to openly mock. I find it better simply to acknowledge the desire, quietly resist it, and move on. Which I'm afraid I need to do for awhile, since my woodshop is open and all the tools are out, and here I sit inside on my computer getting nothing done (again). Talk about obsessions!
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:51 PM on May 21, 2009


    A hundred thousand miles used to be and unheard of service life.

    I seem to recall a great many 1960s cars that would go a half-million without a hiccup. I believe we had one in our family that rolled the odo over. IMO a hundred thousand miles is the very start of high mileage.

    I'm concerned that my competative edge and years of hard work might be legislated away.

    Society does NOT owe you a job, nor does it owe you job security. Times change, jobs change.

    I earned some exclusivity, I think. And someone wants to just give that away? Any old shmo could sign up for the same training courses I take? There's two sides of the fairness coin.

    [rolls eyes] Puh-lease. That's not a weak argument, that's a plain ol' stupid argument.
    posted by five fresh fish at 4:59 PM on May 21, 2009


    What I'm saying is that I worked hard to earn access to something that might be made available without the same prerequisite. Someone thinks that what I worked hard for has a value of less than what I put into it.

    What if you won a competition and everyone got a trophy? Doesn't that devalue what you earned?
    posted by Jon-o at 5:11 PM on May 21, 2009


    What I'm saying is that I worked hard to earn access to something that might be made available without the same prerequisite.

    You're right. We should bring back slavery. And why do women have the vote, anyway?

    It's completely unfair that people today don't have to put in the hard fight and pay the high cost to win those things for themselves. We shouldn't just hand it to them.
    posted by rokusan at 5:17 PM on May 21, 2009


    Comparing this to slavery is hyperbole and disgusting. Everyone that I went to school with had the same opportunities. They didn't do as well as I did. I earned my way into advanced training. Can't you see how it would suck to find out that what you've spent years earning doesn't need to be earned anymore?
    posted by Jon-o at 5:23 PM on May 21, 2009


    I mean, what if you had a Harvard degree and then Harvard just starting letting anybody in with no admissions standards?
    posted by Jon-o at 5:28 PM on May 21, 2009


    Blazing trails is always harder work than walking on them, Jon-o. But trails are good things. Be proud of the trails you blaze. And be happy for those who get to use them. You worked hard to create your own opportunities. But opportunities are good things. If others come by them easier as time moves on it takes absolutely nothing away from your accomplishment. We should want those who come after to have it better than we did. Isn't that what we always tell our children we are working so hard for? To give them a better life than we had, full of new opportunities and new dreams? That kind of future can only come at the expense of the ways of the past. Our ways.

    And if I could earn everyone a trophy simply on the basis of my own effort I would. Metal is worth a lot, these days, and then everyone would owe me one.

    Oh, crap. I'm procrastinating again! Damn you, Internet! DAMN YOU!
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:29 PM on May 21, 2009


    Is this what it feels like to be in an Ayn Rand novel?
    posted by Jon-o at 5:30 PM on May 21, 2009


    Geez, welcome to the world of IT. If you wake up one day and discover it's become a race to the bottom, it's time to find a new race. That's just how it goes.
    posted by GuyZero at 5:30 PM on May 21, 2009


    What if Harvard still gave out their degrees based solely on the knowledge that was available when they first opened their doors, plus whatever you were able to figure out on your own? The degrees wouldn't be worth much if they didn't build on the hard-won accomplishments of the past and move on.
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:33 PM on May 21, 2009


    MetaFilter: what it feels like to be in an Ayn Rand novel
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:34 PM on May 21, 2009


    MetaFilter: a race to the bottom
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:35 PM on May 21, 2009


    Good night! Try the veal!
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:36 PM on May 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I mean, what if you had a Harvard degree and then Harvard just starting letting anybody in with no admissions standards?

    What if you had an MIT degree and MIT started giving away the lecture materials to anyone with a web browser? Isn't there value to having attended MIT?

    I'm not sure it's a good analogy to make, in any case.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:09 PM on May 21, 2009


    Is this what it feels like to be in an Ayn Rand novel?

    If the value of your job is protected solely by the government's DMCA law and not the value of your own skills, probably.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:11 PM on May 21, 2009


    See, the analogy you make, with the lecture materials, that's what I'm talking about. Manuals and even some study material are AVAILABLE ALREADY. What I'm wondering is if the training courses should be open enrollment? Should MIT let anyone in or should they have to meet some criteria and earn it?
    posted by Jon-o at 6:21 PM on May 21, 2009


    Should MIT let anyone in or should they have to meet some criteria and earn it?

    Should the government prevent anyone the right to get an engineering degree — through threat of civil and criminal penalties — except those whom MIT vets?
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:37 PM on May 21, 2009


    What I'm saying is that I worked hard to earn access to something that might be made available without the same prerequisite.

    So? That statement is supposed to score a point in your favour? The local farrier worked hard, too, but you don't see demands that the government protect his job now that these newfangled iron horses don't need his services.

    Someone thinks that what I worked hard for has a value of less than what I put into it.

    So? That statement is supposed to score a point in your favour? I'll warrant that sixteen year old girl that sewed your shoes has worked damn hard, and what did you pay her? S.F.A.

    A few million Americans busted their asses this past twenty years and look what it got them: an economic collapse and their asses out of jobs. You don't see the government saving a whole lot of them, but you're someone special, right?

    What if you won a competition and everyone got a trophy? Doesn't that devalue what you earned?

    That's one helluva loser attitude, dude. If you won the competition, you bloody won it, regardless how many trophies were passed out.

    But that's beside the point: your decision to pursue a career path that might not pay you as well as you hoped is no problem of mine. Why the hell should my ownership and ability to do what I please with the thing I own be subject to your whim? Answer: it shouldn't.

    Honestly, your entire premise is laughable.
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:40 PM on May 21, 2009


    Dude, the criteria for getting into MIT is working hard and demonstrating the capability to do the coursework. Anybody who's going to sign up for the advanced skills classes you took will have to have done this, or they won't be able to make sense of it.

    You've got nothing but rank special pleading and demands that you be permitted to pull the ladder up behind you.
    posted by Pope Guilty at 6:40 PM on May 21, 2009


    Give me an example. What's a secret that you'd like to know?

    Okay, yeah, I would like to know all the proprietary OBD-II parameters for the 2007 Honda Fit, so that I can get fuel trim, injector pulse width, or whatever other data is hiding in there, probably accessible with my cheap little scan tool if only I knew the seeKr1t c0dez. Okay, I don't actually know if they really do make some kind of legal effort to keep this rather simple chunk of data somehow secret, but it's either that or my web search skills suck more than I'd though; can't find that list. I'm sure it's available somewhere or other for a large price or an illegal download, but this kind of thing ought to be just printed in the owner's manual.
    posted by sfenders at 6:41 PM on May 21, 2009


    I want the government to guarantee my job security. I have a degree in English Literature — no more reading to yourself, Jon-o. You have to hire me to read it to you! Hey, I worked hard for that degree, I deserve it! If you had worked so hard and then someone wanted to read something all on their own, wouldn't you be upset?

    Etcetera. A ridiculous concept all around.
    posted by five fresh fish at 6:44 PM on May 21, 2009


    Nope. And the government isn't stopping people from becoming mechanics. But I think a company has every right to vet who they certify and license to work on their products. I think BMW, for example, gets to decide who is "BMW Certified" and who isn't. It's their brand. If an independent shop wants to advertise that they "Specialize in German Makes" and invest in the equipment and technical literature to work on those cars, that's fine too. But BMW is under no obligation to offer them factory training.
    posted by Jon-o at 6:45 PM on May 21, 2009


    You're missing the point, FFF. If I want a degree in English Literature, I can get accepted to a college and get a degree. The same way that if a technician wants to get Mercedes Certified, they get accepted to a technical school and then get accepted into Mercedes training.

