Do Cars Get An Anti-Circumvention Exemption?

from the old-dog-new-tricks dept

Media formats aren't the only area where circumvention is a hot issue. Increasingly, auto mechanics are complaining that codes required to use digital diagnostic systems are preventing them from being able to do their jobs. Specifically, they allege that manufacturers intentionally make it difficult to access a car's computer systems, for the purposes of putting independent mechanics at a disadvantage to more expensive dealer mechanics. In order for the independent mechanics to use the system, they must either shell out for expensive equipment, or subscribe to services that help them decipher what the computers are saying. It seems like there are really two issues here. First, it's not totally clear that the manufacturers are intentionally adding unnecessary cost. They might be right in saying that mechanics should shell out for the equipment, because it's a necessary tool at any shop these days. Second, if the manufacturers are trying to throw up hurdles for independent mechanics, then what does the law say about circumvention? If manufacturers were to use, say, the DMCA to prevent mechanics from solving the problem cheaply, then this should be addressed, because it's clearly a case of the law buttressing an anti-competitive tactic. But if there's nothing preventing mechanics from finding workarounds, then it shouldn't be too long for the market to come up with one. If no workaround can be found, then it supports the initial idea, that perhaps the expense of getting access to the computers is a legitimate cost of fixing cars these days.

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  • identicon
    CharleyKeen, 18 Dec 2006 @ 5:22pm

    American Mechanics...

    This is only really a problem in the states where half of Americans still want their steel V8 death machines. The mechanics are used to working on such primitive engineering that now when foreign cars are in the lead in a world-wide market, they're in a state of shock with all these 'new fangled electronic interfaces'.

    But then, it's just another example of blind American pride holding back our nation in another area of commerce. While foreign markets strive to achieve technological breakthroughs in every area, we sit here with our thumbs in the sun-free zone, idolizing our "American muscle car". All the while the rest of the world laughs at us.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go be sick.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Dec 2006 @ 5:38pm

      Re: American Mechanics...

      you sir, are still living in the 80s.

      most cars on the road here in the U.S. of A. are recent to within the past 10 years and younger. Of which, a a large percentage of them are U.S. manufactured (not to be confused with "U.S. Designed").

      new vehicles with V8 that are not trucks or SUVs are very rarely purchased by the common middle-class population - the average __middle-class american__ is more likely to purchase an high-millage four-banger rather than a gas guzzling v8 within their price-range -- which is not a truck or SUV. note: many mini-vans are not even V8.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Susan, 18 Dec 2006 @ 5:43pm

        Re: Re: American Mechanics...

        Is that why the average male still gets a half-stock when he hears the word "Hemi"?

        I'm with Charley on this. Our culture is a throw-away culture. We build to minimum standards in hopes that the consume will want a new model a couple of years later. What this means is, it's easier for American car companies to continue using older interfaces, while the likes of Honda and Toyota continue to evolve. Sure, the American cars have "computers" and are "electric" now, but nowhere near to the standard of most other evolved nations.

        And if my word isn't enough, then trust in my experience. I used to work as a Ford technician for a dealership that sold Fords and Hyundai. The Hyundai cars showed signs of better engineering and design than most Ford models. The same can be said about most other major American brands as well.

        Though, if you empty-headed puppets would think outside of our own borders, you'd know this and accept it as fact. It's WHY our car industry is dying.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lurking Wrench Turner, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:01pm

      Re: American Mechanics...

      Eight years ago a SunTune Diagnostic machine cost EVERY Mechanic, Licenced or independant $5,000.oo to purchace and $65.oo EACH time it was used. It would ping home office, and if the office in question didn't get it's cut in 24 or less, you had a very-expensive-paperweight. Remember that the next time you need to drop $400 on a $300 chip for your "Fuel/Air Mixture Device".

      Plymouth K-Cars in the early eighty's had a procedure where the onboard chip could be made to divulge which sensors weren't up to parameter. Some of your " 'new fangled electronic interfaces' " could be found in some form on 78 Caddies.

      As far as "achieve{ing} technolological breakthroughs" , look up just how many "100 MPG" carbourator designs that the oil company's are sitting on, Skippy. Or how about lead/acid battery's that haven't changed fundamentally since 1902? Perhaps You should think about WHY the Major auto manufacturers Didn't continue with the turbine engine experiments in the 50's.... They don't break down often enough.

      Granted, gigantic cars with 30gallon gastanks that can pass everything but a gas station don't make much sense. { I drive a Skoda POS myself}

      A point: every story, problem, inconvenience, quirk, and whacked out customer, that you folks have had to deal with in the computer world, us wrenches have had to deal with too.
      Your charges don't weigh tons, burn you, drip acid, gasoline, or oil.

