By on April 11, 2011

After several abortive attempts over the last several congresses, the “Right To Repair” Coalition for Auto Repair Equality  has had a new bill introduced in the 112th Congress with the goal of

requiring that car companies provide full access at a reasonable cost to all service information, tools, computer codes and safety-related bulletins needed to repair motor vehicles.

The auto industry has long opposed such bills, which have been passed on the state level but have never been passed into federal law. Back in 2009, then-head of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers lobby group, Charles Territo, argued against Right To Repair legislation in a TTAC editorial, calling it “a solution in search of a problem.” More recently, the AAM opposed a Massachusets Right To Repair bill on the grounds that it would increase Chinese piracy of auto parts. Needless to say, now that CARE has finagled HR 1449 into Congress with bipartisan sponsorship (from Todd Platts (R-PA) and Edolphus Towns (D-NY)), the debate is about to get fired up all over again.

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91 Comments on ““Right To Repair” Debate Returns To Congress...”


  • avatar
    MBella

    Although I am always in support of a concept that protects independent service facilities, who is to say what a reasonable cost is. I know the Mercedes Benz service equipment that dealers have isn’t exactly cheap. Our scan tools cost more than a comparable Snap-On or OTC unit that handles almost all cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I know the Mercedes Benz service equipment that dealers have isn’t exactly cheap. Our scan tools cost more than a comparable Snap-On or OTC unit that handles almost all cars.

      You’ve sumarized the problem nicely. The whole point of initiatives like this is to force manufactures -away- from designing-in the obligation to use only factory tools to perform repairs and service.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Irrelevant, the pricing of that scan tool (or any other) is completely artificial. You don’t seriously believe that an engine computer is doing anything so complicated that a $250 surplus laptop couldn’t handle, do you? Or hell, even a smartphone, at this point.
       
      There is no reason in the world that car computers couldn’t be accessible through an off-the-shelf USB port with a simple, well-defined protocol. Hell, given what they’re putting into cars lately, they could easily make the damned things HTTP/HTML compatible with minimal effort, if they really wanted to.

      • 0 avatar

        @M 1, while an off the shelf laptop has enough horsepower, the software is the real expense. They could make car systems more standards compliant with other industries (hardware and software-wise) but do you really want any old Windows machine plugging into your car? Last thing I need is to run anti-virus on my ECU, and this is coming from a programmer. I *want* barriers to entry in this area. I am cool with specialty electronics especially in the hands of a trained mechanic/engineer. I am less cool with an HP Pavilion with an extension cord and USB cable beaming whatever it wants onto something that can kill me.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        A few manufacturers have any part that connects to the vehicle’s system bus require a digital signature to match that of the car in order to function, so that if you (for instance) replace a broken headlight with one pulled from a junkyard, you need the dealer to do the work anyway or else the car computer won’t “authorize” the part to work. If this spreads, it can kill off all DIY auto repair.

      • 0 avatar
        highlandmiata

        Aristurtle: Can you tell me which manufacturers do this? BMW? Volvo? Honda?  Just curious.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I know Volvo does this; I believe BMW has started to adopt a similar scheme; I don’t know which others off the top of my head. I’m not a professional mechanic; just a DIY enthusiast.

      • 0 avatar

        They learned that trick from Printer manufacturers (“Genuine HP Black Cartridge Installed…”). It didn’t take the aftermarket/greymarket long to make a work around. If this hits a more mainstream brand (a la Ford, GM, Honda) then you can expect a work around very quickly. By the time most of us make the bank necessary for a Bimmer, we don’t have to time to DIY much anymore.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    You open the hood on the Lexus, and there is another hood!

    We should go to the dealer for service because they do it better, not because we have too!

    • 0 avatar
      johnny ro

      At least it has a dipstick. Audi now leaves them off, you get a plug for dipstick tube. Dash mounted
      TV screen has a command for oil level, it works sometimes. 

      Also consumer cannot reset service interval light, after performing “service” which includes air filter, cabin filter, wiper blades, oil change, and then “looking” at different parts of the car.

  • avatar
    Jimal


    fi·na·gle/fəˈnāgəl/Verb

    1. Obtain (something) by devious or dishonest means.
    2. Act in a devious or dishonest manner: “they finagled over the fine points”.

    Interesting choice of word Edward. Looking to stay on the good side of the manufacturers?

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    This is absolutely needed.  Carmakers are trying to put a lock on service in attempt to divert as much work to the stealership. A classic case of stepping in when industry tries to limit choice to feather their own nest.  BMW is the worst offender in this regard, equipping their cars with unneeded BS like a code for “draining the battery” which is used to deny coverage of bad batteries.  Go to Bimmerfest for a load of crap like this.  However, as always the devil is in the details.  Just what constitutes a reasonable charge?” The scan tool itself is not so expensive, but the software is.  This legislation must be structured so that all diagnostic information is available for purchase to anybody who wants to pay for it.  It really is no different than the old FSMs that most of us bought along with our car.  The aftermarket, given enough time, may crack the software anyway if there is enough demand for it.  Look at the ECM Chrysler uses for HEMI applications…the aftermarket hacked it and developed its own mods despite the manufacturer not making such information available.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      “BMW is the worst offender in this regard, equipping their cars with unneeded BS like a code for “draining the battery” which is used to deny coverage of bad batteries.  Go to Bimmerfest for a load of crap like this”
       
      Also see: “$500 mandatory dealer visit for replacement of the car’s battery in an E60/E90 or newer BMW”.
       