    I'm not pulling some ladder up behind me. People can still earn what I earned. A college isn't obligated to accept you if you don't measure up and Lexus isn't obligated to train you on their vehicles.
    posted by Jon-o at 6:54 PM on May 21, 2009


    And sfenders, if you buy a slightly more capable scan tool, you can look at all the OBD live data you want. I bet you could buy factory level Honda for your laptop and look at every single system in your car. Anything that's restricted is FEDERALLY protected to keep you from messing up your emissions or safety systems. A vehicle is certified for road use based on its OEM specs. If you alter those, it's not roadworthy, according to the Fed.
    Emissions related diagnostic trouble codes are also FEDERALLY standardized to ensure that you can get your emissions related failures repaired anywhere. P0420 is "Catalyst Below Efficiency, Bank 1" on every car in the US. P0300 is "Random Multiple Misfire" on every car.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:02 PM on May 21, 2009


    I mean, have you all forgotten that you need a state issued license just to operate a motor vehicle on a public road and that driving is a privilege rather than a right? Car ownership itself is a privilege. You're not entitled to your car and nobody forced you to buy it. If you're upset that your car is expensive to maintain and requires too many special tools and too much expertise and training to repair, you should have bought a classic vehicle.

    Y'know what, I pay my utilities and I should be able to go down to the power plant, tinker with something, and make sure I'm getting my fair share of electricity. Oh, wait. The power plant systems are beyond me. Too freaking bad.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:41 PM on May 21, 2009


    jon-o writes: Give me an example. What's a secret that you'd like to know?

    I would like GM to publish the list of ABS fault codes that can trigger the ABS warning light, and the meaning of these codes so that I can pinpoint brake issues using the diagnostic information the car already collects during its ABS self-test.
    posted by zippy at 9:02 PM on May 21, 2009


    Book 'em, Jon-o.
    posted by oaf at 9:17 PM on May 21, 2009


    Colleges are actually an argument for open publication of information. I can find the information taught by MIT for free either online or at my local library. Colleges also encourage their professors and staff to publish what they have discovered so that others may learn it and use the information themselves.

    Jon-o, I'm not sure I understand your argument about restricting the flow of information, as you have brought up many points, but one of the points that I believe you make is that your education cost money, and it was worth it, and you think that this cost is fair by comparison to the college system.

    The difference, as I see it, is that with colleges, one has the choice of either attending, or not attending and learning the same information from less expensive sources (the library, self-study with textbooks). In the automobile example, there is no option for self-study as key materials are very expensive or unavailable to all but a few.

    I can go to my local library and become as much an expert on math or finance as a college student who pays tens of thousands of dollars for classes on these subjects, but I cannot currently do so when it comes to certain areas of auto diagnostics, because the communication protocols necessary to perform these diagnostics are proprietary and unpublished.

    Colleges, by comparison, well it is in their DNA to share new and important information. It is this sort of model that I would like to see with automobiles as well.

    There is more than one route to mastery of a topic than attending classes, but in the auto world, there is an artificial restriction on the sharing of information that is akin to the guild system. Like someone said upthread, "you have to pay to play." But it shouldn't have to be so.

    Even with the open sharing of information, colleges still fill a vital role. The kid who gets her degree in finance from a good school is going to be taken more seriously than me with my self-study.

    Likewise, I suspect the dealer certification programs will still have a big role even when dealers share information freely with the public, but this information sharing, as in the academic world, will also lead to a greater exchange of knowledge and innovation, including new off-the-shelf tools that perform the same tasks as the ruggedized professional scan tools, but are affordable for competent and careful home mechanics such as myself.
    posted by zippy at 9:37 PM on May 21, 2009


    You're missing the point, FFF.

    You're missing the point, Jon-o. In the real world you usually do not get job protection just because you went to the right colleges. If the technology changes, if the job market changes, you lose. So sorry. Try again.

    You argue that zippy shouldn't be given the data standard unless he went to your Special School of Secrets.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 PM on May 21, 2009


    Well, I finally got around to reading the proposed legislation, and I have to say that I'm against it, now. I was going to ask Jon-o why he thought that the legislation would require dealers or manufacturers to certify unqualified mechanics, and sure enough, there's nothing in the bill that would do that. It says that the manufacturers have to provide the same data set to the public that it provides to the dealerships, but it does not require dealerships to actively train or certify anybody.

    However...

    The legislation does require that manufacturers personally offer "for sale to the motor vehicle owner and to all service providers on a reasonable and non-discriminatory basis, any tool for the diagnosis, service, maintenance, or repair of a motor vehicle." The specs are one thing, but requiring the manufacturers to instantly become resellers of all of the diagnostic, service, maintenance, and repair equipment for all of their customers for all of their models is an unfair burden for several reasons:

    1) I highly doubt that there is sufficient stock of all of this equipment in existence to meet this requirement in a reasonable timeframe.
    2) Even if there were, I'm damn sure that the manufacturers and dealers don't currently own the rights to resell all of it, and don't have the infrastructure to sell it, if they did.
    3) Who is supposed to fund the manufacturing of this huge new inventory of consumer-ready high-end equipment that no one really knows if there's even a serious market for? The manufacturers that we're currently bailing out to the tune of billions of dollars each because they can't even sell the cars? Yeah - that'll go well.

    So count me out on this one. If you want to make them give up the DMCAs, sure, I can see that argument. But forcing them to suddenly go into the high-end diagnostic equipment consumer market is just plain irresponsible. Trust Nader to take a decent idea so far that it becomes completely useless. I guess it's a moot point, though, really. Because if this travesty actually passes it will be so monstrously expensive, there probably won't be any cars manufactured here anymore for the law to apply to. Problem solved!
    posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:12 PM on May 21, 2009


    Geez, guys. How's that empathy working out for you?

    Jon-o, as some have pointed out already, albeit somewhat brusquely, the situation facing the automotive service sector is somewhat analogous to what has been happening in the IT sector over the past decade.

    It turns out that most barriers to entry into a particular field are artificial in some respect. Sometimes the barriers are geographic (companies now hire programmers from overseas instead of locally), sometimes they are due to scarcity of resources (the reason MIT doesn't allow entry to everyone whom applies is because there wouldn't be enough resources to teach them all), and sometimes the barriers are financial (prior to inexpensive print-on-demand services, book publishing was limited to people who could either convince a publisher to publish their book, or had sufficient money to hire a printer independently).

    I can't really help you with your particular situation. In many ways I've benefited from the lowering of barriers in the IT sector as much as if not more than I've been hurt by it. All I can do is reassure you that, given a level playing field, a talented and skilled professional will always be able to attract and maintain a loyal customer base.
    posted by Ritchie at 10:36 PM on May 21, 2009


    I'm arguing that the data standards are already available. But if someone has been working for Mercedes for 20 years, has been to all the classes and been certified as a Mercedes Master Technican, someone off the street shouldn't and essentially buy that certification.
    How does a credential mean anything if it's too easy to get.
    If someone grants you a certification or a degree, they're testifying that you meet their standards and can use their name to represent themself. Any brand should have the right to control that.
    posted by Jon-o at 3:54 AM on May 22, 2009


    The data standards aren't publicly available. Nobody except you is talking about buying certifications.
    What we're talking about is having the data standard made available so you can access the diagnostic systems without a pricey machine that only dealers have.
    posted by dunkadunc at 4:15 AM on May 22, 2009


    You don't know what your talking about. Companies like AllData sell repair manuals to shops that include all up to date diagnostic trouble codes.
    Go buy an OTC Genesys and see how much is available on the market.
    A scan tool is a tool and tools cost money. I don't complain about how much my ratchets cost. If they're a good product, I buy them.
    posted by Jon-o at 4:54 AM on May 22, 2009


    I bet you could buy factory level Honda for your laptop and look at every single system in your car.

