Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cracking the code.

Modern motor cars, buses, coaches and lorries have lots of electronic systems. From new these systems work extremely well. You switch on the ignition of your vehicle and wait as the electronics boot up in the say way as your home computer boots up from cold. When all systems are go you turn that ignition key a little further and your starter motor reliably fires and starts your engine. A quick glance at your dashboard will tell you when it is safe to drive away. So far, so good. But what happens when things go wrong and you have to call the garage boys? Things are not like the old days when mechanics can service all road vehicles. No, things have changed and manufacturers are locking the market down by restricting information to it's franchised dealers who can charge through the roof because there is no competition.

These electronic systems do not use common standards and the manufacturers scan tools with software must be used to do most basic servicing tasks. Even switching off the "next service" warning light requires unlocking these special codes.

The Right to Repair Campaign has been created by the independent automotive aftermarket in response to potential changes in legislation in Europe that could drive all repair work into the vehicle manufacturers franchised dealerships. When you see the price of new cars in real terms falling you wonder what the catch must be. Manufacturers can sell their cars at a loss and get their money back on the servicing in a captive market. This principal is the same as game console manufacturers selling the machines at below cost and getting their money back on the sale of the only games that will work on their machines. The contract mobile phone industry works the same way.

I think this working of automotive electronic systems is wrong and very underhand. Vehicle electronic systems should be open-source for the benefit of everyone just like the Linux computer operating system. I think the manufacturers are being greedy and are abusing their market position.

This is a Europe wide problem and the only answer is for our politicians to draft legislation to protect the rights of consumers. Otherwise manufacturers can buy a gold mine because of the consumers lack of choice on service and repair. The list showing routine service work that can no longer be carried out without the use of a scan tool is rather long and cannot be ignored. You will simply - pay for it, big time.
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