      This in contrast to new Lexus and Infiniti cars, which have an auto battery of the type found in the Sears auto parts section that doesn’t need a dealer visit to be coded to the car. I’m sure some “new things are always better” apologist will somehow try and justify BMW’s approach, though.

    • 0 avatar
      carve

      I have a Bavarian Technic tool for my BMW E90.  It’s USB.  Gives you access to all the codes, sensors, and service indicators. With it, I can go down to the auto parts store, buy a $100 battery, and I’m good to go.

  • avatar
    tiredoldmechanic

    This does indeed have the feel of a solution in search of a problem. For most mainstream brands, by the time any new diagnostic technology is off warranty, someone is well along on an aftermarket solution. If GM for instance decides to subtly change an item like a brake pad or fuel filter just to freeze out aftermarket supply the same thing happens.
     The biggest thing these days is technician training, and you can’t blame the manufacturers for keeping this a dealer only program. The tech has to know how to use the tools and how the systems work to effectively isolate the problem and properly repair it. This represents a large investment by dealer and manufacturer alike. Manufacturers have some level of control over standards at dealerships, but if they have to start sharing secrets with Bubba’s trailer sales and Auto Repair it is the dealer who will suffer. The dealer, not you, is the manufacturer’s customer remember.
     Even with Techs, a lot of good ones still escape the manufacturers net pretty quickly after new technology comes out. There are a lot of dumb ass service managers out there who screw thier best people by giving them all the tough “straight time” diagnostic jobs while the shop doofus rakes it in beating flat rate on brake jobs. Here again, it doesn’t take long before the secrets are out. I’ve hired 2 ex-GM Techs that way and the smart independent shops know this trick as well.
     A lot of this does not apply to premium brands, but really, if you can afford a Mercedes you can afford to pay Hanz and Franz to maintain it. I am sure the politicians who sponsored this could find better things to do if they really thought about it. My .02 anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Right now the reason why the aftermarket is capable of coming up with solutions for the manufacturer’s intentional computer roadblocks is because the people writing code for car computers aren’t really all that good at encryption. This is what we’d call a “solvable problem”. The aftermarket won’t be able to keep up forever.

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      It is all very well being able to “pay Hanz and Franz to maintain it” but vast swaths of USA and Canada are not covered by an MB or BMW dealership. I live in a city of 65,000 and the nearest “luxury brand” dealership is 100 miles away with many brands being no closer than 200 miles away.
       
      So, the point here is that people in rural locations should have reasonable opportunity to own brands they choose without necessarily having to get service work done a long distance from home.
       
      Also, even if you live in a big city, wouldn’t it be nice to know that shops in small towns would be able to help you out if you run in to problems while traveling the back roads?

      • 0 avatar
        smokescreen

        the point here is that people in rural locations should have reasonable opportunity to own brands they choose without necessarily having to get service work done a long distance from home.

        Non-governmental-intervention solution #1: move to a larger/better-served urban centre.

        Non-governmental-intervention solution #2: buy a Ford/Chevy etc.

        I think it’s ridiculous to expect the government to make it more convenient to own a wide selection of luxury/niche vehicles for people who choose to live in remote areas (and this comes from a life-long NDP voter, who generally favours big government)!

      • 0 avatar
        chuckR

        @smokescreen
        If you are in the US, I’ll bet you enjoy <i>some</i> government intervention like the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Generally speaking, the rest of the world is screwed over; we’re not. I don’t think that act applies to used, but just try getting our CPO deals elsewhere – these add a premium to the price, but you can buy a vehicle either with or without. I think CPO is a great sales gimmick – who wants a car that a manufacturer won’t stand behind? Yet they don’t as comprehensively or for as long in the RoW.
        Some manufacturers erect significant barriers to independents beyond specialized/oddball tools. Porsche shop manuals will set you back several thousand dollars, plus update costs, and they regularly enforce their IP rights (I don’t have a problem with that, just with the price of the manuals).

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    This legislation is a must. This practice has existed in the computer industry since the Univac. It’s called lock-in. You lock customers in to your support network by using propriatary hardware and software and controlling who has access to it. In the case of the auto industry the hardware and software required to fix computer-controlled cars is given only to the manufacturers dealer enwork so it locks drivers into having their work done at that manufacturers dealership, where they have to pay the manufacturer’s prices for repairs and cannot shop around for cheaper repair rates. And as cars become more and more computer controlled it’s easier to do than ever. 

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    I look at that top picture and want to weep.  No wonder people expect cars to be appliances today.
     