    Sure enough, it seems Honda is sufficiently sensible to make this available, and it appears to be affordable enough for those "independent repair shops" everyone's concerned about. But the world would be that much better a place if they simply published the interface spec. It reminds me of PC video cards; there's absolutely no good reason not to make public enough details to write a driver, but they keep it secret just because there's no great incentive not to have a little chance to make competitors' work slightly more difficult. Just an unfortunate side-effect that it also makes things more difficult, in greater degree given the average relative resources they have devoted to the problems, for some of their customers. I'd really rather not spend the $1600 on Honda's official system when a way exists for me to get that data at zero expense if I simply knew the right code. Not that I need it right now, that moment has passed.

    you should have bought a classic vehicle.

    That's what I'd done until I bought this latest one. First car I've had that has ABS, airbags, electronic throttle control, power windows. Would rather it didn't, but it's not so bad, for me personally. Easy enough to rely on others (ie Hondata and Kraftwerks, and my local independent repair shop at which I'll ask about this subject, next time I visit) for the seemingly obfuscated computer stuff. It's not that the situation appears particularly bad, just that it could be better. I'm thinking that if they were to go all the way to full public disclosure of all the protocols on the bus, Honda and/or their supplier of diagnostic tools would sell a few less of those tools, people like me would easily get data to make casual tinkering with the engine slightly more safe, and nothing much else would change.
    posted by sfenders at 5:07 AM on May 22, 2009


    Look, here's how it works:

    Standards companies like the Society of Automotive Engineers make sure that all diagnostic bus networks on modern automobiles conform to the same standards. That's how any rinkydink code puller can work on any car to retreive basic DTCs. It's already a published standard and it ensures that basic repairs can be made anywhere.
    CAN bus OBD-II is a published standard. All new cars sold in the US conform to it.
    Companies that want to add more functionality to their scan tools invest more resources to buying liscences from companies, developing user interfaces, and delving into the diagnostic capabilities of each vehicle. As they become more specialized and powerful, the tools become more expensive.
    So, what makes it difficult to get your car repaired at an independent shop or in your own driveway? Tools cost money and, despite some standardization, working expertly on many new cars requires lots of experience, lots of training, and lots of specialization.
    If you think something here is unfair, it's the result of some misconception you have about cars and the repair industry.
    What a dealership apart is that they can take part in manufacturers training to familiarize their technicians with the vehicles. What sets us apart is that ALL WE WORK ON IS ONE BRAND and have expert experience.
    So, if you want a totally level playing feild, I guess, you'd have to force companies to open their doors to anyone who wants to take their classes. And I think that a company gets to choose who represents their brand and who doesn't.
    posted by Jon-o at 5:22 AM on May 22, 2009


    working expertly on many new cars requires lots of experience, lots of training, and lots of specialization

    Yeah, that's what I'm saying; and that requiring at least some of those diagnostic interfaces to be public knowledge wouldn't change that. It'd just remove one small annoying barrier to entry that isn't all that relevant to any real commercial interest. There'd still be a market for the specialized user interfaces, etc. Like you say, the published standard covers a fair bit already; there's plenty of room to expand it into things it presently doesn't, without it being any threat to your livelihood.
    posted by sfenders at 5:33 AM on May 22, 2009


    What I'm not sure is understood here is that you don't supply enter a code code into the car to gain access. You freely access it via the univeral OBD-II bus (the location and shape of the connector is STANDARDIZED, too) and the car gives YOU a code that means something. As far as your engine performance goes, those codes are federally standardized, for the purpose of making effective emissions repairs. Most faults will trigger a Generic code and a Manufacturer specific code. The Generic codes NEVER CHANGE and the Manufacturers codes are available through industry repair manuals for every year except for the brand spankingest newest cars.
    Look, I'll admit that some companies are slow to release their brand specific codes. BMW, for instance, will release all of their data once the warrantys for that year expire. Part of this strategy (for any manufacturer) is to ensure that they are able to track failures and design flaws and gather design data through their dealerships. If problems are occuring and getting fixed that they don't know about, an updated part or procedure will take much longer to deploy.

    If you want to get into it further than retreiving codes and running some output tests (via a mid-to-upper price range scanner) and CHANGE the output or input values, you're getting involved in federally regulated emissons controls.
    posted by Jon-o at 6:00 AM on May 22, 2009


    you don't supply enter a code code into the car to gain access.

    Shouldn't have said 'code', right. "running some output tests" was all I personally was looking for. Not sure what the jargon term is for the address/identifier of those that are available. Would be nice if those were at least as easy to find as the manufacturer trouble codes already are, that's all.

    Commands that alter things would be interesting too, obviously. I've not yet learned what all is in there, but no doubt there is a large subset that could at least potentially be useful and not too dangerous. Screwing up the emissions controls doesn't strike me as all that much of a reason to keep these proprietary: There still are plenty of non-computer-based ways to do that easily, and those with sufficient money and/or expertise can get to them anyway.
    posted by sfenders at 6:18 AM on May 22, 2009


    As soon as tire mounting/balancing equipment, alignment equipment, and A/C recovery equipment are cheap, then scanners will be cheap and available, too. I mean, you can't just walk into Sears and buy an alignment rack. It's expensive to make and there's no consumer demand to drive the price down. However, nobody is stopping you from shelling out fifty grand to install one in your home garage. It's up to you to figure out how to use the machine. Also, every vehicle maker makes their alignment specs available so body shops and independents can service their cars. Many companies sell software packages that include the specs and graphical procedures for adjusting your specific alignment. This software will interface with the computer that comes with your alignment rack. There's no secret. It'll walk you through it, in many cases.
    If you want to spend the money, you can buy a scanner just like that. One that will show you specified versus actual values, outputs for all systems that they've aquired a license for (or reverse engineered), and built in diagnostic trouble-shooting procedure.

    Car makers will print the A/C refrigerant capacity on a sticker under the hood. You're still required to buy an environmentally safe recovery machine (a few thousand dollars, by the way) to service that system. Like a scanner, every A/C system has the same fittings and will work with any machine, but knowing all the inputs and outputs of the system becomes more specialized.

    There's a whole lot available to the professional market. I'm telling you, when a shop tells you to take your car to the dealer, it's a dodge or a crutch because they don't want to make the investment in specializing.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:54 AM on May 22, 2009


    they don't want to make the investment in specializing

    And when the manufacturer is allowed to have a monopoly on the necessary information, it raises the cost of specialization for non-dealer shops.
    posted by oaf at 8:06 AM on May 22, 2009


    Regardless of the fact that THAT'S NOT HAPPENING in any epidemic way that would choke out independent shops, if I open a restaurant, should I give my recipes to my competetion? I mean, if I order a meal at a restaurant, when it arrives at my table, it's mine. I have a right to know what I'm eating, but the Chef doesn't have to give away his entire recipe and procedure to me. Is that some unfair monoply?
    posted by Jon-o at 8:13 AM on May 22, 2009


    I'm not sure that I've made it clear enough that a dealership spends money hand over fist to keep up with the technology that's coming through their door in order to maintain their expertese. The consistancy, durability, reliability, and capability of professional equipment comes at a price and it's expensive for everyone. Quality costs money. Period. The dealership shop exists because of an enormous investment on the part of the dealership. Anyone who wants to play in these big-leagues can pony-up like the rest of us.
    Why haven't you built a space ship yet? Is NASA hiding super secret principles of physics from you? No. You just cant afford it because shit costs money.
    posted by Jon-o at 8:19 AM on May 22, 2009


    As soon as tire mounting/balancing equipment, alignment equipment, and A/C recovery equipment are cheap, then scanners will be cheap and available, too.

    No. Making public all the specs you need to do an alignment does not make alignment equipment cheap and available. Making public all the relevant info would, on the other hand, instantly make more capable scanners cheap and available. That is the difference between hardware and software. If you think it wouldn't, they've even less reason not to do it.
    posted by sfenders at 8:54 AM on May 22, 2009


    This all depends on what your notion of "cheap" is. If I told you that a scanner cost $1200, you'd balk at buying one. That price makes perfect sense for an independent shop.

