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Congress May Force Revealing of Car Computer Secrets

CowboyNeal posted more than 10 years ago | from the renabling-diy-maintenance dept.

United States 683

marksven writes "The Seattle Post-Intelligencer is reporting that there is a bill with 86 co-sponsors in the House to force automakers to open up their proprietary interfaces to car computers. Small car repair shops are more and more becoming locked out of the repair business because most late model cars can only be fixed by accessing their computers with codes that are secret."

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Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (4, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569629)

Bill has been tinkering with computers since the age of two. He has been playing with DVD drives on his computer since 1999. Recently he has been unable to watch any movies on his computer running Linux because of the codes that the MPAA has used to encrypt the disc.

"I think it's an illegal monopoly. If you don't have the codes you can't watch the disc."

Yet there's a law that protects the MPAA from having to give this code to the rest of the world. It's called the DMCA. It stops you from circumventing copy-protection.

Why aren't there any lawmakers backing the public on DVD encryption? See here [slashdot.org] .

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (5, Insightful)

indros (211103) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569664)

The difference lies in the fact that with codes to your car, it can be serviced independently.

With the codes to your DVD, you can make unlimited copies, and do anything and everything with them.

Try doing that to your car when you get it's codes.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (4, Interesting)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569711)

But its a bit more complex that just that.

From the article;
>Automakers are fighting the legislation; they believe the real goal is to obtain proprietary "calibration codes" that are the blueprints for how parts are made. With that information, Territo said, independent mechanics and parts manufacturers could duplicate major components such as fuel injectors that automakers have spent millions of dollars developing.

So maybe its the same issue. A group wants to control their property by using technology which locks things up.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (5, Insightful)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569796)

"With that information, Territo said, independent mechanics and parts manufacturers could duplicate major components such as fuel injectors that automakers have spent millions of dollars developing."

If the manufacturers spent millions of dollars designing parts and *didn't* get patents on those parts, then it's their own damn fault...and they have also failed their shareholders.

If they had patented their expensively-designed parts, they would have zero problems with opening the specs for third-party repair shops and could still prevent third-party replica parts.

Re:I really miss.... (4, Interesting)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569873)

I generally love anything new and techie...but, I really miss the days of simpler cars. I miss minimal computer control....large engines with tons of horsepower. Where if something went wrong..it was mostly mechanical...and you could work on many things yourself. I miss when you could drive a stock car off the showroom floor...and it had enough power to smoke the tires for a couple of blocks....and they weren't all 'designed by computers'...the cars looked good and had individual personality. And...even a pretty powerful one was reasonably affordable to the majority of people....

I often think that if you could get one car executive to take a 'chance'...and try the old idea behind the original GTO's and later other muscle cars...throw a monster engine into a decent body of a car...keep the interior minimalist...with real perfomance, and keep the price reasonable. I gotta think these things would sell like hotcakes...

Oh well...as long as we're dreaming here...I'd also like a pony...

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (5, Informative)

Rude Turnip (49495) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569722)

You can make bit-for-bit copies of any DVD now, complete with all the encryption on it. And the laws preventing the distribution of those DVDs (normal copyright law) has been on the books for a long, long time. If you follow the money, the bottom line is that the CSS and region codes on a DVD only help to support cartel price-fixing profits.

WRONG! (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569734)

Some of you people just don't get it: DVD CSS has NOTHING to do with COPYING or the prevention thereof! You can make as many copies of a CSS'ed DVD as you want. CSS is all about who can play the DVD and where.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (2, Informative)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569758)

Um, I can make unlimited copies without the codes already. and pirate houses in china have been before DeCSS existed..

tell me again how this is different cince I just shot down your entire argument.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (5, Informative)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569871)

The difference lies in the fact that with codes to your car, it can be serviced independently.

With the codes to your DVD, you can make unlimited copies, and do anything and everything with them.

Not correct. I can make unlimited copies of DVDs without any access to codes - just as I can make copies of a text written in German without being able to read that language. Mass bootlegging of DVDs happens this way already.