    I think of my friends who would pop the hoods on 1980s Oldsmobiles and reverse the air cleaner lid in a desperate attempt to get more air in and more hp.
     
    I think of what the under hood space looks like on my Dad’s 1967 Mustang with the 289 and see clearly the lettering on the air cleaner.  I think of the first time I saw a Buick Fireball straight 8 at a car show at a tender age.  I think of just last year and ogling the engine of a first year Tornado at the St. Francis Catholic Church Fiesta where they had a very small car show.  Sigh…
     
    WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO GET ALL “CAR LUSTFUL” OVER IN THAT PICTURE?  Sorry forgive my rant.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      That sheathing exists, for the most part, to quiet engine and road noise and takes only a few minutes to remove.

      I remember that space around the slant-six in my grandfather’s Aspen, I also remember that a noisy, rattling, wheezy rustbucket it was.   I suppose it’s a little like, oh, my old Commodore Amiga that I could solder jumpers onto the mainboard of, remove chips with impunity and so forth.  But I won’t make any bones about how much better my ThinkPad is.

      I see your point, but in a fight, nostalgia doesn’t often beat progress. And heck, that’s a Lexus LS. I’ve been in an LS600h. There’s plenty to lust over.

      • 0 avatar
        Cody

        So I remove it in two minutes, and what do I find?  A bundle of wires, and an alternator packed so tight and deep in the engine bay, it’d take a torch, hammer, and crowbar to get it out.  These are throwaway vehicles.  Once they get enough miles on them to need an alternator replaced, you toss em.  

        Some times new does not equal improved.  

        By the way, some of us prefer a little engine music.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        “And heck, that’s a Lexus LS. I’ve been in an LS600h. There’s plenty to lust over.”

        Other than the killer stereo, what exactly does one lust after in a Lexus?  Silence?
         

      • 0 avatar
        John Horner

        “Once they get enough miles on them to need an alternator replaced, you toss em.  “
         
        I think you are actually talking about the Cadillac Northstar’s starter motor … which is located under the intake manifold in the “V” between the engine banks!

      • 0 avatar
        Twin Cam Turdo

        I giggled when I saw the post about an alternator in regards to the engine bay on an LS600h.
        It doesn’t have one.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        @jkross: I think it was TTAC’s founder that noted the LS600h has, quite possibly, the finest powertrain in existence.  After being in one, I’ll agree.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        psar,

        I drove a new LS last year.  The best I could say about it is that I understand why former Buick buyers like it.  It’s very comfy, and quiet, and quiet and quiet.   Super light steering, lots of toys on board, etc.  Lustful it is not.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      It would be interesting to compare how much quieter cars have gotten with plastic engine covers.
       
      Car and Driver has been doing decibel measurements at idle/full throttle/65 mph (iirc) cruise for at least the last 20 years. That ought to provide some interesting data points.
       

      • 0 avatar
        dastanley

        I took off the black plastic cover from my ’06 Corolla when I changed out the serpentine belt.  I drove it around a day or two without the cover just to see if it would be any louder.  Honestly, I couldn’t tell any difference, even though the underside of the cover has white padding attached.

    • 0 avatar

      @jkross22

      Firstly, if you compare that Lexus engine bay to a Mercedes, BMW or Audi, you won’t find much difference.

      Secondly, Lexus is badmouthed as a “transportation appliance” amongst enthusiasts, but compare any LS, especially the new one, to it’s competition, which is the S class, the 7 series and the A8.

      You’ll find that the Lexus compares VERY well to them. In fact, the LS beats them in a lot of areas. Cars of this class aren’t designed to be badass enthusiast rockets. They’re built to be comfortable, incredibly well equipped, effortlessly powerful and impeccably well built.

      The LS does all of that in spades, and it always has.

    • 0 avatar

      @jkross22
      Firstly, if you compare that Lexus engine bay to a Mercedes, BMW or Audi, you won’t find much difference.

      Secondly, Lexus is badmouthed as a “transportation appliance” amongst enthusiasts, but compare any LS, especially the new one, to it’s competition, which is the S class, the 7 series and the A8.
      You’ll find that the Lexus compares VERY well to them. In fact, the LS beats them in a lot of areas. Cars of this class aren’t designed to be badass enthusiast rockets. They’re built to be comfortable, incredibly well equipped, effortlessly powerful and impeccably well built.

      The LS does all of that in spades, and it always has.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      When I owned my regrettable purchase of my 1976 Chevy 3/4 ton 292 cu. in. pickup, I used to sit on the INNER fender UNDER the hood to tinker/work on stuff – not because I had to, but BEACAUSE I COULD!

      It is for that alone I miss it!

