By on July 26, 2010

Legislation aimed at improving the transparency of Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) has passed the Massachusetts state House of Representatives, and awaits approval by the Senate. If approved, Bill 2517 [full text in PDF format here] would require that

The  manufacturer of a motor vehicle sold in the commonwealth shall  make available for purchase to independent motor vehicle repair facilities and  motor vehicle owners in  a non­discriminatory  basis and cost as compared to the terms and costs charged to an authorized dealer or authorized motor vehicle repair facility all diagnostic, service and repair information that the manufacturer makes available to its authorized dealers and authorized motor vehicle repair facilities in the same form and the same  manner as it is made available to authorized dealers or an authorized motor vehicle repair  facility of the  motor vehicle.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is opposing the bill, according to the DetN, because it believes the bill is motivated by parts manufacturers who want access to parts in order to reverse engineer and sell them. Literally. And yes, it is China’s fault.

The AAM’s spokesman Charles Territo tells the DetN that

The passage of this legislation would set a dangerous precedent that could have a devastating impact on our economy. It would result in manufacturing jobs going overseas to places like China where the production of knock-off auto parts is big business

Even certain independent mechanics are on-board with the industry’s opposition to Right To Repair. Roger Montbleau of The New England Service Station & Automotive Repair Association tells the DetN

It has become clear that this bill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This bill will supposedly give independent repair businesses access to repair information and tools that car dealerships have at a similar price. Well, repairers can already do that

What independent shops don’t have access to is the software and TSB data that proponents say they need to ensure the safety of their customers’ vehicles. Moreover, proponents argue that a level playing field improves competition between dealers and smaller service shops, bringing the price down for consumers across the board. And as one small service station owner puts it

We don’t need to know how they build their vehicles, just how to repair them

That Territo picked the recent indictment of two alleged technology spies of Chinese extraction, accused of trying to sell GM hybrid technology secrets to the Chinese automaker Chery, is as telling as Growth Energy’s use of the BP oil spill to hype ethanol. Cheap symbolism comes and goes, but the simple fact is that repairing automobiles has become more and more difficult with time. And the companies that manufacture automobiles have every incentive to try to force consumers to use their “official” dealer network for maintenance. If manufacturers care as much about safety as they claim to in the post-Toyota recall environment, they should be happy to make sure that their customers are safe whether they choose to use dealer service or not.

With new legislation coming that should require mandatory black-box standards and other transparency measures, the automakers should consider the public relations benefit that could come from breaking ranks and coming out in favor of Right To Repair. After all, the public responds far better to cheap symbolism done in the name of popular transparency than in the name of protecting obscure (and in the case of the recent GM conviction, barely marketable) technology patents.

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39 Comments on “Industry Opposes Mass “Right To Repair” Legislation Over Chinese Piracy Fears...”


  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    Reverse engineering is quite difficult. If you can reverse engineer a microchip, you actually could have invented 10 more sophisticated chips with the same effort.

    And if a part breaks and needs repair in the first place, then why would the Chinese steal it? If the part was so good that someone would steal it, it wouldn’t have broken in the first place.

    In addition, the same manufacturers don’t see a problem to actually build those parts in China if it is cheaper.

    And china is not so behind. In a decade we might be forced to steal from them. Formerly the Korean cars were laughed at too and likely were some cheap copies of western cars. Nowadays Hyundai doesn’t need to steal our ideas anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      If the part was so good that someone would steal it, it wouldn’t have broken in the first place.

      Huh? The alternator that you want to steal isn’t the one that costs $1,300 and goes a million miles, it’s the one that costs $130 and goes 250,000 miles.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      I don’t think they are worried about the $ 130 alternator that cost to produce $ 100 alone. Since that doesn’t have a big margin to be worth copying. They are worried about a chip they sell you for $ 1,000 but only cost $ 50 to produce (since the chips value is mostly in the design, not the actual chip material). Like with software piracy, there is no physical theft since production cost is “0” when you ignore development cost.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      Since that doesn’t have a big margin to be worth copying.

      As I understand it, parts suppliers operate on razor thin margins – if a way could be found to produce it for $2.00 less that would be worth quite a lot.

    • 0 avatar

      part of the problem no one talks about in regards to China is #1 they don’t respect intellectual property rights and #2 they make things so cheaply that they end up breaking again sooner than the higher quality part.

      In fact, I almost think its a consumer conspiracy: make us buy and rebuy stuff only so it can go bad, and force us to go out and buy it again – you know, to increase consumer spending and keep the ailing economy afloat.

      I trust Japan when it comes to quality. Problem is, I don’t trust china at all, but, I recognize they are willing to shun IP rights to make things cheaper,and sell them even at reduced cost.

