By on November 5, 2019

In reading this website, you’ve no doubt come across paranoid rants about automotive companies vacuuming up your personal data as connected cars become the norm — often written by yours truly. Frequently bleak, they address a multitude of concerns we believe will only get worse before they can get better.

A large part of that has to do with automakers seeing the potential of leveraging customer data, like so many tech companies have before them. But elected (and unelected) officials also seem to have a loose grasp of the technology and its potential ramifications. When the Department of Transportation initially approved self-driving vehicles for public testing, the guidelines were loose and largely dependent upon self-reporting — few wanted to stand in the way of developing systems that might someday save lives.

However, manufacturers are now beginning to issue over-the-air updates, perpetual internet connectivity, gamification, and in-car marketplaces (complete with advertisements). While the new technology has opened up new doors for customer experiences and corporate revenue, it’s accelerating at a pace that’s difficult to track. As a result, lawmakers in Massachusetts and California are starting to get antsy. The former hopes to address how data will be handled in accordance with the state’s right-to-repair laws. The latter is more directly concerned with privacy. 

Let’s start with Massachusetts.

The state’s right-to-repair law, enacted in 2013, stipulates that vehicle owners and independent repair facilities have access to the same diagnostic and repair information that automakers make available to certified service centers. According to Automotive News, groups representing the aftermarket industry have been lobbying for an amendment that would give them the same level of access.

Bill Hanvey, president of the Auto Care Association, claims existing laws don’t provide sufficient access to telematics data that aftermarket providers insist they need to make proper and safe repairs to modern vehicles. They want the law changed to include a provision that would give independent providers the ability to sue manufacturers for failing to provide “information, including documentation, updates to firmware, safety and security corrections, diagnostics … or a tool required.”

It should be said that this is part of a much larger fracas between automakers and independent repair/aftermarket shops. With all the high-tech safety equipment found in modern vehicles, several automakers claim aftermarket shops cannot adequately ensure safety. A few have gone so far as to suggest they’ll void the warranty of any owner who decides to have their advanced driving aids (or related equipment) fixed/modified by anyone other than them. Aftermarket group are growing concerned that this could spill over into the rest of the car; they’ve asked the Federal Trade Commission and various states (including Massachusetts) to intervene.

“The auto industry is creating the false narrative that you can either have safety or you can have repairability,” said Paul McCarthy, president of the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association of independent suppliers.

Moving on to privacy, California passed a law mandating that all businesses disclose data collection and sharing practices to consumers in 2018. However, the rules for how it will be enforced aren’t due until 2020. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is currently working on fine tuning the plan.

“Consumers have a right to request that their data be deleted. Consumers have a right to opt out of the sale or sharing of their personal information. And businesses are prohibited from selling personal information of consumers under the age of 16 without explicit consent,” Becerra’s office said in a statement.

From Automotive News:

The California State Legislature has approved amendments to the law that affect automakers and dealers. The key change permits automakers and dealers to keep and share vehicle data exclusively for purposes of a warranty or recall-related repair — even if a consumer has asked for the data’s deletion — as long as the data isn’t sold against the consumer’s wishes.

Brian Maas, president of the California New Car Dealers Association, says the association “fought hard” to secure the enactment of the warranty exception.

“Protecting consumer data, while simultaneously ensuring warranty and recall-related vehicle information can be shared between dealers and OEMs, is vital to protecting vehicle safety,” Maas told Automotive News.

While we don’t necessarily agree with the death grip automakers want to place on their products, we do see where they’re coming from. There’s a lot of money at stake, especially in regard to data acquisition and those pricey, semi-autonomous features that will someday require replacement. Manufactures also don’t want to be liable for any safety issues — and several advanced driving aids have already proven to be somewhere between dangerously unreliable and somewhat persnickety. Introducing independent repair/aftermarket players only adds uncertainty while costing OEMs money.

We’d like to see more choices for consumers and some transparency within the industry. But it’s early days for both Massachusetts and California, never mind the rest of America. The Golden State could easily pervert its new data laws before 2020 and Massachusetts could struggle to get its right-to-repair amendment passed. Even if it does go through, we’ve still got questions about whether it’s a good idea to share data with more companies just so automakers don’t have a stranglehold on the aftermarket. That endless flow of information to parties known and unknown is kind of how we got here in the first place.

[Image: CAT SCAPE/Shutterstock]

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43 Comments on “States Begin Dealing With Driving Data, Right-to-Repair Laws...”