  • avatar
    Ron

    Volume car dealers barely break even on new car sales — they make their money on service and on used cars. By restricting access to codes, etc., the manufacturer helps dealers to survive; otherwise, the dealer wouid have to (shudder!) raise their selling prices, which would reduce new car sales.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      So their business model is broken. That’s not my problem. This country prohibits monopolistic business practices for a reason.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Sorry. I was feeling cranky last night and couldn’t come up with wording that sounded less confrontational.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      Bingo-
       
      I think the makers/dealer networks are holding on to some vestiges of a dying business model. 20 years ago when you bought a car you had the salesman ‘check with his manager’ about the floor mats. Then you had Saturn, Carmax, and the internet, and things get shook up.
       
      Buying a car now, all one needs is a phone and a computer and a willingness to go a couple hundred miles in any direction and you WILL find a hell of a deal.
       
      I’m sympathetic to the makers/dealers to some degree. Sure, some of them were handed wheel barrels of money to save them from insolvency, but their faring well on the intellectual property front, at least compared to the RIAA or the newspaper industry.
       
      On one hand we’ve got an industry fighting the bottom line, with customers that want highly customized and engineered works of art, and on the other, we’ve got technology based on information technology, that once it reaches equilibrium, would have to resemble a public-source model if it were to become sustainable.
       
      IP and profitability are one thing, product usefulness is another, but they are not mutually exclusive in the long term. Most people work for a living; most people cannot afford throw-away or unrepairable cars.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I’ve spoken with several owners of independent repair shops, and proprietary software is getting to be more and more of a problem which keeps them from being able to do certain repairs on many modern vehicles.
    Just two examples I’ve run into: The TPMS system failure warning light came on in our daughter’s 2008 Hyundai. Several local import specialists do not have the tools to get into that system. Dealer only repair. Another: A friend’s Volvo needed the electronic throttle module replaced. The part was dealer only (and $1200!) and no independent shop can install it because the car’s computer has to be retrained to accept the new part, and only Volvo proprietary software can do the retraining.
    The problem is getting worse and worse, and the car makers are highly motivated to obstruct the independents whenever and where ever they can get away with it.
     

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      Good examples; this goes beyond higher repair costs and inconvenience for luxury car owners. It could definitely be a safety issue, as well.
       
      In the flyover states, it’s not uncommon to be over 100 miles (or more) from dealerships of certain makes – even fairly ordinary ones. Let’s suppose there is an issue with the computer-controlled throttle or braking systems, and the nearest dealer is not in the area. You can’t tell me that – as long as the vehicle has reasonable driveability – that many owners wouldn’t simply drive into the metropolis when the small-town mechanic couldn’t fix it. Of course, this happens anyway, but why force the issue?
       
      Yeah, it’s a damn shame that we have to idiot-proof things, and that there are people who are impatient or feel they can’t afford a 100-mile tow, but it’s also a shame that we must legislate a responsibility on the manufacturer’s part to make their products repairable.

      • 0 avatar
        SimonAlberta

        I don’t think it is about being able to “afford a 100-mile tow” or about being “impatient” – I think it is more about selling a product that is designed to be driven all over the country but then only being able to be serviced in specific locales. It makes life difficult for the CONSUMER.
         
        Yes, yes, of course we can choose to buy or not to buy certain brands but surely the whole point of a free market is to offer consumers MORE choice, right? But if we can’t get the damned things serviced where we live then we don’t really have so much choice then.

      • 0 avatar
        BuzzDog

        Sorry, Simon…that last paragraph was meant to be slightly sarcastic, to stave off the comments of those who would accuse me of promoting a “Nanny state.” Reread my last sentence and you’ll see that we probably agree on the point of consumer-friendliness.

    • 0 avatar
      tiredoldmechanic

      SimonAlberta,
                          I understand what you are saying, but you do have a choice. You can choose to live with a long drive to get dealer servicing or you can choose to purchase a brand with servicing available in your area. The manufacturer has also made a choice by deciding where to locate dealers. In so doing they know that certain regions are not represented and thus not likely to generate much business. Free market in other words. Modern vehicles contain considerable amounts of intellectual property and the manufacturers have invested a lot of money to develop it. If they choose to restrict access to it that is a business decision that may help or may harm them. If you decide to purchase brand X instead of brand Y because of it then that’s a business opportunity they lost. 
       I am a fleet manager for a contracting company. I recently completed the purchase of 3  Caterpillar backhoes. Case and John Deere make better backhoes but they don’t support thier product too well in my neck of the woods so they don’t get the business. But it was still my choice.
       Someday a manufacturer may decide to provide this IP info to all comers and try to make it a selling point (Anyone can service it!). If it works then others will follow. If it doesn’t then there was never a real demand for it in the first place. But let’s let the market and not the Government decide.   

      • 0 avatar
        SimonAlberta

        OK, some good points there. But let’s say I’m a farmer. Yes, I could sell up and move to the city but I just don’t want to. But I would like to drive a BMW. So, now my CHOICE is to either buy a BMW knowing getting it serviced is going to be a pain in the ass to ME because BMW CHOOSE to keep their servicing proprietary or I can CHOOSE to buy something I like less but can be serviced locally. That would be my logical CHOICE.
         
        Seems to me BMW is shooting itself in the foot here because they just lost one customer. How many more are they losing?