    Look at http://www.ross-tech.com/vag-com/index.html
    You can get dealer capable laptop based software your all of your VW/Audi products. For less than a thousand dollars.
    Loot at http://www.autoenginuity.com/
    You can get dealer capable laoptop based software for your BMW, Mini, and Mercedes products.

    The idea that independent shops are excluded from servicing vehicles is a MYTH that seems to have cought on with those of you who have a chip on your shoulder about how much your amazing, reliable, and advanced car costs to fix.
    posted by Jon-o at 9:12 AM on May 22, 2009


    Why haven't you built a space ship yet?

    Why doesn't your dealership build cars?
    posted by oaf at 9:30 AM on May 22, 2009


    We have a factory for that.
    posted by Jon-o at 9:33 AM on May 22, 2009


    We don't do body work or upholstry, either. I don't complain that those repairs get sent off to other shops. They're specialized and set up for it. To do that work right, I would have to specialize and I'm not interested in the time it would take to get trained, spend years developing the skills, and buying all of the shop equipment to do the job right.
    Oh, and because painting a car and hammering out dents is a secret process, of course.
    posted by Jon-o at 9:37 AM on May 22, 2009


    The idea that independent shops are excluded from servicing vehicles is a MYTH that seems to have cought on with those of you who have a chip on your shoulder about how much your amazing, reliable, and advanced car costs to fix.

    That doesn't change the fact that requiring open standards would put downward pressure on the cost of diagnostic tools and therefore on the cost of the diagnosis itself.
    posted by oaf at 9:45 AM on May 22, 2009


    Diagnosis is a skill that people think is worth paying for.
    Read what I've written. Haven't I shown that there is plenty of available diagnostic software available? Haven't I shown that diagnostic communication is already federally mandated to be available?
    This stuff has been out for years, so why isn't it cheaper to diagnose your car? BECAUSE IT'S STILL HARD WORK!!! The computer isn't going to tell you what's wrong or how to fix it! It can only show you data.

    http://search.harborfreight.com/cpisearch/web/search.do?keyword=obd
    Here. Scanners can be as cheap as you want them to be. Have a blast fixing your own car, dude.
    posted by Jon-o at 9:52 AM on May 22, 2009


    Bottom line:
    I'm not interested in having my industry legislated by people who don't know what they're talking about.
    posted by Jon-o at 9:55 AM on May 22, 2009


    Neither am I. So let's repeal the DMCA already.
    posted by oaf at 9:56 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Look, I agree that if you buy something, it's yours to do with what you please. Your toaster, your microwave, your phone, your water heater, whatever.
    But the same way that home construction and repairs still need to be up to code, a vehicle needs to meet certain standards.
    Driving your car on a public road effects more that just you. If you make your vehicle unsafe or polluting, that has consequences like accidents and poisoning the planet.
    Diagnostic data and operating software are two seperate things.
    It's already easy to view diagnostic data from every control module in a car, but I'm not convinced that people should have the means to tamper with the parameters of their emissions and safety equipment. If your airbag deploys a small fraction of a second too late, you could maim yourself. If your ABS activates wrong, you could go into a spin. There's a lot more inherent danger here than what's involved in getting your iPhone to work on Sprint AND AT&T

    The automotive industry is extremely competative and amazing new features are constantly being integrated into new models. If Honda's ECM software gets them 40mpg in the Fit because they worked hard and engineered it, should GM just be able to swipe that software from them and put it in their cars for free?

    Is there room for open-source and trade-secrets?
    posted by Jon-o at 10:09 AM on May 22, 2009


    By the way, I found this:
    http://www.euro-diagnostics.com/seminar.jsp

    Given the availabilty of diagnostic data, aftermarket scan tools, and aftermarket training, exactly what obligations does a manufacturer have to the industry they compete in?
    Those who want to compete with a dealership have every opportunity. How much more should they be accomodated?
    posted by Jon-o at 10:28 AM on May 22, 2009


    The automotive industry is extremely competative and amazing new features are constantly being integrated into new models. If Honda's ECM software gets them 40mpg in the Fit because they worked hard and engineered it, should GM just be able to swipe that software from them and put it in their cars for free?

    That's not what the proposed bill argues for, so that's a bit misleading.

    The bill is arguing against: "car manufacturers [that] now severely limit the number of repair shops that are allowed to have the tools, diagnostic codes and updated repair information" used to repair cars, through the use of encryption.

    This isn't calling for every line of code for the ECM to be published, nor any particular line of code of the ECM to be published.

    Rather, the bill says that diagnostic information used to adjust and repair systems should not be restricted to those approved by the dealership network managed by the automobile manufacturer, which requires that you pay an artificial and profitable premium to that manufacturer.

    In other words, the DMCA is convenient legislation that is being abused to allow said manufacturer to control what options you have for service.

    This bill is not calling for Honda to hand over its software to GM.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:36 AM on May 22, 2009


    Not that it's anything to do with the subject at hand, but I'd bet GM would have little difficulty reverse engineering any amazing new concept in the very well-explored realm of engine mapping software that Honda somehow came up with. What might actually stop them doing that sort of thing in general is patent law.

    Scanners can be as cheap as you want them to be.

    Yup, it's one of those cheap little things I've got plugged in. It is unable to read some operating parameters, sensor data that is there for the taking, no substantial trade secrets involved, just because it doesn't know the right query to send, which appears to be not easy to get for the sole benefit of those who sell the more expensive ones. I don't think it's so terribly unfair, just kind of annoying. The suggested DMCA abuse, on the other hand, is more horrible, to whatever extent it actually happens.
    posted by sfenders at 10:45 AM on May 22, 2009


    In my understanding, DMCA unfairly empowers companies to use encription to keep people out of their software.
    There's nothing like that, as far as I know, that keeps technicians from viewing diagnostic data in order to repair vehicles. What's unavailable for adjustment or exploration are the operating parameters of emissions and saftey systems. Does anyone have a good reason that emissions and safety systems should be readily accessable, beyond their already available diagnostic capabilities?
    And I'm not convinced that "ooh ooh I wanna play, too" is a really good reason when it comes to stuff like adaptive radar-guided cruise control.

    I think that I've done a pretty good job of showing that there are very few, if any, genuine barriers in place that would prevent a shop from specializing in any make of vehicle.

    And, sfenders, when it comes to scanners, like any tool, you get what you pay for. I mean, look at personal computers. Technology is cheap enough that a fast computer probably doesn't need to cost that much more than a realitvely slower one, but customers are willing to pay a premium for certain things. Technicians are willing to make a larger investment for a more capable tool because it will pay for itself pretty quickly. That's not really the case in the teir of scanners that you're working with. It's cheap because it's cheap.
    posted by Jon-o at 11:16 AM on May 22, 2009


    Yes, it's cheap, but it's also programmable. Given the right string of bits, I could make it do slightly more than it does with zero expense.
    posted by sfenders at 11:25 AM on May 22, 2009


    Live data is an OBD-II requirement. It's there for free if you buy the right tool. Not every bolt is a 10mm hex. Sometimes, you've got to buy a torx set.
    posted by Jon-o at 11:28 AM on May 22, 2009


    Sure, it's programmable. With a nicer scanner, you're paying for the programmin and you're paying for someone to design a reasonable interface venue for interacting with the vehicle. Some interfaces are better than others and some companies programm better scanners. Even if it's just moving strings of bits around, that effort is worth something, isn't it? Especially when it comes packaged in a device that you can spill coolant and oil all over.
    posted by Jon-o at 11:36 AM on May 22, 2009


    My assumption is that there is a wealth of live data available but not OBD-II required, and thus not easily accessible unless you happen to have a system for which some of the address data has leaked out. It'd cost them nothing to publish it. IIRC, this list is what led me to believe it. No?

    I'd be quite happy to be proven wrong.
    posted by sfenders at 11:56 AM on May 22, 2009


    Sometimes, you've got to buy a torx set.