  • avatar
    TimK

    As electric vehicles start to make a dent in the sales numbers, I expect dealerships will push subscriptions and fees for activating features or updating software to offset the loss of repair shop revenues. My idiot brother was OK with paying a GM dealer to have his ECU “reflashed” multiple times, so there is certainly a segment of the market that is both ignorant enough and willing to accept the coming abuses.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      Agreed. Several manufactures have already started discussing the prospect of building cars with more content to cut down on complexity and then having you activate these features via in-app purchases. Technically, BMW already does this with its Apple CarPlay subscriptions. Mercedes also has big plans but these trends will trickle down to mainstream brands quickly. Digital rewards points, in-car ads, paywalls, data sharing, it’s all right around the corner. Some of it is here already.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I don’t know your brother, but I will say on a <2 year old vehicle I am not flashing firmware on the ECU unless 1. I am 100% myself or my mechanic knows exactly what they are doing and 2. I know for fact the software being flashed is a known working version of the firmware. Without access to a dealership, I probably can't meet criteria 2 to verify and I probably won't meet criteria 1 without access to the tool, software, and cars to test on. The same sort of logic applies to any kind of firmware, i.e. TV, PC, etc.

      @posky

      "Several manufactures have already started discussing the prospect of building cars with more content to cut down on complexity and then having you activate these features via in-app purchases."

      Building one version of a product and then adding easy configs is cheaper and more efficient. Volvo 200 chassis were built for auto and manual with drilled holes in the footwell.

      "Digital rewards points, in-car ads, paywalls, data sharing, it’s all right around the corner. Some of it is here already."

      Ways around everything.

    • 0 avatar
      volvo

      Automobile manufactures are coming fairly late to this game. For some time complex, high end computerized units (medical, machining, etc.) will have one basic unit but may have several 6 figure options can be purchased to expand utility. When you purchase the option no new hardware is installed but a software feature is installed or turned which activates the feature (and associated hardware which was already in the unit).

  • avatar
    volvo

    Aside from shall we say “terms of agreement” about personal data sharing I don’t see where this is that complicated. Work done outside the dealer is not the dealer’s liability. But OEM must make available to licensed shops the information needed to repair the car. Otherwise the TCOO will sharply climb if your only option is to have the dealer diagnose something like a check engine light or repair the abs system.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      My brother’s shop wouldn’t work on new Volvos, because the tools to fix them were only available from Volvo and they were very expensive. It really upset the few people in that area that had newer Volvos because the dealer was some 200 miles away.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        How newer are we talking about? Unhappy Volvo owners have been a thing for quite a while. This lady had her S80 towed to the shop I was running last year. I found detailed estimates from a good independent Volvo specialist and from the dealer inside the car. She just didn’t like what they told her, which was as fair an attempt at describing her car’s reality as I could aspire to.

        • 0 avatar
          Fred

          It was about 5 years ago he mentioned it. It also had to do with economics, as they felt there weren’t enough new Volvo cars to warrant the cost of the equipment.

      • 0 avatar
        Matt Posky

        Volvo has been pretty clear that repairs from unauthorized dealers will “impact” customer warranties.

        • 0 avatar
          ToddAtlasF1

          Chicom car company acting like chicom car company.

          • 0 avatar
            jkross22

            You think this is a China-only effort to fight right to repair? Hmm. You need to spend just a little time googling this topic and specifically Apple and Samsung.

            This issue goes well beyond the auto landscape.

        • 0 avatar
          Fred

          Apple says the same thing about their phones, John Deere about their tractors and so it goes.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Both awful companies to their customers, ask yourself why do duopolies happen?

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            South Park understands Apple’s customers better than Apple’s customers understand themselves. John Deere has embraced diversity. Do you get a double Social Credit score for gratuitous defense of your future masters Fred?

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      interesting story, since this just came up last week with my 09 mazda6S
      my son called. said the car wouldn’t start, the dashboard all lit up but nuthin.
      i drove over and tried, but nuthin.
      i called mazda. they said very likely the security system and i must be towed, some 25 miles, to their dealer.
      nobody else was allowed or able, they said, to repair.
      I ranted and raved and she said, ok…then don’t.
      i called my verizon assist and the tow guy came.
      before he towed, he suggested a jump. that this was a normal event and it should work.
      it did.
      then i took to auto zone and their test showed all good but dead battery.
      all done.

      BUT WHY did mazda say NOBODY could fix and ONLY mazda can deal with this!!!???

      really, a shop guy explained later, because mazda keeps adjusting data so nobody can afford to keep updated with data and equipment required to service.

      an old, 80K mazda 6 MUST be serviced by a mazda dealer!?

      WTF!!!!!!????????

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        A dead battery should be the very first thing to consider/check on a no-crank no-start, but sounds like you bought a dealer’s BS out-of-the-air guess “must be the security system, bring it on in!”