  • avatar

    My indy mech tells me he spends 15,000 per year for the scan tools and manuals to allow him to work on the current crop of cars.
    You can’t do that in your driveway, and many mechanics can’t do that even in business.
    That IS the idea.

  • avatar
    MrBostn

    The mfg’s/dealers are just doing what every business wants to do. Secure a recurring revenue stream.
    As an indy IT consultant I look for ways to secure my recurring revenue. If I had something proprietary to offer (besides my individuality) I’d certainly try and capitalize on it and lock clients in. 

    One time jobs are fine, but recurring is best.

    As a consumer I like to be able to take my boring old 98 Accord to any repair shop I want. So I see both sides.

    If the law is passed, fine. But I doubt much will change. Law are passed with such frequency these days enforcement becomes an issue.

    Just thought I’d add this. As an indy IT person, I’ve come across more than a few systems that I couldn’t work on (EMC/NetApp) So yes I can relate to the indy repair shops too.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Which brings up the classic conundrum:  If we’re talking about my making money, of course I want to limit my customers and force them to get services from me, and only me.  However, in situations where I’m paying the money, I want complete freedom of choice with no restrictions whatsoever.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    The difficulties of servicing your competition’s car can be a sales point for any manufacturer interested in using it to sell their cars.

    BMW competition recognizes that their market doesn’t service their cars. On the other hand, lower priced cars attempting to reach daily drivers with families and basic budgets, can use this marketing angle as a selling point. BMW and other high end makes include regular services into their leases and purchase prices, driving their bottom line higher.

    Hyundai, Kia, and lower end brands would be cool to take advantage.

    Honda, when breaking into the US market claimed, “We make it simple”. That included service and service costs.

    As for me, I do not have the time nor the interest in servicing my cars. However, I would prefer a car that gave me the freedom to service it if I needed to do that, over a car that doesn’t give me that freedom.

    Let the Market do what it does best. Nothing ruins lives quite like a government. Governments never meet expectations without serious unforeseen consequences that make everything they touch much worse. Legislation only helps lawyers and morons.

    • 0 avatar
      tallnikita

      Amen!

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      @VanillaDude, I don’t want to accuse you of taking both sides in one post, but if you want to be able to work on your own car you should support the OEMs making the tools (or at least the code) available to you, me, the aftermarket and independent garages. I like working on my Volkswagens so I own a VAG-COM, which I had to upgrade recently to work with our 2007 Passat, and it is limited in what it can do.

      @tallnikita, while I appreciate the concepts of a free and open market, your blind “Amen!” is supporting something that is anti competition and anti free market. Not to mention anti small business.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        The idea that government needs to decide this matter is a bad one. You may justify it all you wish, however your solution is worse than the problem.

        It seems to be very easy to present a solution to a problem by involving a higher power in which you have placed your faith. Over the past few generations, society has placed it’s faith in the ability of a government to miraculously create a noble ingenious solution to every problem we give it to solve. Reality has exposed this line of thinking as flawed.

        When someone questions the need for a government solution, they are not questioning the need itself – they are questioning the proposed solution. While there is a need here, the idea that a government can solve it is foolish. Over the past decade, we see that governments cannot even solve problems created by itself. Believing that governments can be a source of societal solutions is not based on results, for if it was, we would not be reading or considering legislation to handle this need.

        Governments are useful in many ways. But not this one.

        Finally, one word agreements, such as “Amen!” make it difficult for disagreeable people to be disagreeable. Brevity isn’t stupidity. Assuming otherwise could be considered paranoid.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “Nothing ruins lives quite like a government. Governments never meet expectations without serious unforeseen consequences that make everything they touch much worse. Legislation only helps lawyers and morons.”
       
      Exaggerate much?

  • avatar
    Zackman

    An old friend used to own a BMW motorcycle back in the mid-1970′s. He used to take it in for service, because he needed a “technician” to work on it. We used to tease the daylights out of him for the “technician” term. We used to term it a “greaseball mechanic”!

    Whether he actually needed a “technician” to fix/maintain the thing, I don’t know. Maybe he just rode it and didn’t know how to work on it. Me? I wouldn’t have touched it with a 10′ foot pole! I had my own junk to maintain.

    Overall, those days I do not miss. The last car I could actually kind of work on was our 1992 LeBaron 2.5L TBI convertible.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Just last week I picked up my ’01 Z3 from what is generally considered to be the leading indy BMW shop in metro DC.  (He does only BMWs and MINIs.)   While discussing likely future repairs on my car (the dreaded cooling system failure — new expansion tank, radiator, water pump, etc. –), he was talking about issues with the newer cars.  He apparently has access to all of the computer tools, etc. and wasn’t complaining about that.  What he was complaining about was the massive application of “technology” mostly in the service of incremental increases in fuel economy.  The basic principle being to relieve the engine of responsibility for powering everything but the car itself and recharging the battery, the latter function being “managed” by software to take advantage of times when the engine is not under load or is actually braking the car.  This management system (software, really) also manages the electrical loads, within the limits imposed by the driver’s demands.