      I think LEXUS has the right to retain the rights to fix its cars under its warranty.

      Imagine your Airbag sensor (clock spring) breaks and China made a replacement part that wasn’t tested. Imagine you buy it (just to turn the airbag light out) and get into an accident AND GET KILLED because it failed to work.

      Need I mention the FACT that everything China makes is cheap junk? Need I mention the baby food, drywall, toys and batteries recalled over the past 10 years due to catastrophic failures or chemical poisoning?

      I’m certain, within the next 10 years, you are going to see lots of “isolated incidents” involving fatalities linked to bad Chinese parts.

      Hell, its happening now.

    • 0 avatar
      mythicalprogrammer

      … it’s not hard to reverse engineer a chip. Granted that it depends on the chip complexity but the majority of chips out there are ICs and they’re not the difficult.

      “If you can reverse engineer a microchip, you actually could have invented 10 more sophisticated chips with the same effort”

      This is just WRONG. The technologies to find new materials for diode and to negate p gate leakage requires MUCH more energy, money, and time than reverse engineering a microchip. Thinking outside of the box is much harder then figuring out how something that have already been invented works. You can x-ray the chip and chip companies have specification on parts of the chip and what it does (cache, branch control, isa, etc..). Heck they even explain what they do.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      “And if a part breaks and needs repair in the first place, then why would the Chinese steal it? If the part was so good that someone would steal it, it wouldn’t have broken in the first place.”

      Knowing your competitors weakness is sometimes a greater advantage than knowing their strengths. I think I learned more about my products and how to improve them after going through a benchmarking process. Everything has a weakness and learning how to design around that weakness is invaluable as a designer.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    “The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is opposing the bill, according to the DetN, because it believes the bill is motivated by parts manufacturers who want access to parts in order to reverse engineer and sell them.”

    Companies have been buying competing products and reverse engineering then forever.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      Back when I used to do it, we called it “benchmarking”. When I used to visit the a GM tech center, they had everybody’s cab torn down and mounted on a platform with bulletin board listing the pros and cons of each design. It was the most sensible thing I ever saw there, I’m not sure they used it, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

  • avatar
    Facebook User

    TSBs are pretty easy to come by as it is and I can’t see how they would be any more favorable for reverse engineering than say…buying a single model from the manufacturer.

  • avatar
    thebeelzebubtrigger

    “And yes, it is China’s fault.”
    No, it’s just the greed of the members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. They are way out of line.

  • avatar
    PCMN

    “The manufacturer of a motor vehicle sold in the commonwealth shall make available for purchase to independent motor vehicle repair facilities…”

    How would this effect used vehicle sales or personal sales? I mean if Ford decided to stop selling in MD because of this and I sold a Ford there will they have to provide this information because I sold it there?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’m with the independent shops on this. Today there are more and more routine repairs which require a visit to the dealership. One example: Volvo electronic throttle modules for a broad range of vehicles are a very high failure rate item. An independent shop cannot do the replacement, because post-replacement the car’s computer has to be reprogrammed with proprietary Volvo software. Our local European car repair specialist has an excellent track record, but he will not touch this common repair.

    Another example: Many modern vehicles have TPMS systems which require dealer reprogramming of the car’s computer system if the sensor is replaced. The sensors themselves are fairly high failure rate items both due to their own failure and to the high chance of damage during a tire replacement.

    I don’t believe that the availability of this information materially alters the availability of aftermarket replacement parts. What’s more, it would be a good thing if replacement parts were easier to clone. Auto makers charge outrageous prices for proprietary parts simply because they can get away with it, and the only check and balance is the availability of aftermarket alternatives.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      It doesn’t have to be a complex part such as a Volvo electronic throttle. Ever price out sun visors when there is no ‘generic equivalent’ available? They run $150 – $200. This was for a visor for a Suburban, but I have no doubt all mfgs price them this way.

      Blaming the Chinese makes good headlines, but it likely has little to do with the issue at hand.

  • avatar
    cacon

    Of course they’re opposing it. The money made in the dealerships is not from selling new cars, they make money through the services: scheduled maintenance, out of warranty repairs, extra maintenance services, etc.

    That bill would “take away” their “right” to charge an arm and a leg for every service performed in the car. If all the manufacturer’s manuals, tools, sw, etc are to be made 100% available by law, that would take away a lot of business from the dealership.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Exactly. The $tealership isn’t going to let it’s cash cow get gored without a fight. The big bucks are in the service bays, not the showroom floor. I should have access to any information I need to fix my car if I choose to do so. So should the independent shop. It should be noted that this would not necessarily take away all the business from the stealer’s repair shop; it would just force them to be competitive with the quality independents. Most independent shops don’t really want the price-only customers that typically head to Pep Boys or other discounters…

      I laugh when Big Business cries “It’s gonna cost jobs to protect workers, environment, etc” but they outsource every American job they can in the name of “competitiveness”…of course we know its all about lining their pockets at the expense of the little guy. America’s fall from preeminence is not going to be pretty, and the train has already left the station…

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    In other news, wtf is up with that monstrosity in the picture? Maybe I’m not up on new-fangled auto-mobiles, but why bother with a hood when there’s just another hood under it?