        No one to blame but yourself there IMO.

        “mazda keeps adjusting data so nobody can afford to keep updated with data and equipment required to service.”

        This statement doesn’t make any sense either. What “data” are they “constantly adjusting” on a 2009 Mazda6?

        • 0 avatar
          TrailerTrash

          Well, ah, ok.
          However, stuck out in the middle of a shopping lot without tools is a rather difficult place to do everything.
          Plus, all electric was on, dash, lights worked, door buzzer.
          But nuthin.
          So, IMO, i did ok.

          and if you don’t understand the dealers software updates…dunno what to tell you.

          LL auto owner told me himself he cannot keepup and afford the 10K equipment changes.

          so there’s that as well.

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            No one’s talking about needing tools to diagnose. Dash lights come on but no crank-> the most obvious culprit is a weak/dying battery, and then go from there.

            “and if you don’t understand the dealers software updates…dunno what to tell you.”

            It doesn’t sound like you do either. What software are they updating exactly? Certainly not on the car itself. Any number of modern scan tools can deal with an ’09 Mazda6 with ease. I’m around this stuff enough to have a reasonable idea of how all this works. Not jumbled hearsay from some secondhand source.

      • 0 avatar
        duncanator

        I have a 2015 Audi A3 and recently I’ve been getting a lot of static coming through the speakers. It even happens before the ignition is on, but when certain systems come alive when you open the door! I had it diagnosed at Audi and they said that the MMI system (5F / infotainment) needed to be replaced at a cost of $4,000.
        You can find used MMI units on eBay for 200, but you can’t swap them out because they are copy protected by coding on a eeprom on the circuit board. So, unless you are a dealer, you cannot remove the copy protection and allow a user to swap them out. I even had one and showed the dealer that it came from a salvaged vehicle, but they refused to remove the copy protection and assign it to my VIN. They said the whole point was to prevent the sale of stolen items. Yeah, right. So, I have a 2015 Audi with 91k miles and crackling coming from the speakers with no real chance of repair…wonderful.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          You need to find a good independent shop that specializes in VW vehicles. They will have the tool to wipe the old VIN and program it with yours so it will all work.

          • 0 avatar
            duncanator

            Yeah, I’m on the hunt for one. I have the vag com software, but I’ve read that it requires something different (ODIS?) to modify the coding on the eeprom. I’m even looking for documentation to try to find the exact chip and swap them out on a board. A friend has narrowed it down to three, but that’s a risk I’m not willing to take without a proper diagram of the PCB.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            The other option is to check for local mobile diagnosticians that mainly do repairs and reprogramming for independent shops. Many of them have a host of OE scan tools along with their go-to aftermarket units.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Why did they say that nobody else could fix it?? Because they wanted the work. Any Ford dealer can work on it as can any well equipped independent shop. That is BS that they are updating data and equipment on a 10 year old car.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “While we don’t necessarily agree with the death grip automakers want to place on their products, we do see where they’re coming from. There’s a lot of money at stake, especially in regard to data acquisition and those pricey, semi-autonomous features that will someday require replacement.”

    Never occurs to these tyrants when I am using the product I paid for that I don’t want to give them sales information without compensation, not to mention simple privacy in said product I purchased.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      Couldn’t agree more. I bought it==the vehicle, it’s mine, I own it. The government says I own it and taxes me on it, not the manufacturer for making it. I bought a new car recently, and took off the ridiculous decal the dealership cemented to the rear backlight. They were all upset. $100 per year advertising fee for it to remain on my vehicle were my terms. Not accepted, and I took the second one off they had so obligingly applied in service. In their parking lot, just so they got my objection thoroughly implanted in their minds. Does my TV, fridge or oven have a decal with the dealer’s name on it? No. Well why should my car?

      • 0 avatar
        bullnuke

        Don’t forget those tacky license plate frames, my friend.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        I agree with you, back in the day I had one maybe two customers complain about the sticker we put on the trunk deck and my response was like sure remove it whatever (came off with a blow dryer). I like how in less than fifteen years people were “upset” by this. OMG you’re removing our free advertising! Most people don’t care and even if they all removed it so what you didn’t lose anything but the decal which is what, a nickle?.

        @bullnuke

        True and much easier to remove. I have one on the car I drove in today, eventually my lazy butt will remove it but eh whatever. Better than a decal on paint.

      • 0 avatar
        Flipper35

        We make the dealer remove it in case the paint is damaged then they are on the hook.

        You are much cheaper than I am, I told them $100 per month. I also told them they could pre-pay for a discount since we keep our cars a long time. They don’t go for that either and just removed the stickers.