CSS is all about controlling who gets to make DVD players. It does nothing to prevent copying.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (1)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569889)

But, I do not need the codes to copy a DVD! In fact the last thing I want to do is change anything if I'm planing on making a profit. Region codes have never been about stopping piracy.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (0, Troll)

Stopmotioncleaverman (628352) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569674)

Agreed. A monopoly is a monopoly is a monopoly. You can't discriminate just because it's a smaller market, or one that's likely to have less publicity. Unfair business monopolies are rife these days - and a step in the right direction would undoubtedly be welcome.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (2, Insightful)

MoneyT (548795) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569735)

Actualy, you CAN discriminate based ont he market size or how the market works. A monopoly is not inherrently bad. THe laws cover the ABUSE of a monopoly.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (5, Insightful)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569676)

I think the fact that the DVD is pure information and a car is a physical object, not subject to casual duplication, might be a difference, but who knows?

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569817)

No, a DVD is a thin piece of plastic.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569862)

Right, but the information thereon is, to varying degrees, copyable.
Pedantic point noted.

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (1)

makapuf (412290) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569858)

Of course, you understand that ciphered bytes are as easy to copy as unciphered bytes ?
And that what prevents duplication now could be for example the fact that standard DVD are released on 9Gb media instead of 4.7 Gb DVD-+R[W|AM]?

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (2, Interesting)

bwalling (195998) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569680)

Why stop there? Why not just have Microsoft open up Windows so that we can all service it?

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569767)

That's not a bad idea. The product has 1000's of disasters waiting for hackers to discover. What happens if a real malicious guy finds one, and instead of reporting it to bugtraq, he formats every windows drive on the internet? Up til now we've been extremely lucky and the will of hackers has been a good one. They either report stuff, or steal information. Few destroy the computer.

Think that potential risk of monetary loss, not to mention the stuff that is beyond value, worth allowing MS to continue on the way they are now?

Re:Cars, DVDs, what's the difference? (1)

dj245 (732906) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569783)

I guess lawmakers are sick of having to get their car serviced at Joe's Mercedes of Washington DC. Are they sick of having to use proprietary solutions to decode their DVDs on Windows boxes instead of Linux? No, they have an assistant to do that.

First Post! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569641)

Hmm, wonder if i can get my car to serve webpages :D

Re:First Post! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569805)

Cool! I've always wanted to Slashdot an Acura!

overclock time ! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569643)

Maybe we can overclock them :)

Stupid Lawmen (2, Funny)

whoda (569082) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569646)

Car companies will just encrypt everything with some stupid XOR scheme, and then claim DMCA protections.

stupid XOR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569803)

why would they make such a massive investment of resources, when they have already gone through such trouble to "OR 1" their data?

:->

About time (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569647)

Wow, it's only been a few years of this going on :sigh:

Poop!!!! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569649)

You shall all dine on mine poopy!!!!

I don't get Congress. (4, Interesting)

foxtrot (14140) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569650)

When the MPAA comes a callin' with their CSS encryption, the answer is the DMCA.

But when it comes to open-standards for automobiles, they're all for it.

Why won't they make up their minds?

Re:I don't get Congress. (4, Insightful)

King_TJ (85913) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569682)

Govt. is typically illogical.... IMHO, let them pass this one as law, and THEN hit them with the questioning about their logic on cars vs. DVD's.

It's more leverage for us if it's already written into law.

It is quite simple (1, Insightful)

leerpm (570963) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569691)


The entertainment industry (MPAA/RIAA) has lots of money, power and influence.

The automobile indudstry has even more money, power and influence.

The technology industry has comparatively less money, power and influence.

Re:It is quite simple (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569790)

if you listen to the MPAA/RIAA's propaganda it sounds like they don't have any money at all because all the pirates have pilfered it with their illegal copying

Re:I don't get Congress. (5, Funny)

dspfreak (666482) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569701)

Because in this case, politicians were actually able to make the mental leap necessary to understand the analogy "Would you buy a car with the hood welded shut?"

Re:I don't get Congress. (5, Insightful)

IndigoDarkwolf (752210) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569742)

There's an important difference you're overlooking: Nobody's getting shut out of the DVD player business.