    It's kind of ironic that you mention TORX™, which were made initially "tamper-safe" as the distribution of wrenches was deliberately limited and, additionally, expensive (and highly profitable). Further, GM put them in their cars to help discourage owners and non-GM mechanics from working on GM cars. After everyone had a set, people started calling them "Torx" and then just plain "torx". Why are you not using the correct name? Don't the TORX™ folks deserve to protect their livelihood?
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:08 PM on May 22, 2009


    When torx made their way on to more and more vehicles, they became a standard and, therefore, more available. Funny, how that's just like OBD data.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:16 PM on May 22, 2009


    sfenders, a professional scanner, that's equipped to do general service on a broad number of vehicles will typically display much more information than shown on that list. Any temperature, position, or pressure sensor, calculated load, transmisison range, wheel speed, vehicle speed, the list is endless. A good scanner can even show graphical data, side by side. It can display, say, manifold pressure vs injector pulse width while you're driving. Trust me, it's much more comprehensive than that list you linked to.
    A scanner that caters to one manufacturer will do even more. A VAG-Com for VW/Audi, for example, can even do advanced output test on non-emissions systems. For example, you can check circuit integrity for all of your body control systems by sequentially running the lights, horn, wipers, windows, door locks, and so on directly from the module. You can even do ABS module output tests by raising the vehicle, spinning a wheel by hand, and actuating the brakes via the scan tool, for example.
    There's nothing basic or restricted about the tools that are on the market for independent shops.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2009


    To put it basically, anything that can cause your Check Engine light to come on is required to be accessable via OBD.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:38 PM on May 22, 2009


    When torx made their way on to more and more vehicles, they became a standard and, therefore, more available.

    I'm not trying to play gotcha here, but my Saab 9-3 has a special torx variant that has a pin in the middle, so that I can't put in my regular torx wrenches. Why is that, do you think? Is there something special about this pin, other than to keep me out? Screwing and unscrewing screws is not a particularly tricky technical skill that requires years of training.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:48 PM on May 22, 2009


    That's called security torx. You can buy them at Sears. They're on public rest-room partitions too.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:52 PM on May 22, 2009


    And on your Saab, that security torx bit fastens the case to some control module, like an ECM or an ABS module, doesn't it? Let's play "ooh, what's in here" with a vital safety system. It's not like you need a security torx bit to change your O2 Sensor or your engine oil.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:59 PM on May 22, 2009


    In my understanding, DMCA unfairly empowers companies to use encription to keep people out of their software.

    Your understanding is wrong. What the DMCA does is makes it illegal (except in certain nebulous circumstances) to reverse engineer and then distribute information about circumventing any "access control". Even something as simple as using unpublished proprietary OBD codes is considered an access control for DMCA purposes. I have no idea to what extent auto manufacturers have used the DMCA in this manner, but as a lifetime hacker/tinkerer I find this repulsive.

    That said, I have a VAG-COM tool which I use on my Audi, and I've never had trouble locating the necessary scan codes to diagnose and/or repair the problems I've encountered, but of course none of them have dealt with airbags, ABS, etc.

    The point I was making earlier regarding PKI is that with a properly designed system, exposing the specification does nothing to weaken said security; if anything it makes it stronger. If it's cryptographically sound, noone short of the NSA would be able to crack your keys. I don't believe the older "immobilizer" system met these criteria.

    I hope you don't take any of this too personally. I'm just approaching this as 1) an IT worker, which as has been pointed out is an industry that has been under similar pressure for some time, and B) someone who has never had their vehicle serviced by a dealer =)
    posted by kableh at 1:29 PM on May 22, 2009


    Is it to keep you out or is it to prevent dust, contamination, and moisture from ever getting into critical and expensive computers? I'm for opening anything and tinkering with anything. I'm a mechanic and you think I don't take all of my stuff apart? But my laptop isn't every going to run anyone over. There's where I draw the line, and I think it's pretty reasonable.
    posted by Jon-o at 1:29 PM on May 22, 2009


    There's all kinds of stuff locked down with these special screws. The IDM, in particular, is an egregiously swappable part. I know this, because I was stranded on the side of the road and the tech undid eight screws, replaced it, and then redid the screws. I was then able to get started again about about four minutes of work.

    Afterwards, reading Saab forums, the IDM is a module some people keep a spare of in the trunk. Due to poor design, it sits atop the engine where it is prone to meltdown. In other words, those security screws are really made just to help ensure that the technician swaps the part, and not me.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:34 PM on May 22, 2009


    I know exactly what part you're talking about. It's the ignition control module with coils built in. It's staring you in the face when you open the hood. As someone who wants to do stuff themselves, why didn't you look at that before you bought the car?
    posted by Jon-o at 1:42 PM on May 22, 2009


    Or buy a ten dollar set of security torx? It's not like they're hard to find.
    posted by Jon-o at 1:43 PM on May 22, 2009


    What's the difference between a Saab and a porcupine?
    posted by Jon-o at 1:57 PM on May 22, 2009


    Trust me, it's much more comprehensive than that list you linked to.

    Yeah, I've seen one of those vag-com type things showed off long time ago actually. But all I really wanted at one point was injector pulse width to see how much it changed with an engine modification in different conditions, mostly just out of curiosity, and it was mildly annoying that I couldn't get it despite having hardware that's probably quite capable enough to do something so simple, as it does for so many similar parameters. So, nothing fancy. I suppose in theory it could've been a bit more annoying if I'd been trying to diagnose an actual problem and needed some bit of data, you know, if I were the sort of person who'd have much of a chance of fixing something that'd require such.

    So it's not that in practice I can't get at more of the data with trivial ease which bothers me personally; more that there seems to be no good reason why not, for at least some of it. Though I know a thing or two about software, I'm not about to write my own open-source scan tool that does some of that fancy graphical stuff and etc, and it seems a bit unlikely anyone would given the apparent quality of the established commercial products. Nonetheless I'd trust the car a bit more, and feel more comfortable with all this high-tech gadgetry finding its way into the world's automobiles, if all the protocols were open so that in principle I could.

    It's not like you need a security torx bit to change your O2 Sensor or your engine oil.

    Ha, well. It's not like you even need a security torx bit to remove a security torx bolt if you're sufficiently determined. But neither great determination to meddle nor software hacking skills would be required to disable the ABS, remove the cat, re-route the egr, replace the camshafts, cut the springs, defeat the child safety locks, remove the airbags, buy an ECM chip upgrade from some website in china, or do a wide variety of other things of various degrees of safety and stupidity. Obfuscated software does not seem a particularly useful way of protecting people from themselves. It's not like there's a 'self-destruct' command you could accidentally activate. Is there? If so, by all means leave it undocumented and some poor hacker trying to reverse-engineer things will eventually stumble across it to his great surprise.
    posted by sfenders at 1:58 PM on May 22, 2009


    As someone who wants to do stuff themselves, why didn't you look at that before you bought the car?

    My point is that this kind of useful information is deliberately not easy to come by. I only found it after digging into the forums, hearing other horror stories of people's cars dying suddenly on a busy highway, with those stories showing up a few years after the model year.

    Even when you have that knowledge, you're forced to use special tools for what is really very rudimentary work. When something is modular, the only point to putting "security" screws on that and other modular components is: 1) to pay markup to the dealer for the part, 2) To help make sure I pay the dealer for an hour of labor for five minutes of work.

    You're sitting at a computer now. You probably use your computer for more than Metafilter, I assume. You might pay bills, manage your finances, keep in touch with your family, shop for better deals on things you need. In other words, while you're not racing your computer around town, it's likely a pretty useful and important device to keep running, and managing your life would be a lot more difficult without it.

    Would you accept a computer that is welded shut, and not only must you pay someone else to repair it, but you can only choose from two pimply-faced World of Warcraft-playing geeks at Best Buy, who only know how to swap parts, yet still sneer at you for being ignorant while charging you $80/hr plus a ridiculous markup on the parts?