      Micro$tuffed dosn't have the corner market on technology leverage, market muscling, screwing it's customer base. Computer's aren't the only platform which inspires platform, or appllication snobbery.
      Kindly refrain from making it out that just because I have a firm grasp of a different technology {That I dare say that YOU have to HIRE done for you.}
      That your local mechanic is stupid or abmormal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lurking Wrench Turner, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:05pm

      Re: American Mechanics...

      Eight years ago a SunTune Diagnostic machine cost EVERY Mechanic, Licenced or independant $5,000.oo to purchace and $65.oo EACH time it was used. It would ping home office, and if the office in question didn't get it's cut in 24 or less, you had a very-expensive-paperweight. Remember that the next time you need to drop $400 on a $300 chip for your "Fuel/Air Mixture Device".

      Plymouth K-Cars in the early eighty's had a procedure where the onboard chip could be made to divulge which sensors weren't up to parameter. Some of your " 'new fangled electronic interfaces' " could be found in some form on 78 Caddies.

      As far as "achieve{ing} technolological breakthroughs" , look up just how many "100 MPG" carbourator designs that the oil company's are sitting on, Skippy. Or how about lead/acid battery's that haven't changed fundamentally since 1902? Perhaps You should think about WHY the Major auto manufacturers Didn't continue with the turbine engine experiments in the 50's.... They don't break down often enough.

      Granted, gigantic cars with 30gallon gastanks that can pass everything but a gas station don't make much sense. { I drive a Skoda POS myself}

      A point: every story, problem, inconvenience, quirk, and whacked out customer, that you folks have had to deal with in the computer world, us wrenches have had to deal with too.
      Your charges don't weigh tons, burn you, drip acid, gasoline, or oil.

      Micro$tuffed dosn't have the corner market on technology leverage, market muscling, screwing it's customer base. Computer's aren't the only platform which inspires platform, or appllication snobbery.
      Kindly refrain from making it out that just because I have a firm grasp of a different technology {That I dare say that YOU have to HIRE done for you.}
      That your local mechanic is stupid or abmormal.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2007 @ 9:02pm

      Re: American Mechanics...

      Steel V-8 death machines what the F#$% are you talking about? You must be talking about semis. You have to go out of your way to find a new car today with a v-8. Muscle cars?? what is wrong with you. Muscle cars are collectables just like benie babies or old coins. Muscle cars are art work make fun of muscle cars and make fun of any famous painting as well. Besides GM in industry leader as far as technology is concerned FACT. Leave the old cars out of it ,that's water under the bridge. My problem is diposable cars poluting our big blue planet. Make cars more like the way they used to be repairable nor diposable. It sounds like you do not love our country. I have an idea why don't you move to japan and surround yourself with rice. Oh yeah my wife was killed in a TOYOTA 4CLY DEATH TRAP!!!!! YOU IDIOT

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        terrance, 1 Jul 2007 @ 11:22pm

        Re: Re: American Mechanics...

        i am 20 yrs old and i currently own two cars, a 1987 red/ on beige interior chevy cavelier z24 with manual transmission and a 1969 dodge polara with a 429 under the hood midnight blue exterior /with light blue interior .let me tell you something in terms of ride quality nothing beats a good old american iron or hard core late 80's aluminum ,god i love my cars .i will never buy a japanese car i would rather buy european or american constantly than to buy unsafe cheap ugly unemotional feeling/looking japanese car and that's final.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    me, myself, and i, 18 Dec 2006 @ 5:41pm

    now come on!

    i like my screaming metal death trap of a 1968 black v8 268hp 302 mustang GT. I mean, it has a 14.5 gallon tank and a whole 10mpg. besides, its just so *easy* to work on those machines. You know, i would willingly pay alot more just so i could open up my hood and know what i'm looking at.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Justin Pakosky, 18 Dec 2006 @ 5:47pm

    Wow I never thought about legality.
    My father is a self employed mechanic and he has been forced to purchase dealer equipment. I thought it was bull but legal. this is one to spread around.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Don, 18 Dec 2006 @ 5:57pm

    Your Father...