    As a result, for example, in newer BMW engines, the old water pump driven off a pulley from the crankshaft has been replaced by a water pump driven by a pulse-width modulated electric motor.  The master electrical system manages the speed of the water pump by varying the width of the power pulses sent to the motor, presumably in response to the car’s immediate cooling system needs.  He said this pump costs about $700.

    My friendly mechanic said even the (relatively) inexpensive MINI engine now has an electrically-driven oil pump, using the same principles, . . . all in the goal of taking some parasitic load off the engine.

    We’ve all read about the general migration away from hydraulic power steering and Toyota’s use of an electrically-driven a/c compressor in the latest generation Prius, but the changes go much deeper than that.  Like everything else “hi-tech” you can expect to see these features trickle down into less expensive cars over time.

    The guy’s comment — and remember, this is someone who makes his living fixing out-of-warranty BMWs and MINIs — was, “I don’t know if its going to make sense for someone to own one of these cars once the warranty expires.  Certainly the high cost of ownership is going to have a big effect on their market value.” 

    As my one-year old “energy efficient” washing machine awaits a service technician, I see the common element in both of these situations as being government mandates: for fuel efficiency in the case of cars and for reduced water use in the case of washing machines.

    Yes, it is very cool that a BMW 335 will get nearly 30 mpg on the highway – the same, or a little better than a 1970 VW Beetle — while having the ability to fling itself to 60 mph in 5 seconds and hit 140 mph, something that was beyond anyone’s wildest dreams for any production 1970 passenger car, let alone one capable of 30 mpg.

    But, at what price?

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      @ DC Bruce -

      That’s a great comment there about the technology, and I agree with you 100%. My question for you is the comment about making sense to drive these cars outside of the warranty: we’ve been hearing people say this for years, especially the last 15 when the level of technology in cars seemed to get logrithmically complex, and yet, the luxo-techno barges continue to sell.  

      I have no doubt that there *is* a point on the curve at which buyers will turn away, I just don’t think we can determine what that point is just yet.  Manufacturers like Hyundai get it, though: you need to lower the barrier to entry for customers, and warranty coverage on increasingly complex automobiles is one of them.  Offering a 10 year, 100,000 warranty is a heluva way to do that.

      Personally I’d like to see Audi up their coverage from 4 / 50,000 to a more reasonable 5 / 75,000.  That would significantly lower the reluctance to buy at that point.

      What will dramatically change this whole game is when finance rates begin to increase increase and uber-cheap leases are no longer feasible.  People who turn to purchasing will have longer ownership horizons than those who lease.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I don’t think that the two situations: a well-running, efficient vehicle and a low cost to own, are mutually exclusive.  It’s true that German cars aren’t cheap to maintain, but it’s not a universal truth by any stretch, and certainly not when Lexus and Infiniti can see their stuff serviced, without fear, at independents.  It’s an engineering choice, and the German marques have more or less decided on the path that suits them.

      The other issue is that we’ve swapped one set of problems for another.  Yes, an electronic water pump is expensive.  Remember what adjusting a carb used to be like, and how often you’d do it?  Remember tune-ups at 3K?  Points and plugs?  Even the worst modern car costs less to maintain than something of two or three decades ago.

      I’m not saying that there’s not a requirement for reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing of repair information, but that the idea of a modern car’s TCO is perhaps less of an issue than it’s being made out to be.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      As I understand it, one of the reasons the Prius has been so durable and reliable is because it uses electrically driven accessories.

  • avatar

    I was bitten by this when I added a Chrysler uconnect module. It would not be so bad if not the pain of visiting the local Jeep dealer.

  • avatar
    tallnikita

    Aren’t we in a free market?  If you are an educated consumer, and you want 5 seconds to 60 and 140 mph speed, and 30 mpg, then you should educate yourself what it takes to get those numbers.  So if you then don’t like the complexity for achieving all that, you either step down on performance, or on mileage, or stop whining!  Nobody forces you to buy a used BMW or Lexus, nobody.  So then, BMW and Lexus’ retail numbers should drop, because of the expense of maintaining it outside the dealer network.  That’s how a free market should work.  But noooo, let’s legislate some more handouts for the poor dumbasses who are buying modern luxury cars used.

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      Like your “Amen!” above, your comment makes no sense. You seem to be conflicted with yourself because the word “government” is mention and the government is the enemy of everything and everyone. It isn’t, but go ahead thinking that.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        You sound like someone who has rarely ever said the word, “amen” enough to understand it completely without prejudice.

        Accusing someone of claiming that government is the enemy of everything and everyone when they have said nothing that could be interpreted fairly in that manner is being dishonest in order to win an argument no one is having except yourself.

        Believing in government is your right. Questioning it is everyone else’s patriotic duty.

        If you really believe that a government can somehow fix this, then explain how it could. Instead of insulting everyone who believes that this need can be addressed differently, start selling us on your view. No one is questioning the need. We are questioning your proposed solution.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        @VanillaDude, I’m not going to retype tallnikita’s entire comment to explain it. Either you see the conflicts or you don’t.