    “It’s hoods all the way down!”

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Part sound insulation, part styling, part keeping the unwashed masses from tinkering with the motor.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Usually those things are just a couple of bolts, though. Or maybe they use Torx to weed out the noobs, like Apple did with the original Mac.

      My Saab 9-5 is somewhat refreshing in that respect; it almost looks like a real car in there. Plus, I changed a headlight bulb today in 5 minutes without having done it before – big half-twist soft plastic cover that gives you a lot of room to work, a bulb clip that pulls away to the side and then down so you don’t fight over the top of the bulb pulling on a metal thing until your fingers bleed… no brittle plastic tab on the connector which snaps off when you get the connector free…

      Anyway, yeah… I miss the days of my ’93 Escort. And I’m sure people who drove cars 10 years before that miss those da… well, people who drove European cars, anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Exactly. If you can’t figure out how to get the cover off, you REALLY have no business messing around with anything underneath it.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Most of that is sound insulation.

      I know it’s fashionable to bash the plastic covers, but they really do serve a purpose. It’s trivial to remove, too.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Dealers are dying to find a way to get vehicles in the service bays out of warranty, that’s where the big money is. They can make more in the garage than the sales floor.

    I find it laughable their criticism of Chinese manufacturing. Where do you suppose many of their parts come from now?

    If they are not going to help others fix the cars, then we’ll go with the longest warranties. I’ll take 100K miles for 10 years, Alex..

  • avatar
    Ion

    It doesn’t really keep anyone from toying with the motor. These plastic covers are easy to remove especially to someone whose even slightly mechanically inclined.

    In Lexus’ case for example you simply push the center of the plastic fastners and the plastic covers come right off.

  • avatar
    Buffs Fan

    80% of the non-warranty repair work is done outside of the dealership today, at Independent Repair shops. The tools and information needed to repair the vehicles are already made available to the aftermarket. What the parts manufacturers want is the intellectual property of the Auto Manufacturers, so they can produce the parts, without having to spend money on research and development. Would the parts be cheaper — of course, since the design costs would be borne by the Auto Manufacturers, and the aftermarket companies would only pay the variable costs of manufacturing. However, when companies rip-off your designs (even when they pass Trojan Horse legislation to do so), innovation dies.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      It simply isn’t true that shops have access to all the information and tools required to repair modern vehicles. Just try to get a Hyundai tire pressure monitor system problem fixed outside a dealership. Just try to get a Volvo electronic throttle control module replaced outside a dealership. The problem is bad, and getting worse.

    • 0 avatar
      newcarscostalot

      I had a Dodge several years ago with a check engine light glaring at me. So I went down to the local auto parts shop and plugged in their diagnostic tool, because I figured I could check the code for free. No such luck. The code had not been released, which meant I had to go to the dealer and spend a hefty sum of money just to find out what was wrong with the car. This cost did not include the cost of the repair or the cost of the part. I think that codes like these should be released so the consumer can choose where they go to access them and not be forced to go the dealer.

    • 0 avatar
      Buffs Fan

      Newcarscosalot — information for trouble codes is available today, wasn’t always the case, so I don’t know how long ago you tried to find it. Also, just because the tools or information is available, doesn’t mean the shop or parts store you went to has obtained it. Tools cost money, and if there isn’t demand, a shop may choose not to buy it. Dealerships are either required to buy, or have enough demand to justify the purchase.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Or maybe they use Torx to weed out the noobs, like Apple did with the original Mac

      It wasn’t that you needed a Torx, is that you needed a Torx with a 30cm blade. I still have the SE/30 that got me through college and I ended up making my own driver by welding two of them together to facilitate a hard drive replacement.

      Compared to the twenty-five screws (all accessible, mind you) I had to pull out of an Acer netbook, it wasn’t so bad.

    • 0 avatar
      newcarscostalot

      Buffs Fan:

      This was around five years ago. Also, the tool I used was a portable OBD-2 scanner available to use for free at many parts stores. When I used it, there were two codes. One was available, one was not, thus making it necessary to use the dealer and pay the cost. This should not be the case (and may not be today) at least when it comes to being able to access and identify trouble codes, IMHO.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    I guess I don’t get it. If you wanted to reverse engineer parts, couldn’t you just buy some cars and take them apart? I mean, if we’re talking million dollar efforts to reverse engineer, dropping 20 grand on a sample car isn’t that big a deal. So I’m not sure that preventing Chinese firms from accessing the parts makes any sense.