Seriously, how many legal car repair shops do you think there are? A million is most likely a conservative figure. The car computer legislation is happening because there are a lot of people in the car repair business, and have been in the car repair business for generations. But, suddenly (last few years) they've been unable to fix cars because they don't know the secret codes for the cars' computers.

This isn't "I want everything, like MP3s and DVDs, for free". This is "I want to fsck-ing survive here.

Re:I don't get Congress. (1)

cybermace5 (446439) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569746)

Because car repair shops have a bit more of an organized front; unions etc. Plus fixing a car is an easier concept for a crotchety old Congressman to get his head around, as opposed to media fair use.

Not to mention it's an easier concept for Average Joe to understand; he can get his car fixed anywhere instead of paying a premium for dealer service. If a Congressman chooses to vote against a major player, they'll do it for Average Car-Drivin' Joe, not Scattered Linux Geeks Who Don't Want To Dual-Boot To Watch A DVD.

DMCA isn't quite all that (2, Insightful)

ChefInnocent (667809) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569848)

There is a major difference between the MPAA and the auto industry. The MPAA does give thier codes to major manufacturers so that the DVDs will play. You can purchase a DVD player in any Walmart, Shopko, pawn-shop across the country that will play the DVD. What happens when your car breaks down in the middle of the Nevada desert will be a $1500 towing bill to get it to a dealer instead of a $200 towing bill to the next town. GM doesn't have certified auto-shops in every town.
When your DVD player breaks you just plop down another $40, do you really want to pay several hundred dollers to get to the nearest dealership and then plop down $20000?
With the older cars, either they didn't have computer codes, or the computer codes were fairly easy to figure out and published in the Chiltons manual. Now the manufacturers are trying to keep the codes as a trade secret so that you have to go to the dealer.
The net result is that it just isn't quite the same game using the DMCA to protect the cars codes. Next time my car breaks down and I have to bumb a ride 300 miles just to get to a phone, I want to know that I can get my car fixed there too. I want to have a prayer to fix the car on the road if I have a Chiltons.

Of course it runs NetBSD! (1, Funny)

RLiegh (247921) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569657)

and gets great gas mileage, even under heavy loads!

Nah. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569697)

Debian GNU/Honda is where it's at.

Hmm, will this answer the quesion of (-1)

Can it run Linux (664464) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569661)

can they run Linux(TM)?

Stealing is stealing (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569667)

I can't believe congress would force car makers to give up their most valuable IP. How would you like it if some guy could just walk up and take your laptop? Woudn't like it, would you? Hippies, as usual, have their hearts in the wrong places. Maybe it's because they're all atheists.

Re:Stealing is stealing - MOD PARENT DIFFERENTLY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569824)

Is there no room for wit on slashdot?

OSS needed! (1, Interesting)

Pizzop (605441) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569668)

too bad the computer don't run OSS, then the smaller garages would just have to get a computer geek to help.

Why is this troll? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569708)

Not all garage mechanics are knowledgable with computers.

This has been done before (4, Interesting)

djh101010 (656795) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569670)

I used to work for GE Medical Systems, and there was a similar case there. There is (or was?) a company out there doing third-party servicing of CAT and MRI scanners, place called "R-Squared". They took GE to court saying that we should share with them our service tools, because by not doing so it was unfairly excluding them from competing with us.

Ended up having to make it possible for the competition to get our service tools, but I don't remember that we were required to make them available cheaply or quickly. Not sure how things are there today; knowing GE they probably would solve the problem by buying out the competitor.

This really isn't much different than open-source vs closed-source though, is it...if the person selling it wants to lock you out of the internals, well, your choices include not buying from them.

Re:This has been done before (5, Funny)

cgenman (325138) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569815)

This really isn't much different than open-source vs closed-source though, is it...if the person selling it wants to lock you out of the internals, well, your choices include not buying from them.

#:apt-get install camaro
No package by that name.
#:apt-get install thunderbird
Try "apt-get install firefox"
#:apt-get install mini
Downloading "mini-dinstall" from repos
Ctrl-C
Process interrupted

#:apt-get install pinto
Warning: you are about to install package "pinto" from repository "www.ford.com/unstable" Do you wish to continue?