  • avatar
    ravenuer

    As far as cars becoming more and more complicated, I can see the issue about independent shops not being able to repair something. Of course that’s not to say there are dealers that fit into that category too.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    My 1985 Oldsmobile Toronado has a flash update when I set low beam or high beam headlamps!

  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    My RAM 2500 did an automatic OTA update to the uConnect radio and bricked it. Since the vehicle was under warranty they replaced the radio.

    What’s going to happen to an owner with the identical vehicle that’s past the warranty, the radio worked fine and then the manufacturer bricked it? The owner didn’t ask for the update, RAM did not inform the owner and the owner now has a dead radio that costs north of $1k.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    I am genuinely curious as to how familiar the enthusiast community might be with event data recorders.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Not very myself but my guess is they will route it into the black box so it will be more difficult to tamper with without causing actual problems. F***ers.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Yeah I’ll just stick to cars with 1- and 2-DIN radios.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Any “proprietary information” the OEM is not willing to divulge for an independent repair shop to fix should be fixed free at the dealership.

    I don’t think the aftermarket supply company should necessarily have access to all that info for the same cost as a repair shop though.

  • avatar
    JMII

    The HMI module in my C7 is flacky, about 5% of the time it just goes off line. This module controls the radio and several other infotainment features via the touch screen.

    No big deal, it turns out I can get a replacement module off eBay… but it has to programmed to my VIN. Thankfully there are a few online service providers that can do this so I don’t have to be ripped off by the dealer. Getting this part and programming done by GM costs $1200. Going the non-dealer route is just $400.

    Currently GM sells the VIN programming software to anyone willing to pay for it. If, however, they decide for privacy reasons to shut out independent shops then I’m screwed. Since this module controls the Nav system I could easily see that scenario occurring in the near future.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    The reality is that the MFG and dealers doesn’t want to deal with older vehicles and they do not have the capacity to do so. That means they are not going to cut off the independents. A number of them are supporters, one way or another of NASTF https://www.nastf.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=1

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    This, repair information, has been in conflict pretty close to forever.
    When I started in the repair business, many decades ago, you could not get a factory repair manual. Those were for dealer mechs only and they would not sell them.
    There were some aftermarket books written with “stolen” info. Some were okay and others were not good as toilet paper.
    With the changes in regs/laws about emissions eventually a light went on in somebody’s head. Many cars are on the road for decades and if it is expected that the emission systems continue to function the info/specs to maintain and repair them need to be available. Also just about everything on a motor vehicle has a safety aspect. So that data should be available also.
    At first I was a bit surprised at mechanics that I worked with and how they would work on something with no manual or specs. For example they would rely on whomever did the machining to recondition brake drums and rotors to notify them if they were worn too far, but where did the machine shop get the spec? Since many machine shops are at parts stores there is a potential conflict of interest.
    Later I learned that on many vehicles the brake rotors could not successfully be reconditioned. Even though they were thicker than the wear limit, if machined they would quickly warp. So new rotors were needed when the pads were worn out. This type of info is not in factory manuals.
    I got a bit of a shock when I saw engines overhauled with nothing being measured for wear. Feel and eyeball was good enough. Most engines ran, some not so good, but for how long? Another example was cylinder heads re-machined flat, but now the compression ratio was quite a but higher. That worked in the 1970s when gasoline, if there were yellow pump stickers then, of 105+ octane was easy to buy. After the early 1980s those engines would detonate themselves to death within a year.
    When congress passed a law that manufacturers had to make available the manuals and specs life became easier. I don’t think there is any limit on how much they can charge for those manuals. When the internet took off 15-20 years ago fairly soon someone would buy/burrow/steal a manual, scan it and post it on the net. Prices for some manuals dropped 50%.
    And the special tool thing is the gorilla in the shop. It’s a tough choice when you need a $800-1,500 tool to do a job when there will be, maybe, less than 5 of those repairs in a year. The tool will be paid off when you are 6 feet under.
    I knew several other shops and we would loan tools to each other. This was long before the time when you could get an “app” for your phone and an adapter cable for under $100 to reset the “service reminder” lights. I am selling off some specialty tools that, in today’s money, cost over $50K. Probably be lucky to get 1/10 of that.
    If you think that any car/truck of the last five or so model years is not spying on you I can sell you some Pacific Ocean front land in Arizona.

  • avatar
    PJmacgee

    Look what Amazon does with the Kindle – you can buy a cheaper version “with special offers” (aka targeted advertising), or a slightly more expensive option that’s normal. I might pay slightly more for a non-spying data-pimping car, if given the option.

  • avatar
    pwrwrench

    “if given the option.” That option is unlikely to be available at any price.


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