  • avatar
    M 1

    “in a non­discriminatory basis and cost as compared to the terms and costs charged to an authorized dealer”

    Discussions of motives are perfectly valid, but I wanted to highlight the line above. These days dealers spend very large amounts of money on overpriced-but-mandatory equipment. I remember when Mercedes raped, er, “took over” Chrysler the dealerships were all complaining about costs as high as $25K just to buy the MB “Star Diagnostics” software, which began showing up in Chrysler products within only about 18 months. A friend of mine was the head mechanic at a dealership and he showed me the slew of new magic tools they needed just to work on the MB junk coming down the pipeline. I remember Toyota ads actually bragging about some special $2500 wrench needed to adjust one damned bolt somewhere on the rear of their new engines back when Lexus was new.

    Silly specialized tools abound. Everybody should have access to this junk, but manufacturer pricing to their own dealer networks is pretty ridiculous. Beware what you ask for, you just might get it…

    I’m reasonably convinced that modern cars are designed by fresh-outta-college engineers who have never actually worked on a vehicle in their life. They’re assemble-only. Sad. Some days I marvel at the simple-but-cool stuff I discover on my ’55 Buick. But I only swear at under-hood design decisions on my ’07 Suburban.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      and “all diagnostic, service and repair information…”

      This is about tools, information, and software necessary to repair a vehicle. Where everybody is getting “reverse engineer replacement parts” I can’t find.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Hmmm, I do almost all of the maintenance and repair work on our modern vehicles. I haven’t found any of them to be “assemble” only deals.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      The information and software are a pain. Saabs have this funky Windows app that serves as the shop manual, and it’s next to impossible to find. I suspect that it’s a user interface disaster in the finest tradition of commercial DB readers, too, from the screenshots I’ve seen. I bet it has a commandline DB running in the background, and screenscrapes the text while loading a black and white bitmap and concatenating them into a postscript file that’s loaded with the GUI – itself converted from a DOS equivalent to operate as a separate graphics environment copied into a single large windows form – and displayed pixel by pixel with two GDM nested ‘for’ loops.

      I’ve seen worse, though. Who knows, maybe the thing’s in Java. And maybe that’s worse.

      God knows what happens if it breaks under Win7. And if you do any work on the ECU or swap major bits of electronics around, you need a TechII to reprogram its amazing electronical brain. Apparently they run around four grand.

      At least you can buy them, though. If I were rich, I would, but it seems stupid to spend 4k on a TechII to use on my $9k car…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I suspect that it’s a user interface disaster in the finest tradition of commercial DB readers, too

      This seems to be a European thing. I still wake up screaming about the Bosch and Lucas CD-driven manuals. Horrible things: between the copy protection, the horrific hacks atop BDE or FoxPro and the occasional error dialogue in German, they were such pigs.

      Back in 1995 I could see the point: neither the web nor Acrobat was quite there. By 2000 there really was no excuse.

      Denso’s was a cakewalk by comparison. The same attitude, I think, extends to the automakers themselves.

  • avatar
    mmdpg

    If the car makers are so worried about China stealing their technology then why are they building huge R&D centers in China? Don’t you think someone working there can walk down the street and help their borther in law build the same top secret parts in his basement and sell them as knock off’s?

  • avatar

    The China angle is a red herring. Most of the parts are manufactured in China anyway. All a Chinese factory needs to reverse engineer a part is a sample of the part.

    This is about repair information, diagnostic codes etc. This has nothing at all to do with reverse engineering. In Europe, this information has to be provided to anybody who wants it since 2003 – and there we thought we were behind the U.S. Apparently, we were not.

    The repair business is a big moneymaker for both the dealership and the factory (overpriced original parts). Withholding repair information turns your into a hostage of the dealership, and they can extort any ransom payment they want. If I would tell you the marke-ups on some parts, you would vomit.

    • 0 avatar
      EEGeek

      Exactly. I know VW has some procedures that require an encrypted connection between the dealer’s diagnostic computer and a central server tucked away in Wolfsburg or New Jersey or Timbuktu. Only authorized dealers can get access. VCDS is a cool aftermarket tool, but it can’t do that. The OEMs and dealers like it that way, for obviou$ rea$son$…

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    How absurd. An an electrical engineer at a Tier-1 automotive supplier in the early 1990s, I was appalled that we were directed to give our very latest microcontroller designs to GM in China to do copies of our latest North American designs.

    Give me a break, OEMs. You lie!


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