Ctrl-C

woo (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569677)


Congress to Automakers: "G1bb0rz u5 j00r l337 c0d3x0r5555!"

This is big brother for cars (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569678)

This only reason for an open interface is for their plans to install ignition interlocks and traffic violation ticket printers in each car. Soon your car will automatically drive you directly to the police station or reeducation camps.

a few cars have been reverse engineered (5, Informative)

another misanthrope (688068) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569681)

and posted on the web - like this site [allpar.com]

Oh Goody! Now I can install Linux (2, Funny)

myownkidney (761203) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569690)

Once they release the interfaces to these car computers, we can install Linux on them. [mithuro.com]

Payola (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569693)

The car companies are already protected under DMCA. If congress forces them to open up, it just means the auto companies aren't bribing them enough...

l8,
AC

Re:Payola (1)

Unkle (586324) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569866)

Actually, as someone who works in the Scantool industry, they would not be protected by copyrights so much as patents. And, even then, the protocol is completely open (i.e., CAN or KEYWORD), it's just the specific codes and what you can do with them.

Also, it is worth noting that companies can already license much of this information from the car companies (mine does for one of our products), plus there are a limited number of codes that relate to Emissions systems that are standardized by the EPA. This would seem to just open it up so there were no licensing fees, and the mechanic would know what a P02534 code meant and thus be able to fix the problem.

Good! (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569694)

We can only hope that the bill doesn't get trompled all over by some politicians that may be in the pockets of the car manufacturers.

Re:Good! (2, Insightful)

MoneyT (548795) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569764)

Why is this good? Why is the government stepping into private business matters and FORCING them to make things easier for their competition a good thing? A monopoly is not an inherrently bad thing, which is why the laws cover the ABUSE of a monopoly position. Until these manufacturers start abusing their positions, the government should keep itself out of this.

I'm sorry, Dave... (5, Funny)

rasafras (637995) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569695)

...I'm afraid I can't do that.

Preach on, (5, Interesting)

bob670 (645306) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569696)

had to take my car to the dealership this weekend because the shop down the block didn't know what the codes meant. Turns out it was a misaligned break caliper, cost me $225 at the dealership, would have been about $130 down the street.

Re:Preach on, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569787)

your fault for buying an import.

next time buy a GM car and then you wont have that problem

Solution (4, Insightful)

mark-t (151149) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569798)

Just tell them you need a quote... that you need to ensure that you have the money right now to be able to repair it.

It's perfectly reasonable to, once they've given you the quote, to also tell you what all is wrong with your car. Tell them you'd need to think about it, as if this is going to put a bit of crimp in your budget for this month, and say you'll get back to them as soon as you've worked out the details.

Trot down to your favorite small shop mechanic and ask him how much he'd charge to do exactly the job that the other guys said needed to get done. You tell him that the dealership has already given you a quote for $X, and the problem has been diagnosed by them. Odds are he'll undercut them. If not, just go back to the dealership... you're SOL.

If your mechanic guy has offered to do the repairs, then you go back to the dealership and tell them that you just can't swing that kind of money this month. Then you take your car to little guy's shop and have it repaired there.

Funny thing is, if enough people did this, the little guys would learn what the diagnosis codes meant because they'd get customers coming in telling them what was already wrong, and the mechanics could start matching up codes to real problems.

Now the question is, is the above method, using strictly social engineering, still considered a violation of the DMCA?

Re:Preach on, (1)

JCMay (158033) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569831)

You mean a misaligned brake caliper? I'm not sure how that happen, much less trigger a fault code. Brake calipers (for disk brakes), are bolted to a mounting flange. There's no alignment needed or possible. There's basically two moving parts in a disk brake system- the rotor that spins with the wheel, and the plunger inside the caliper. The caliper presses the pads into the sides of the rotor, slowing it by friction.

Perhaps you mean that the ABS system was faulty? The lock-up accelerometer may not have been working on that wheel, rendering the ABS system inoperative. Either that, or perhaps the fluid level sensor was bad.