    The only reason your father was "forced" to buy dealer equipment was so he could service cars under the dealer's warranty. No one held a gun to his head to make him come to that conclusion, he made that call in hopes of more business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      matt, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:03pm

      wrong

      incorrect, the reason his father was forced to buy dealer equipment was so he could service the cars period, not warranty.

      this is a big issue, hope someone does take a look further

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    William, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:07pm

    You are completely missing the point

    The car companies are charging 20 grand for an adapter to connect to the computer and look at the same error codes that cars have throwing for 25 years. They could put a USB jack in the car for half the price and let any computer connect to it but they want to local garages out of business. So you have to go to the dealer shop. And if anybody else makes the adapter its patent infringement. This reminds me of the printer companies trying to make it harder to refill inc and suing anybody who makes generic fairly priced products.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lurking Wrench Turner, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:09pm

    Sorry about the double post.......BTW this is coming to you from a Linux-driven machine...GRYNE.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Reed, 19 Dec 2006 @ 12:08am

      Re: Technology for the poor

      Cool, I am running Linux here too.

      Yep I totally agree with your earlier post. Technology is driven by those who are rich and is often stifled when it is too good to be true (Cold Fusion anyone?).

      There are literally tons of examples of companies using their power and clout to prevent the sustainable technologies from getting out.

      The problem, it doesn't fit their business model of scarity and monopolisitic behavior. You give people technology that is good and suddenly they don't need you anymore!

      If Electric cars were being made in the US right now (and they could be easily) they would be many more times reliable than any gasoline or diesel based engine. You eliminate the transmission, spark plugs, air cleaners, and the list goes on and on. The dealers would lose the majority of their revenue due to reliability. It just doesn't make sense to them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        haywood, 19 Dec 2006 @ 6:13am

        Re: Re: Technology for the poor

        So you believe the 100 mpg carburetor urban legends. Generally people who believe that haven't studied combustion theory, and don't believe in applied physics. I'll simplify it for you regardless of how it is delivered it takes set number of BTUs to move a set number of pounds, at 100% efficiency. The only way to alter that equation is to increase or decrease either the BTUs or the pounds or change the efficiency % which is generally much less than 100%. Computer controlled direct fuel injection is what carburetors want to be when they grow up, and they still can't hit 100 mpg with that on anything that will haul 4 passengers in relative safety or comfort.
        To those who think crumple zones are the holy grail of safety, I'll gladly do a 20 mph head on with you in my 1979 Ford F-350 with 4" thick-wall pipe bumper reinforced with c channel and a grille guard with you in the Volvo of your choice.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Justin Pakosky, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:35pm

    FYI nothing to do with warranty.
    you need the systems to turn of an engine light even in my 96 passat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    haywood, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:42pm

    I straddle this fence nicely, I have a Jag and 2 Ford pickups, They are very different, but all are serviceable. I truly love my old F350 with a bored out 460, Holley and headers, it gets the job done, and if it breaks, it was intended to be repaired by humans. It likes its gas, but the $30k + a new one would cost would take at least 20 years to make up on fuel economy. The Jag I can fix, I've never even looked for computer codes, vehicles talk to me, and I listen.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    pvilleSE, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:45pm

    Car company greed

    As a web programmer myself who also works on his own cars. I am a strong advocate of open source programming and open source formats/protocols. If the car companies are really not using this to make money or run small town mechanics out of business then there is no reason they cannot accept an open source protocol that every car company uses and then if individuals want to write their own code to diagnose the problem, then it is free and if you want it simple just like windows users then you can purchase some software from the manufacturer.

    Beyond running local mechanics (which if I pay someone to fix my car is my preferred method) they make it hard for the customer to work on his/her own car and I think that is were you can definitely argue that they are wrong, if I buy something if I want to go through the trouble I should be able to fix it without having to pay outrageous fees to the manufacture just so I can do all the work.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    alfred.davenport, 18 Dec 2006 @ 6:57pm

    there is no way around the computer in the car, most of them if you chage any thing in it, it shuts down the damn thing, thanks DOT but anyway, im a machanic, we have a 5000 snap on modus, its a extra 25$ a year to keep it up to date. i have done about 400 cars useing it and fixed the damn thing in half the time than it would have taken to track it down going thru the trubble shooting lists. granted it is a pain in the ass to put out the money, but if you cant get one, there is no point in being independent because you cant do anything on the new big rigs and most new cars.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    pound, 18 Dec 2006 @ 7:02pm

    "FYI nothing to do with warranty.
    you need the systems to turn of an engine light even in my 96 passat."


    just disconnect the battery.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Yeah thats right, 18 Dec 2006 @ 7:05pm

    You need to be small and Asian to work on auto's today for they are the only ones who can jimmy their tiny hands around just enough to work on these engineering monstrosities.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    matt, 18 Dec 2006 @ 7:11pm