        My opinion has been explained by my comments supporting the reasoning behind this legislation; that the increasing use of proprietary software by OEMs is squeezing out the independent repair shop by pricing them out of the market or not allowing them to compete at all. These are more often than not the small businesses that are the backbone of our economy. I’m for more competition and more choice, not less. Philosophically it is the same thing that the Walmarts and Home Depots of the world have done to small local businesses, except instead of doing it with price they’re doing it with technology.

        My question is, what is your solution to this problem? Blind faith in the market taking care of itself isn’t going to get you far because the market (whatever the “market” is in this case) has spoken. The OEMs have decided that it is in their best interest to keep such things proprietary. Sometimes the government is the sole entity that has the juice to make such things happen. I don’t want government picking winners and losers (which it has been doing for some time now) but sometimes it helps to level the playing field.

    • 0 avatar
      highlandmiata

      A free market would allow for the consumer to choose where they wanted to have their cars repaired, and would allow shops to compete on price.  This legislation would remove the incentive for monopolies that the manufacturers and dealers are creating for the service.  

      A free market requires free information.  Through patents and trademarks and other intellectual property protection, we have created sanctioned monopolies in the name of fostering innovation.  There are times though, such as this, that these monopolies create unintended, and frankly unwanted, market inefficiencies.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        Exactly. Couldn’t have said it better… and I tried.

      • 0 avatar
        VanillaDude

        How could a government handle this problem better? Other than making it worse by forcing the diversity and solutions found within the Markets into one centralized disaster…

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Here’s the thing about markets and inefficiencies: they happen regardless of government intervention.  Heck, even if you didn’t have government, you’d have early or wildly successful participants in a market abusing their position such that they become a de facto government and distort the market accordingly.

        What you’re asking for, quite frankly, can’t exist.  It’s as much a fantasy as pure communism, and for the same reason: people aren’t ideal.

        We have IP laws because, without them, we’d have extant market participants leveraging their resources to either co-opt or squash innovation, thus blunting them impetus for development outside of a few sources.  Not that we don’t have that now because we’ve gone too far the other way, but we should be arguing for middle ground, not extremes.

      • 0 avatar
        Benya

        It shouldn’t be too hard to create a digestible legislative solution to this.  Simply add this sort of behavior to the already well know and well litigated list of behaviors and activities that are anti-competitive.  The auto industry is already under a lot of regulations.  I don’t think this will be a straw that will break its back.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “We have IP laws because, without them, we’d have extant market participants leveraging their resources to either co-opt or squash innovation, thus blunting them impetus for development outside of a few sources.  Not that we don’t have that now because we’ve gone too far the other way, but we should be arguing for middle ground, not extremes.”
       
      +1
       
      Like so many things, an unmitigated free market sounds great in theory, but doesn’t perform quite so well in practice.

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        Again, you’ve said it so well…

        I would go one step further and ask that anyone promoting a free market solution provide a single example of a “free market”. I propose that such a thing doesn’t exist in our modern economy. If it isn’t government regulation (needed or otherwise) it is the players in any market trying to crush each other; if not with a better product then with better lobbying or buying influence. The only “free market” I can think of is the lemonade stand down the street.

        I’m a Republican. I’m not blind.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        @Jimal,

        You want an example of a free market:  
        Ebay specifically, and internet commerce in general (although clearly there are big players angling to end the ‘tax free zone’ the internet is)

      • 0 avatar
        Jimal

        @jkross22, Alas, even those last vestages of the free market are coming under regulation. Both eBay and Craig’s List have restrictions on what you can offer for sale (No kidneys? Damn). I guess the closest thing to these would be your local classified, but even those have their standards.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    Repeat after me: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

    That “free maintenance”, including wear and tear items that BMW gives you?  Yeah – it’s not so free.  It’s factored into the post-warranty service rates, service schedule and parts cost of your Bimmer.  

    Why does your dealer charge $1500 for new pads and rotors on your X3 versus Bob the Mechanic who can do it for $500?  Because he doesn’t need to recoup the cost of the free maintenance included in the car.

    Consumers forget that smart businesses factor in the fully burdened cost of any product or service offered.  That means the cost for labor, parts, support, marketing, overhead, etc.  You damned well better amortize that across your whole product line if you expect to stay in business.  Just keep that in mind the next time you get a “free” service.  You’ll be paying for it at some point.

    • 0 avatar
      highlandmiata

      The dealership does not charge BMW for the service?  I think that they very likely do, just like warranty service.  The “free maintenance” is built into the price of the car, and does not need to be recouped again on the back side.

      • 0 avatar
        hreardon

        Of course, that’s my point: someone has to pay, and ultimately it’s BMW that has to pay.  

        In the end it is costing BMW so they charge that back to you in many different ways.