Re:Preach on, (0, Troll)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569851)

WTF was the shop down the street looking at the onboard computer for, if it was a brake problem?

Either they suck, or you're lying.

About 10 years too late (5, Insightful)

Gr8Apes (679165) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569698)

They should have always required opening up of these interfaces. The owner pretty much has to take the word of a very small select group of "in the know" mechanics on what condition their car is in. And we all know how trustworthy the average local mechanic/dealer mechanic is (do a google for Jiffy Lube, Sears, etc, and auto mechanics and lawsuits)

Then I recall my own wonderful personal experience. I had engine fluctuation issues in a turbo charged car. 15 trips to the dealer (under warranty) and replacement of virtually ever sensor and the car's computer failed to rectify the sporadic condition. The car had a computer interface, and it was telling them... well, I don't know what it was telling them - I couldn't access the interface....

Long story short though, one day, the engine started having RPM fluctuations while idling, so I popped open the hood and, since I hadn't been running long nor very hard, decided to take a quick look at the intercooler fluid level. I just happened to notice as I pulled out the intercooler cap that the float bob sensor attached to said cap was sunk to the bottom, even though the intercooler level was fine. I bypassed this sensor and all was fine for the next 100K miles. Odds are I'd have found this more quickly if I could have hooked up a computer to the interface to diagnose the problem while it was happening.

Re:About 10 years too late (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569804)

Intercooler fluid? Is that like blinker fluid? ;-)

What kind of car was it? I didn't think any production cars since some limited Chevy vehicles in the late 80's used air/water intercoolers, and those didn't have diagnostic computers.

It'd be an interesting fact to know...

Re:About 10 years too late (1)

241comp (535228) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569860)

I'm wondering as well what car this is with an air/liquid intercooler stock. I dnn't know of any that have been made since diagnostic computers came about. I'm not saying they don't exist - I just want to know what car it is!

Usability issues (1, Offtopic)

prostoalex (308614) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569703)

Maybe someone could come up with better usability design for the car interfaces as well, instead of those multiple-menu screens built by Germans (no offense to KDE and SuSE guys, but Germans, while touting reliability, do build awful interfaces in their cars).

I just got this column from Jacob Nielsen [useit.com] in my mailbox complaining about this exact issue.

I don't understand (1)

namidim (607227) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569706)

Does anyone understand the manufacturer's argument about the calibration codes being like the difference between two processor designs? I can't imagine how that would be, but then I don't know anything about the calibration codes.....

volvo? (1)

happyfrogcow (708359) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569714)

wasn't volvo saying that they were goign to start shipping cars with their hoods weilded shut [slashdot.org] ? hilarous. Make spec's known, but make the interface to that computer unreachable.

Re:volvo? (2, Informative)

RedShoeRider (658314) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569797)

Sure, the hood might be welded shut, but on the majority of cars the OBD-II port is somewhere in the cabin.

Volvo, for instance, in their 850/S70/C70 line, it's under the change tray, right by your right (if you have a left-hand-drive car) knee.

Re:volvo? (1)

amigabill (146897) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569872)

Heck, they could even make the computer interface reachable. But if you have to drop the engine out the bottom to do even the most minor work, not many home-fixit guys will be able to do anything at all as they don't have a lift. Let alone an under-the-car engine removal system. I think that welding the hood shut will only serve to increase the dealers' stranglehold on car servicing. A guy I work with has a Boxter, and you really can't do much of anything at home, yuo really have to get it to a dealer so they can put it ona lift and look up in there, and perhaps drop the engine to tinker with anything at all.

Re:volvo? (2, Informative)

subjectstorm (708637) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569875)

no. no they weren't.

if i recall correctly, that was a concept car designed "by women for women". A bit sexist perhaps; certainly ridiculous - but hey, go girl power.

Volvo explicitly stated in the article that they had neither the desire nor the intent to ever place that vehicle into production.

codes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569716)

I wonder if a person with an encrypted computer is entitled for a refund. Is this documented in the deal? If not, there may be some class action lawsuits happening soon...

l8,
AC

And in other news (0, Flamebait)

maroberts (15852) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569721)

DVD manufacturers forced to open CSS.
Microsoft forced toopen Windows hidden interfaces.