    Phhhfft

    I love it when we americans all get grouped together, surely its easier to blame one country if everyone in it is the same. First off Charlie, a very small percentage of people are into hotrods and muscle cars.... I (btw) am one and why notI ave the money, it makes me happy and its a lot better than driving around a Renault or Puegot but I also drive around 400 miles a week to get to work, for this i drive a nice little honda civic thats 10 years old and gets over 40mpg. SO who cares if some of my other toys get less than say 10 mpg or even maybe 8? I pay for the gas so really who else cares. I think the point is not the lack of skill of American mechanics but the need for tools that in some cases (Mercedes Benz) are only available to dealerships, or extremly expensive

    I know that MB was testing a system that had to connect with servers (in Germany?) before engine codes could be sen or diagnosttics run, its all well and good untill the refuse anyone but thier dealers with the equipment

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    matt, 18 Dec 2006 @ 7:11pm

    Phhhfft

    I love it when we americans all get grouped together, surely its easier to blame one country if everyone in it is the same. First off Charlie, a very small percentage of people are into hotrods and muscle cars.... I (btw) am one and why notI ave the money, it makes me happy and its a lot better than driving around a Renault or Puegot but I also drive around 400 miles a week to get to work, for this i drive a nice little honda civic thats 10 years old and gets over 40mpg. SO who cares if some of my other toys get less than say 10 mpg or even maybe 8? I pay for the gas so really who else cares. I think the point is not the lack of skill of American mechanics but the need for tools that in some cases (Mercedes Benz) are only available to dealerships, or extremly expensive

    I know that MB was testing a system that had to connect with servers (in Germany?) before engine codes could be sen or diagnosttics run, its all well and good untill the refuse anyone but thier dealers with the equipment

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bonita, 18 Dec 2006 @ 7:14pm

    obdii and codes

    In the USA it was mandated that car have the obdii interface after/during 1996. Usually under the drivers dash or with slightly different configuration in the engine compartment.
    OBDII interfaces are available for most car makes and will give you a code (4 digit) which indicates the nature of the for engine check light being on. I have a list of codes for my toyota and a somewhat generic interface so frequently the code only give me a general idea of what is wrong.
    Perhaps that is what this thread is about, because the obdii is supposed to be somewhat of a standard any there are many interfaces available now for home mechanics.

    I do agree that we need to keep the interfaces, codes and diagnostic tools cheap and available to everyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    One Ole Professional Mechanic, 18 Dec 2006 @ 7:31pm

    So much ado about nothing

    I've been spinning wrenches for more than 40 years professionally. Anyone who really wants to work on their own vehicle can purchase an OTC handheld computer for less than $300 dollars and pull the majority of the codes on their own. You can shut off the darn check engine light with it as well. Everything changes folks, so live with it. I like working on the old classics a lot, but it is so much nicer to plug in and pull the codes on the newer cars and that makes them quicker to repair. Everyone you know is in a huge hurry today, so the computer diagnostics make the repair faster and much more likely to be done correctly the very first time. Any auto mechanic worth his ASE certification will not complain about the cost of the equpitment because it pays for itself very quickly in a decent shop. If the shop doesn't want to get into the 21st century then they should specialize in classic vehicles and keep us "old timers" who remember all the ancient incantations to tune up a duel point ignitions system. The only thing I have ever seen the big american auto companies or any other do as far as codes are concerned was to reserve that information as proprietary for a short time when a new computer system came out. Most of the time they released it when the next model year vehicle came out. Thats no worse than a pharmaceutical company holding back the formula on a new drug until they have recouped their research cost before letting it go to generic manufacturers. Lets face the facts, some folks are not smart enough to repair their own vehicles to begin with. Then some are so cheap that they don't want to pay a fair price to get it done correctly. So once again somebody had to come up with another big business conspiracy theory of how we are all getting shafted by the auto companies. So I guess all that remains is for me ask if I can please have a little cheese and crackers to go with all the "Whine" I've found here. Thank goodness that big business keeps the majority of the feeble minded supplied with a paycheck whether its signed by an American auto maker or a foriegn company. One more thing, I really would like to see that damn 100 mile a gallon carburetor that folks have been BS'ing about for the last 50 years. If the damn thing ever existed (which it doesn't) These modern efficient fuel injection systems coul all be on the scrap pile and the big carburetor companies could put all those laid off workers back to work. I'm going to shove my soapbox back under the work bench now until someone else makes me pull it out again. Happy Holidays.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    rockfan, 18 Dec 2006 @ 8:05pm

    hhhmmmm...