    That's more or less the control the car companies have over the process, here, and what you're arguing that the government should protect.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:05 PM on May 22, 2009


    And that's TORX™, not torx or Torx. We should respect the livelihoods of the inventors of this wonderful, secret technology.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:07 PM on May 22, 2009


    Well, when you fail state required safety inspection for cut springs or an emissions failure, that's a deterrant.
    There's nothing really stopping a very determined person from doing anything but does that mean they shouldn't even try?
    posted by Jon-o at 2:08 PM on May 22, 2009


    When I buy a computer, I know I won't be fixing it myself. I'm not set up for it and I don't have that experience so I'm going to take it to someone who does.

    If anything, information about cars is extremely easy to come by. There are countless forums and car review websites. Does the Saab 9-3 get awesome reviews from Consumer Reports? I'll bet it doesn't. It's a European car! Didn't you know it was going to be less reliable than its competators and comparitively expensive to repair? Do your research before you buy something. I bought my car after six months of research, checking out forums, taking test drives, and looking under hoods. I bought a car that meets all of my needs and I've NEVER had a problem with it that wasn't cheap and easy to fix.

    It took me TWO seconds to find this:
    Auto Recall Date: SEP 14, 2005


    Vehicle Component: ELECTRICAL SYSTEM:IGNITION:MODULE
    Estimated Vehicles Affected: 103202
    Model Affected
    2002 SAAB 9-3


    2002 Saab 9-3 Defect Summary:
    CERTAIN PASSENGER VEHICLES EQUIPPED WITH B205/B235 4-CYLINDER GASOLINE ENGINES AND B308 6-CYLINDER GASOLINE ENGINES MAY EXPERIENCE OVERHEATING AND BURNOUT OF THE ISOLATED GATED BIPOLAR TRANSISTOR (IGBT) WITHIN THE IGNITION DISCHARGE MODULE (IDM) DUE TO INCREASED SUSCEPTIBILITY TO ELECTRICAL LOADS.


    Defect Consequence:
    OVERHEATING OF THE IGBT OCCURS MOST OFTEN AT ENGINE START-UP, BUT IT MAY ALSO OCCUR WHILE THE ENGINE IS RUNNING. ENGINE STALLING MAY OCCUR, WHICH COULD RESULT IN A CRASH.


    Remedy:
    DEALERS WILL INSPECT TO SEE WHAT VERSION IDM IS IN THE VEHICLE AND REPLACE THE IDM IF IT IS A VERSION BUILT PRIOR TO THE INTRODUCTION OF QP3. AN INTERIM LETTER WILL BE MAILED TO OWNERS IN OCTOBER 2005, INFORMING THEM OF THE CONDITION. PARTS ARE NOW AVAILABLE AND OWNERS WILL BE NOTIFIED TO BRING THEIR VEHICLES IN TO THE DEALERS TO HAVE THE IDM REPLACED BY LETTER DATED MARCH 13, 2006. OWNERS MAY CONTACT SAAB AT 1-800-955-9007.


    Estimated Vehicles Affected: 103202


    Notes: SAAB CARS USA, INC. 15021

    Y'know, they notify you BY MAIL if there's a recall on your vehicle. You don't even have to look it up. They also notify the DOT and the information is made immediately public.
    Or, you could take your car to the dealership now and again. Manufacturers are always issuing required vehicle updates that are FREE OF CHARGE to the customer if it applies to their car.



    I'm sure that Torx, Band-Aid, and Kleenex are really suffering. Nobody says "adhesive bandage" or "facial tissue" anymore.


    And porcupines have pricks on the outside.
    posted by Jon-o at 2:31 PM on May 22, 2009


    And needing a ten dollar tool to work on something is a far cry from "welded shut."
    Even if it was welded shut, get some frigging shears and cut that bitch open.
    posted by Jon-o at 2:39 PM on May 22, 2009


    Do whatever you want to your car. I don't think that it's the manufacturers responsibility to give you the means of making your car less safe or less clean. In fact, I think it's their responsibility to make it as difficult as possible for your vehicle to be UNsafe and polluting.
    I also don't think that your car should be legal for road use after you do whatever it is you do to your car. If I lower my vehicle, even with a professional kit, an inspection station won't certify me and I"ll get a fine for driving around without a certification.
    posted by Jon-o at 2:51 PM on May 22, 2009


    When I buy a computer, I know I won't be fixing it myself. I'm not set up for it and I don't have that experience so I'm going to take it to someone who does.

    Would you like to be able to decide who you take it to, or do you look forward to having one company you can take your computer to for all your repair needs, big and small?

    It took me TWO seconds to find this

    2005 was about five years after I bought mine. Again, that's not really the point, and despite getting defensive about it, I think you understand that the point is not the IDM at issue, but how it is secured to the engine and ultimately maintained (replaced).

    I'm sure that Torx, Band-Aid, and Kleenex are really suffering. Nobody says "adhesive bandage" or "facial tissue" anymore.

    We need to protect the makers of TORX™ from trademark dilution. Why should it be legal for you to dilute their trademark? That's their intellectual property, man. That would be exactly like us forcing Honda to hand over its ECM programming to GM.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:52 PM on May 22, 2009


    And your ignition module is part of the critical emisisons control system on your car. I don't think it's unresonable to put a slightly unusual fastener on it as a suggestion to the casual and uninformed that they might not want to mess with it.
    posted by Jon-o at 2:53 PM on May 22, 2009


    *palm to forehead*

    Okay, you win.
    posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:55 PM on May 22, 2009


    Shut up about Torx. Anyone who makes a torx bit pays them a license. Cry my a river for Phillips and Allen, too.

    I've been telling you that you DO have a choice about where you take your car. Anyone can buy a scanner that interfaces with Saab. Anyone can get the material they need to fix it. How do I know about your ignition module so immediately? I've replaced about a DOZEN of them. In an aftermarket shop!!
    Does everyone want to specialize? No. Is it going to be inexpensive? Probably not.
    Did anyone force you to buy a new car? No.
    posted by Jon-o at 2:59 PM on May 22, 2009


    Christ, what an asshole.
    posted by five fresh fish at 3:09 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


    It's easy to become an asshole when you're constantly trying to justify yourself to an entitled, whining, yet willfully uninformed public that dreads a visit to your shop more than they hate the dentist, even after you provide them with excellent service at a fair price.
    posted by Jon-o at 4:07 PM on May 22, 2009


    Hi, remember me? I just want to know why my ABS light is on. Wish I could get this with a normal scan tool. If the manufacturers published the info, then the prosumer scan tools would support it.

    But they don't, so I'm stuck using the workaround procedure in the factory service manual that probably requires me to put the car on jack stands and poke around with a voltmeter for part of my weekend. It's not that I mind getting dirty, I just mind that the information I need is already right there at the OBDII port, but I can't get at it because it's an unpublished spec.
    posted by zippy at 5:25 PM on May 22, 2009


    There you go with that "entitled" thing again. You've got this idea that you've got precious, precious knowledge that must only be shared with The BrotherHood of the Ordained Few, and that it's simply outrageous that the Ratbastard Public should presume to think they deserve to share in that knowledge. You think DIYers who think they are "entitled" to know why their ABS light is on should STFU and hand over their wallet, no information known, no questions asked.

    Quit trying to justify yourself. You are not all that and a packet of crisps.
    posted by five fresh fish at 5:36 PM on May 22, 2009


    http://www.actron.com/product_detail.php?pid=16349
    Actron seems to make what you're looking for.
    posted by Jon-o at 5:36 PM on May 22, 2009


    FFF, I don't know where you're getting this. I've been consistent in my position that independent repair shops and consumers have everything they need to make repairs outside of the dealership. A prohibitive factor is, indeed, the cost of equipment and the commitment to specialize. I'm sure you can find good specialty aftermarket shops but most shops would rather keep their overhead low and profits high. If a shop doesn't have enough customers broken Lexus Airbag modules, they're not going to buy the tools to make the repair. The cars that I work on don't use 14mm fasteners. So I don't have a 14mm socket in my toolbox at work.
    Some small shops don't even bother to invest in tire mounting and balancing equipment. It's really expensive and if you don't sell enough tires to justify it, it's easy to just refer your buddies shop.