Will this proposed law contradict the DMCA? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569725)

If the auto companies encrypt the computer secrets using weak encryption and claim DMCA jurisdiction, wouldn't the DMCA disallow the applicability of the new law in that case?

Small car repair shops - and my car (1, Interesting)

ssand (702570) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569731)

I don't think these small car repair shops should recieve access to car computers that manufacturers don't want them in. By restricting access, car manufacturers can ensure quality, and knowledge about a car. With sucha a range of vehicles on the roads today, chances are that some of these smaller car repair shops have not worked on a car that is the same type as yours.

Re:Small car repair shops - and my car (2, Funny)

Paulrothrock (685079) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569794)

So by giving us fewer choices to get our services, they're protecting us from evil people outside of their organization!

Oh what a silly sheep I've been, servicing my car myself for so long!

Re:Small car repair shops - and my car (1)

IndigoDarkwolf (752210) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569795)

They can also unfairly decide "You can't pay me, therefor I'll blackmail you out of your life's work."

Re:Small car repair shops - and my car (3, Insightful)

PhuCknuT (1703) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569828)

Except when you only have 1 place to get your car serviced, you can't get a second opinion, and you have to take their word for it that the expensive repair they propose is necessary.

Re:Small car repair shops - and my car (1)

pyite (140350) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569835)

Good in theory. Bad in practice. I wouldn't trust a dealer mechanic within 100 feet of my car. I'll work on it myself, thank you very much.

Re:Small car repair shops - and my car (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569855)

You must be an Apple user...

Hmm (1)

abscondment (672321) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569732)

Well, in one sense security like this is helpful to the car owner--many cars can't be hotwired anymore, because the starter is controlled by an onboard computer and will only work when the driver's key is in the ignition. On the other hand, it sucks, because losing your key can be upwards of $70 to replace. Also, smaller companies get the shaft. Maybe they need to separate the systems--not locking up the things small shops need access to for repairs could allow anti-theft measures to remain in place.

Re:Hmm (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569861)

Those are the keys with RFID tags, right? That security by obscurity won't last forever. The panic reaction when that happens will naturally be to ban access to RFID technology for individuals, consultants and small companies.

Point here has more to do with than just cars. (4, Insightful)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569733)

The proposed law can only be a good thing. With more and more of everyday life becoming computerized, such codes could be used to shut people out from everything from their cars to their washing machines.

The principle point here is: Does the public have the right to access and repair of their own violation property they have paid for? This can readily be applied to almost any manufactured good in the future. Let's face it, how many things do you buy anymore that aren't controlled by computer code?

Re:Point here has more to do with than just cars. (1)

cybermace5 (446439) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569802)

I think "violation" should be replaced by "volition" in the above post. Unless you meant to say that.

Re:Point here has more to do with than just cars. (1)

onyxruby (118189) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569865)

Yup, just a typo.

Where the profit is ... (5, Insightful)

henrygb (668225) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569737)

The car industry provides two areas of profit (and one of loss) 1. Making and selling the car - a loss 2. Financing the sale of a car - a profit 3. Servicing and repairing the car - a profit Finance is a competitive industry, so the profits are small. Servicing can be turned into a monopoly, so is it any surprise the car makers are doing so? Politicians know how to shakedown an industry - threatening to regulate it and forcing competition is not uncommon. For some as yet unknown reason, the threats are not always carried out.

Election Year (4, Insightful)

N8F8 (4562) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569741)

This sounds like an election year doggy treat. Pass it in the House and kill it in the Senate.

Oops.. (1)

ivar (31153) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569745)

The autoindustry flack gives us a bad example in defense of proprietary data : "A calibration code is what makes that part work, and that's the part that's proprietary," Territo said. "It's like the difference between an Apple microprocessor and an IBM microprocessor. Not only does IBM now make Apple's microprocessors.. in the past, the spec of the Apple's mainstay PowerPC chip was open. Even Apple's recognizing the benefits of open code (as evinced by safari/khtml ).