        You don’t pay for all of that maintenance in the purchase price of the car – they’ll amortize the cost across all revenue generating aspects of the business such as parts and labor costs for maintenance.  So, when you go to buy an OEM part or take your car back to the dealership for service outside of warranty, you’re helping subsidize that “free service” you got while under warranty.

        My point is this: to remain price competitive BMW cannot charge you the true burden cost of the included maintenance on the front end when you purchase the car. They recoup the full costs, plus some, through other venues in order to better hide the true cost.

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      It’s not as if other makes without the “free” maintenance plans don’t charge just as obscenely for dealer maintenance.
       
      BMW sets part prices but 70-90% of your bill is labor.  BMW doesn’t get any of that.
       

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        aspade
         
        I think the idea is that the money is accounted for somewhere. So BMW gets to sell expensive parts, but in turn gives over the labor revenue entirely. Likewise, dealers get manufacturer support protecting that income but are asked to make less than they could on new car sales, as the manufacturers need volume on their end more than they need a high average purchase price or a happy sales force.

  • avatar
    JMII

    My C30 has Bi-Xenon HID headlights, one went out, the manual claims only the dealer can work on them because they are “high voltage” and the bulbs are $250 each (plus install labor). Total BS, I found bulbs for $25 on Amazon and have already gone thru the instructions, its super easy, no harder then any other bulb replacement. 10X the cost?!? This is nothing short of highway robbery!
     
    Reading thru the Volvo forums you can see that most of their “problems” are simply software related, especially those related to the A/C system. If anything doesn’t work you go to the dealer and pay them to “reboot” the system. The real issue I have with these software based fixes is the cost… it takes a tech all of 4 minutes to call up the right file and rewrite the firmwear, however they charge between $90-200. Independent shops can’t get the software from Volvo so you have no choice.

  • avatar
    rocketrodeo

    These sort of horror stories have the potential to redefine what we consider an enthusiast car. At a minimum, it’s going to an automobile that you have the capability to program and repair yourself. Enhancing performance will be the icing on the cake.

  • avatar
    alan996

    One of the reasons I am the “Keeper of Dead Brands”  of the four cars we drive and store according to the seasons only one is new enough to have me worried about repair bills a 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix.  The 95 town car, the 98 Trooper, and the 71 Cutlass can all be worked on by competent independent mechanics,  just make sure there is fluids in them and ignore the idiot emission warning lights.  But parts are not cheap.   I’m taking the Lincoln with 145K to Dallas from Chicago next week, watch for the green land yacht on the Kansas turn pike…

  • avatar
    carve

    I wonder why the hood of the car in the picture even opens. 

  • avatar

    As the good fine people at MAKE Magazine like to say, if you can’t open it, you don’t own it.  SCREW the manufacturers.  I know they’re in business to make money, but if they can’t do it without chiseling us on maintenance and repairs, then let their products rust at the dealerships.

  • avatar
    mcs

    I wonder if the next step would be “approved fuel only” gas doors. In order to ensure proper fuel standards, oil companies pay the auto companies to become approved fuel suppliers. If the gas pump doesn’t have the right transponder code, the fuel door won’t open. Of course, it’s only to protect the owner from inferior fuel.

  • avatar
    beken

    I have a CD player in my car that for no apparent reason has stopped working.  After much reading in the forums and inquiry to the dealer, any replacement unit needs to match the car year and model and requires programming by the dealer.  Cost $3000.   Ludicrous!

  • avatar
    skor

    Years ago Henry Ford said that he would give away his cars if he could have a monopoly on replacement parts.  In the end, even Crazy Henry realized that type of business model was self defeating.
     
    By monopolizing parts/service, the auto manufacturers are destroying the resale value for their customers.  Who is going to buy a Benz with 100K on the clock if it MUST go to the dealer for service? The kind of person who can afford the Benz dealer service is not going to want a used Benz with 100K.  The demographic that would have normally purchased such a beast can’t afford dealer service.  As a result the car quickly becomes disposable.  What will the original buyer think when he sees his $70K ride go to zero value after 5-6 years?  Think he’ll be back to cheerfully plunk down another $70-80K  to repeat the process?

    • 0 avatar
      SimonAlberta

      This is the way it seems to be going though, isn’t it?
       
      The manufacturers will do everything they can to get the initial sale and parts business but really couldn’t give a rat’s after that, or so it seems.
       
      Cars are becoming like computers – obsolete as soon as you get ‘em home.

  • avatar
    SimonAlberta

    I’ve just had a horrible thought….
     
    the manufacturers are terrified that the improved vehicle build quality of latter times will mean that we will keep them ever longer, diminishing their opportunity to sell us again.
     
    Ergo, they build technology into the vehicles that add little or nothing to the value of the vehicle but frighten us off keeping the car beyond the warranty period. Short-term leases rule!
     
    I’m not generally a conspiracy theorist but you can just see the top auto execs colluding industry wide on this.
     
    Screw the public. Screw the environment.
     
    It’s all about the economy, stupid!

  • avatar
    Jimal

    24 hours later and I’m still waiting for someone to sell me on the “free market” solution for this issue…


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