    Look at it this way.
    When you go a doctor and they give you a referral, is it because hospitals are oppressing and strangling private practices? Or is just not worth the investment of your family doctor to buy an MRI machine and get trained on it?
    posted by Jon-o at 5:43 PM on May 22, 2009


    > Actron seems to make what you're looking for.

    I'm looking for the book that contains the information that Actron used to program that device that they're selling.

    *wanders off to use Google to see if this info is available upon request*
    posted by simoncion at 6:05 PM on May 22, 2009


    http://freediag.sourceforge.net/
    This was the first hit on Google for "Open Source OBD-II."
    I'm glad you all made sure you were really informed before you formed an opinion on this legislation and the auto repair industry.

    Scan tools are like anything else in a shop. You can buy twenty dollar jackstands from Pep Boys or you can buy a five-thousand dollar lift. Should a lift be free because it gives you better and easier access? Or does that command a premium?
    posted by Jon-o at 6:26 PM on May 22, 2009


    http://www.actron.com/product_detail.php?pid=16349
    Actron seems to make what you're looking for.


    jon-o, great find, thank you!

    It only took someone a decade to reverse engineer (or license) the ABS protocol for my car, but they finally got around to it!
    posted by zippy at 6:35 PM on May 22, 2009


    You're welcome.
    Just make sure you confirm the code before you waste your money replacing something like a wheel speed sensor when the fault is elsewhere in the circuit.
    posted by Jon-o at 6:40 PM on May 22, 2009


    By the way, OTC Genesys has supplied great access to domestic vehicles for years, but they're out of the pro-sumer price range.
    posted by Jon-o at 6:41 PM on May 22, 2009


    FFF, I don't know where you're getting this.
    I earned some exclusivity, I think. And someone wants to just give that away? Any old shmo could sign up for the same training courses I take? There's two sides of the fairness coin.
    What I'm saying is that I worked hard to earn access to something that might be made available without the same prerequisite. Someone thinks that what I worked hard for has a value of less than what I put into it.
    …as someone who works for a living, I'm concerned that my competative edge and years of hard work might be legislated away.
    What if you won a competition and everyone got a trophy? Doesn't that devalue what you earned?
    Is this what it feels like to be in an Ayn Rand novel?
    But I'll drop it. This pity-me stuff is just a tiny part of what you've written in this thread, and most of that has been fair and honest information.

    I would like to know how you make these two statements jive:
    I think that I've done a pretty good job of showing that there are very few, if any, genuine barriers in place that would prevent a shop from specializing in any make of vehicle.
    and
    I think a company has every right to vet who they certify and license to work on their products. …It's their brand. If an independent shop wants to advertise that they "Specialize in German Makes" and invest in the equipment and technical literature to work on those cars, that's fine too. But BMW is under no obligation to offer them factory training.
    posted by five fresh fish at 7:06 PM on May 22, 2009


    I previously posted:
    http://www.euro-diagnostics.com/seminar.jsp

    A cursory search reveals that brand specific training is available via a non-manufacturer source.
    The manufacturer isn't stopping independent techs from specializing or gaining advanced knowledge of their vehicles. They aren't however endorsing them with any specific Brand X official certification.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:17 PM on May 22, 2009


    For instance, an old boss of mine had some certificates on his wall that read, "For the Completion of a 5 day MAC Tools course in Toyota Diagnostics."

    He's not now endorsed by Toyota to repair their cars as a representative of their brand. It shows that he has attended a legitimate course of training in Toyota specific systems.

    Techs like me have been selected specifically by a manufacturer to repair their vehicles and represent their brand in doing so. It's up to them who they pick and how they make that selection.
    posted by Jon-o at 7:27 PM on May 22, 2009


    He's not now endorsed by Toyota to repair their cars as a representative of their brand.
    Why would being a brand representative be important? I'm genuinely confused here. And does this
    Techs like me have been selected specifically by a manufacturer to repair their vehicles and represent their brand in doing so.
    mean that a manufacturer deliberately restricts access to the books that describe the communications protocols between various parts of a newfangled car? Or can any Joe Schmoe buy said documentation and use it to create their own diagnostic and control tool for any and all parts of one's car?
    posted by simoncion at 7:44 PM on May 22, 2009


    Look, I think DRM protection is lousy and it's a detrement to progress. It's critical that people are still allowed to make innovations independently and I believe in taking stuff apart, tinkering, and hot-rodding.

    My argument here has been to shed some light on the mythology of modern cars being in some sort of "diagnostic lockdown" that's be perpetrated by the manufacturers. Complexity isn't driven by some conspiracy. It's driven by federal standards and consumer demand for features.
    Information, tools, and communication protocols (ISO-9141, for example) are available and people are able to generate open-source diagnostic tools with that information. It's unfortunate that some powerful scanners are expensive, but they're industrial shop equipment.

    If you want to use the available information and design your own programmable logic controller to run your cars network and if you want to crack the case on your ABS control module and find some way to change the way it operates, more power to you. However, I don't think that car should be let back on the road until it's tested and operates to the same standard (or better) than OEM. Manufacturers make a huge investment in proving their vehicles and engineering them to meet the standards of their target market. Honestly, having an untested and modified control module in your car is just as dangerous as having bald tires or metal-to-metal brakes.
    posted by Jon-o at 8:00 PM on May 22, 2009


    simoncion, the diagnostic protocol is standardized and assigned to car makers by SAE, DIN or ISO before the vehicle is made. All control modules are designed to communicate based on that standard. Simply, the communication is standardized and some data is standardized too (check engine light codes, for example) but the way the control modules organize that diagnostic data varies from car to car. The on board diagnostic capabilities of the vehicle (newer ones, especially) are designed to work effectively in conjunction shop diagnostic software. With the communication protocol and other standards in place, the manufacturer is then given free reign to structure the remaining diagnostic software in whatever way is most effective given the modules and features of the given car. The data will always be accessible via the standardized diagnostic bus, but it'll just be jumble of data if it's not organized through some software. If you knew what the values corresponded to, you could make your own software. It's the difference between
    1.45v 400mb ACTIVE NOT READY
    and
    O2 Sensor Voltage: 1.45v
    Manifold Pressure: 400mb
    Evap Leak Detection Pump: ACTIVE
    Readiness Monitor Status: NOT READY

    That information is typically available due to the fact that live data is federally required to be available for the purposes of being able to get your emissions failures repaired anywhere, and not just at a dealership.
    A company that makes scanners can license or reverse engineer other data structures (like ABS or Airbag modules) and put powerful diagnostic tools onto the market that compete with dealer level diagnosis.

    Why would being a brand representative be important?
    I don't want people to think that an automaker is somehow monopolizing the repair market by granting exclusive certification to their technicians.
    NOT being certified doesn't exclude people from fixing cars. It's just a brands way of advertising that they've selected the best person they could find and trained them with the full support of the manufacturer.
    posted by Jon-o at 8:37 PM on May 22, 2009


    Techs like me have been selected specifically by a manufacturer to repair their vehicles and represent their brand in doing so. It's up to them who they pick and how they make that selection.

    Are Toyota-certified repair centers always associated with Toyota dealerships? Can I open a repair shop and pay Toyota a suitable amount of money to become Toyota-certified? If I were wealthy beyond measure, could I attend Toyota classes and become Toyota-certified?
    posted by five fresh fish at 10:01 PM on May 22, 2009


    NOT being certified doesn't exclude people from fixing cars. It's just a brands way of advertising that they've selected the best person they could find and trained them with the full support of the manufacturer.
    10/4. That's a rational way of doing it.
    A company that makes scanners can license or reverse engineer other data structures (like ABS or Airbag modules)
    What I hear you saying is "There is no way that Joe Schmoe can buy a set of books that would allow him to build his own diagnostic and control tool for each and every part of his car. [0]" Am I misinterpreting this? (If I am, please let me know. :) )

    [0] Each and every part that could possibly be interfaced with a computer, of course. :)
    posted by simoncion at 10:02 PM on May 22, 2009


    There is no way that Joe Schmoe can buy a set of books that would allow him to build his own diagnostic and control tool for most of the parts of his car that have these electronic controllers.