    i think charley needs to step back and compare amaerican and forein cars again. first of all, forein cars are death traps. hit one of these aisian cars into anything short of plywood and they crumple like tinfoil, and in many cases killing anybody in the vehicle. while some american made cars can drive through a brick wall and keep on going.

    i was in the back seat of my fathers truck (a dodge) when it got teeboned by a van (a forein van) at an intersection. the van was crushed, they even had to use the jaws of life to get the driver out. the dodge passenger door was the only thing dameged, and it still opened.

    the reason forien cars are so fuel eficient is becuase the desiners that created them cut alot of corners to remove excess material and weight. this cuases them to very dangerous in a crash.

    its also the same reason that american cars inhale gas. it's about the chemistry. gasoline can only provide so much energy per unit of mass. and it takes so much energy to move a certain amount of weight. the little forien cars have great fuel economy becuase everything that makes a car safe has been removed from them. american muscle cars still have steel bodies that can survive a crap load of abuse, and this added safety drops the mpg.

    as for the onboard computers, its just another way to suck some more money out of people. it would have been just as easy to make a standard code for every car, but then nobody would make money off of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pilot, 18 Dec 2006 @ 8:16pm

    Turbines don't belong in cars

    I guess you know nothing about engines. The reason that turbine engines arn't in cars is that they arn't as efficent as piston engines. I fly airplanes, and a turbine engine of the same HP burnes more fuel then the equlivent piston engine. The only reason that turbines are used in airliners is that they last long, and can make tons of power that jets need.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CoJeff, 18 Dec 2006 @ 9:29pm

    Missing the point

    A lot of you are missing the point. For example, I was having trouble with my abs system. When I was hitting the gas the abs would turn on, which isn't good. The place I was taking my car to couldn't get the codes off the computer. No matter what he tried or different attachments the code wouldn't come off. Well I took it to Dodge and what do you know? They were able to get the code no problem. The mechanic I was going to even tried to buy an update for his tool and was told by Snap-on that it wasn't available.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Timmuh, 18 Dec 2006 @ 10:58pm

    rockfan...

    You're a moron. American cars WERE the death machines until the foreign car market showed them how to do it right. Every heard of Volvo? The first car with 3 point harnesses and crumple zones? Every here of Mercedes? First car with air bags and anti-lock breaks.

    In fact, most foreign car companies still make safer vehicles than their American counter-parts. Why do you think Toyota is the #1 World Selling brand while maintaining safety benchmarks? Do the research before you decide to open your big, fat, American mouth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      terrance, 1 Jul 2007 @ 11:06pm

      Re: rockfan...

      first of all japanese cars like toyota are cheap as hell especially in engineering it's the motor that keeps toyota going but as far as engine it's engine is crap chevy makes better engines.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    SpeedFreak, 19 Dec 2006 @ 6:07am

    I do automotive electronics exclusivly. I do not mean starters, batterys and driveability either. Those problems are no longer the common issues with new cars. Just about everything in a modern automobile is run thru a datastream. Things as simple as the glovebox light or the speedometer are run over a can network and one glitch or a novice stereo installation can disable a whole car. Truth be told, retreving codes can be done with just about any properly equiped scanner, but the mechanics/technicians interputation and use of those codes is a problem. Its easy to blame the scanner for their lack of ability. In my world, the most valuable tool would be able to capture and reproduce and run a predefined datastream thru the network. Some manufactures have buildt in self tests for instrument clusters and climate controls but they are limited.. They need to take the next step and allow us the code to operate specific multiple devices thru the network. But like my daddy always said, wish in one hand and shyt in the other.. quess wich one fills up first.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Dec 2006 @ 10:05am

    Car companies obviously want it to be hard to figure out what is wrong with your car. It would take very little more to have the car print out the error code, or even a description of the problem within the car. It doesn't take a super-powered computer to do this, just a simple chip that can decipher the codes. ODBII readers that read ALL ODBII codes, regardless of manufacturer can be bought for around $100 on the internet. The chips inside these converters cost pennies to manufacture.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    rockfan, 23 Dec 2006 @ 10:59pm

    well timmuh, this big mouthed, ignorant american knows one thing. tact.

    take your forien cars and drive off a cliff. your forien negativity/hostility is exactly why your forein countrys are always getting into fights they cant win, then ask us ignorant americans for help. if were so ignorant, why is every one looking to us for answers?

    besides, i have yet to see a forien vehicle that can compete with a hemi 5.7 liter 4x4 dodge ram in the middle of a blizzard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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