Apple ./. IBM Microprocessor (5, Funny)

Star_Gazer (25473) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569762)

... Territo said. "It's like the difference between an Apple microprocessor and an IBM microprocessor."

Hmmh, and I thought Apples G5 Microprocessors come from IBM...

Good For Me (4, Interesting)

LighthouseJ (453757) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569774)

If this works for previous model years instead of just new models, I'll be really happy. There's a small but loyal group of people like me that are trying to get a supercharger for our car. A company has quoted if they could produce it, the supercharger could conservatively raise the car from 174hp to ~260hp (300 lb-ft torque) thanks to a solid engine. The physical supercharger is the same as any others, but the problem is that no one has been able to crack the Hitachi (I think) computer so the programming knows about a supercharger and doesn't compensate for it negatively.

nice double standard (1, Flamebait)

subjectstorm (708637) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569778)

enforced open source for cars but not for computers, eh congressman? well that's a damned double standard!

lets stick to our guns and let the dealerships charge the independent service shops for "special training" to learn the codes, then sell them the "diagnostic tools" at grossly inflated prices.

fair is fair after all. NO CHEATING!

Lies, I tell you. (2, Interesting)

Awptimus Prime (695459) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569784)

Small car repair shops are more and more becoming locked out of the repair business because most late model cars can only be fixed by accessing their computers with codes that are secret."

These are lies. You can get all the required codes from the vehicle's repair manual (~$120). You can also use Google for this same purpose. The OBD interface is standard, so you don't need a new one for every model car.

I've been watching mechanics sweat this stuff since the early 80's. Meanwhile, most of their problems arise from not updating their diagnostic equipment because it costs money.

Aside from the other reasons, I think with technology getting more and more complicated in newer vehicles, it might be a good thing to see the 'general' mechanic become a thing of yesterday. I would rather have someone licensed and very experienced and specialized in working on just my make of car. That way, they know all the quirks and bugs related to specific models. A general mechanic will just know the basics of every car, but little specialization in an area that affects his value to me.

Keep in mind, when I say general mechanic, I am speaking of a guy who's got his certifications and is good at what he does. Before you folks get frothy towards me, remind yourself that the big general mechanic shops include Pep Boys and other parts stores that have mechanics in a shop on the side. They do not specialize in a particular car or specific service.

Its because.... (0, Offtopic)

MeBadMagic (619592) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569785)

It's because they don't want to get sued by SCO!

interesting (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569789)

This is a very interesting situation... A small group of companies in an industry won't allow information about their product to become available to the public, making it difficult if not impossible for the rest of the industry and complementary service industries to be able to use this information to repair, inspect, or modify the original product.

This sounds vaguely familiar. Now where have we seen this before?

Obvious Answer? (5, Insightful)

oyenstikker (536040) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569799)

People are diliberately confusing 'codes' and 'code'. Mechanics need the _codes_ that the computer spits out indicating what is wrong. Nobody needs the _code_ for the computer software.

As for the whole complaint about the recent complexity of cars; it is government mandated and consumer demanded. There are requirements for fuel efficiency and emissions. A simple 4 stroke engine can only be so effecient and so clean. To meet regulations, cars need to incorporate exhaust gas recirculation, variable cam timing, complex variable spark timing, catylitic converters, and a host of other complexities. Consumers want climate control, adaptive suspension, 17 way power adjustable seats, power cupholders, remote buttons for everything, heated everything, and performance, but they expect their cars to have the simplicity of an air cooled VW?

Next: Tin Foil Hatters Hack Car Black Boxes (1)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569800)

If car companies reveal enough of the interface design, then hackers will be able to disable or erase the car's black boxes [msn.com] . That way the police won't know if you were speeding when you wrap the car around a telephone pole.

How about if we make reverse engineering legal. (1)

color of static (16129) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569816)

By keeping the DMCA and then giving special legistlative protection to individual industries (like the small mechanics and third party tool vendors in this case) we are bringing ourselves to a huge regulator nightmare quicker and quicker. By getting rid of the DMCA we could allow people to hack away at these problems and make a profitable industry that benefits us all.

Re:How about if we make reverse engineering legal. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569886)

The DMCA contains a specific provision making reverse engineering for the purposes of interoperability legal. In fact, I believe there are third party diagnostic machines that read all car computers.

What this amounts to is forcing the car manufacturers to quit wasting money so that they build a better product, and have more money to return to their shareholders (or lower prices). It's a shame that American Capitalism has fallen so low that it takes a law from the Federal Government to force a corporation to make a better product for less money.

Let's not even get started on ink cartridge manufacturers.

Too little too late? (1)

Fizzl (209397) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569819)

Why is everyone saying this is "too little, too late"?
If I had the know how, I'd jump this oportunity to start a business once the interfaces are opened.
Manufacture custom made analyzation stations that can understand all the makes and models of the big brands. Now imagine selling this with decent price to all the little car shops that don't currently have access to any of these new fangled car chips.
If the machine is sufficiently advanced, the small shops can cath-up in no time.

We are being locked-out, too (1)

Burlynerd (535250) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569820)

Just when you thought Congress was totally useless, they go and do something right. It was always wrong for the small repair shops to be excluded from being able to repair newer cars, but we citizens were also being excluded from being able to repair our own cars. It surprises me that Congress has the cojones to do this, but I do applaud the action.

By excluding the small repair shops, the auto manufacturers are preventing customers from getting the best repair deals. By exluding US from reading our own engine error codes, we can't easily perform many basic auto maintenance tasks.

Bravo to whomever decided to step out-of-character in our Congress.

Because . . . (1)

Sloh_One (756526) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569821)

Car computer secrets want to be free man!!!

Change two words... (4, Insightful)

Gnasty (14533) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569849)

If you take this quote from the article:

"You don't want technology to destroy competitiveness," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who offered one of the bills. "There's no reason ... you shouldn't be able to take your car to anyone you want rather than there being only one option."

and change two words, you get:

"You don't want technology to destroy competitiveness," said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who offered one of the bills. "There's no reason ... you shouldn't be able to take your music to any player you want rather than there being only one option."

I wonder how Sen. Graham voted on some other issue?

Why the DVD comparisons? (1)

oneiros27 (46144) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569881)

It's the basic mechanic who is getting screwed on this whole thing. Yes, you, as a consumer are getting screwed, but you're just paying a percentage more than you would have. [Assuming you don't have the mechanical ability to fix it yourself].

It's the independant mechanics who are losing all of their profit, in that they just can't fix things.

Other companies still make low-cost DVD players, it's just that the general consumer doesn't have the access. I'd compare that to a general locksmith -- a locksmith knows how to cut a master key, based on a sub master, but the general public doesn't. [Of course, there are probably some criminals out there who know as well].

I'd compare this car issue to be closer in relationship to putting computer chips in ink cartridges, so that you might get a minor performance gain, but it results in a company being able to lock out any competition.

These codes aren't secret... (4, Informative)

Mister Transistor (259842) | more than 10 years ago | (#8569882)

I used to work for Sun Electric (now Snap-On), designing engine and emission diagnostic analyzers.

The "secret" diagnostic codes are published. The Chilton's repair guides for cars list the error codes for each car and manufacturer. Also, the factory service manuals for those cars have the codes and their meanings listed.

I love Cadillacs, though, because you can press "OFF" and "WARMER" on the Climate Control panel and it will list the codes on the display there! Then you can do the repairs at home yourself!

You can also go buy a $500.00 Snap-on ALDL analyzer (Assembly Line Diagnostic Link) and it will list the codes too. The newer vehicles call this OBD-2 (Onboard Diagnostics, V2).

Finally, there is some software out there (Payware, IIRC) that will list the codes on a PC or laptop, but you need to build an RS-232 to ALDL level converter for it (or buy the software with the appropriate dongle).

The solution is simple...Ninnle! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8569883)

All of these automotive computers just need to be replaced with new ones, ones that run embedded Ninnle Linux! With an open source OS like that, anybody can fix her car with just a few mouse clicks!
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