    Or so I gather from browsing through the VAG-COM documentation. There appear to be plenty of "undocumented" bits here and there, obscure even to them who are somewhat devoted to this sort of thing. And it looks rather like some of their info, even for a list of basic sensor and status data, comes from disparate enthusiasts or engineers piecing things together, rather than any official documentation. And then you've got a bunch of Chinese companies reverse-engineering some manufacturers' diagnostic software and selling somewhat lower-price equivalents (minus the part that stops you resetting the odometer by software alone, naturally). The more I look at it, the more the proposed legislation looks like it'd be helpful.

    I wonder exactly how much of what's going on I could figure out if I started snooping on that CAN BUS, as that looks relatively easy...

    Jon-o: If you want to use the available information and design your own programmable logic controller to run your cars network and if you want to crack the case on your ABS control module and find some way to change the way it operates, more power to you. However, I don't think that car should be let back on the road until it's tested ... by someone officially certified to do the testing I presume.

    So you've gone from opposing a law that'd make it easier to repair cars to proposing one that'd effectively make it illegal.
    posted by sfenders at 3:45 AM on May 23, 2009


    Are Toyota-certified repair centers always associated with Toyota dealerships? Can I open a repair shop and pay Toyota a suitable amount of money to become Toyota-certified? If I were wealthy beyond measure, could I attend Toyota classes and become Toyota-certified?

    Factory certified repair centers are, as far as I know, always associated with a dealership. If you want to gain that certification, they're going to require that you have all of the tools to make any repair to their vehicle that may arise, no matter how unlikely. At our shop, we have tools that I've never used because they've been made to repair a malfunction that I've never encountered. Nonetheless, if a car came through and, as the factory certified repair center, how would it look if we didn't have the parts and tools to fix it? Being factory certified means being set up, through training and equipment, to be the last word in authority on a brand. You'd also be required to have an on-site parts department, hire parts specialists, certify them, and manage that inventory, costs that independents typically don't have to deal with. You'd also have to be set up to make factory warranty repairs. You'd have to hire a warranty clerk (or staff) and certify them, too.
    A manufacturer, as far as I know, will only certify technicians (or any other employee) if the tech makes a commitment for the manufacturer. If I bail on my job before I've fulfilled my commitment, I'd have to pay them back for some training.


    So you've gone from opposing a law that'd make it easier to repair cars to proposing one that'd effectively make it illegal.
    Not at all. Everything you need to diagnose and repair a car is available, one way or another, already. Diagnostic software interacts with the software built into the cars control modules to view inputs, view outputs, read trouble codes, and perform actuations. Changing the operating parameters of that system, altering the software or the hardware of any module, changes the vehicle from one that is federally certified as safe for road use to one that is NOT certified. If you bought a high-performance chip for your engine's computer to increase the output of your engine, it's going to come with a big disclaimer: "OFF ROAD USE ONLY." Nobody's stopping you from operating your car on a track or race-course. Honestly, I'm not going to trust anybody to open the case on their ABS module and then drive on the same roads as me. When I get a control module that has a checksum error, I replace it. I don't open it up and see what I can fix on the circuit board. Best case scenario, I roast the computer trying to repair it. Worst case scenario, I think its fixed and it suffers a massive safety failure and hurts someone.
    Making an electrical or computer-based repair on a vehicle NEVER involves changing the function. It's about restoring original function and diagnostic software, as it's layered over operating software, allows for the restoration of that function.
    Look at it this way: If I get a fault that says, "System Too Lean" I don't reprogram the computer to think that "too lean" is now "normal" in order to repair it. I fix the clogged fuel injector that's leaning out the system, restoring normal operation.
    posted by Jon-o at 5:38 AM on May 23, 2009


    Manufacturers also occasionally release software updates for control modules if the original version has a bug or fault that results in a safety or emissions failure while the vehicle is in service. That software has a part number just like any other part on the car. When update software as part of a repair or as a required vehicle update, I attach the scan tool to the vehicle, and log onto manufacturers server, interface with the diagnostic bus on the car, and download the software to the respective control module. If an outside shop has the equipment to update software on a vehicle, I do think that a shop should be able to buy that software on a disk like they buy any other part from a dealer.
    But, since the manufacturer has gone to the trouble of detecting the failure, developing a fix, and ensuring that the update is still in accordance with the safety and emissions requirements of the initial release of the vehicle, they should be able to publish that software exclusively. Often, they're licensing that software from whatever vendor provided the module in the first place and I'm not sure they have the rights to distribute it for reproduction in the first place.
    There are also complications, like software being VIN specific. If I download a software fix for my Mini Cooper, there's no guarantee that it will work just the same on my buddy's Mini that is the previous model year, has a manual transmission and a different engine, and has the previous generation ABS controls that will stop communication on the network when it can't detect the ECM it's used to seeing. It's pretty likely that you wouldn't be able to install one software license on multiple vehicles, not because of copy protection, but because of legitimate differences between those cars.
    posted by Jon-o at 6:41 AM on May 23, 2009


    Making an electrical or computer-based repair on a vehicle NEVER involves changing the function. It's about restoring original function distribute it for reproduction in the first place.

    Okay, so I was reading "changing" it as including restoring it to its original funtion when it was broken. Although still, some cars with poorly-done electronic stability control for example could probably use some modification (though I imagine they've gotten better at it since I tried one.) And what of changing the brake balance the old non-electronic way? But anyway, that'd be another argument. Incidentally, there's nothing on my car that's illegal in this jurisdiction, and I'm all in favour of emissions testing.

    Still, poking electronically at the ABS controller seems like it could be useful for repair, not just changing its programming. Or if not that then some other module. Having the full specs describing the interface to whatever it is would only improve the safety of doing so, as was pointed out way above somewhere.

    Only thing stopping me from whole-heartedly advocating for full disclosure of the data and protocols is that we live with buying home computers, hvac systems, and toasters without knowing all the details of their electronic interfaces, so it seems a bit unfair to require it only of car companies.
    posted by sfenders at 1:29 PM on May 23, 2009


    Your home computer provides all the APIs needed to write your own software. Your HVAC system is pretty much an open book: you don't have to call up the dealer to have it repaired, you can call up most any professional HVAC serviceman. Your toaster shouldn't have electronics: that's making a simple mechanical device into something impractically complicated.

    Your television, at least in CRT days, wasn't locked down against repairs. Any service depot could diagnose the problem. My last CRT television had a service menu that one could access, that did all sorts of nifty obscure things. The documentation was available, though utterly useless to anyone that didn't know what they were doing.

    What was being asked for in this thread, afaict, was full disclosure of all sensor and diagnostics data, and the ability to use the vehicle's built-in systems to determine the root fault of a problem. This is not the ability to reprogram the vehicle, override safety systems, etcetera. This is just basic diagnostics 101.
    posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 AM on May 24, 2009


    Your home computer provides all the APIs needed to write your own software.

    Some of them don't, actually. The situation today is perhaps not as bad as say MS-DOS back when it was full of undocumented interrupts, and earlier versions of Windows, in which people suspected MS didn't disclose APIs in order to give itself an advantage over other software writers.

    Your toaster shouldn't have electronics: that's making a simple mechanical device into something impractically complicated.

    Well, yeah. Some people feel the same way about power windows on cars.
    posted by sfenders at 12:08 PM on May 24, 2009


    Some people feel that way about seat belts.
    posted by Jon-o at 12:30 PM on May 24, 2009


    « Older The kids girls are alright....  |  The SCP Foundation: To Secure,... Newer »


    This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments