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Should We Have Automotive “Right To Repair”?

Published on July 17, 2012 under Humble Mechanic

We have talked about “Dealership repair vs Aftermarket repair” many times before. One thing that I didn’t touch on is the “Right to Repair” issue. This is legislation aimed at forcing auto manufacturers to provide more repair information and tool to the aftermarket. This is going beyond the how to information.

Based on the legislation, it seems that “Right to Repair” is trying to get information on the control modules in the car. You can read the legislation here. This comes from the “Right to Repair” site.

While the problems experienced by independent technicians are wide ranging, the following are three major issues now faced by independent repair shops in attempting to obtain the information and tools needed to work on today’s and tomorrow’s vehicles:

  • Codes needed to reinitialize vehicle computer systems are not made available. Independent shops often are able to perform many repairs only to be stymied at the end when they cannot obtain the code to reinitialize the vehicle’s computers and thus complete the repair. Absent entering the code, in many cases the car owner would not be able to restart the car following the repairs.
  • Information provided to new dealers is more effective than what is provided to independents. A great deal of diagnostic and repair data is provided to car company franchised dealerships over “hotlines” that are not accessible to independent repair shops or consumers. Information available through these dealer-only networks provide valuable diagnostic assistance for hard to solve problem and might also have information regarding safety related repairs that need to be completed, but which an independent shop and car owner might not be aware of until a technical service bulletin or recall is released, a process that can take months if not years.
  • The growing use of telematic systems by car companies will permit critical marketing and repair information to flow wirelessly using cell phone technology to the dealer, leaving the independents out of the loop. While telematics will provide extensive benefits to car owners, it also will be used by car companies and their dealers to tie the customer to the dealer long after the new car warranty has expired.

As I see it, the aftermarket wants to have full access to all of the control modules and their information. Anything from coding modules, to advanced diagnostics. It will also include the information that we get from VW technical help line.

The truth is, most of this information is already out there. Think about all the information that is in repair manuals like Alldata, Chiltons, Mitchell and so on. Most if not all of the information needed to repair modern cars is out there. It is just a matter of PAYING for it.

We can take VW for a great example. If you buy VCDS (an aftermarket diagnostic software for VW and Audi) you can do just about everything with anything we can do with the dealer scantool. You can also buy the rights to adapt new keys and control modules. That would allow anyone to perform just about repairs on VWs. Like I said, the channels are out there, it is just a matter of finding and paying for them.

So what is the solution?

Well, to me the solution is really easy. If an aftermarket wants to play, they need to pay. It might be a matter of buying the proper diagnostic equipment and tools. The funny part about that is, it will increase the cost of doing business with an aftermarket shop. Tool and repair manual companies can have the information available shortly after a new car comes out. Well within the warranty period. If an aftermarket shop wants to do advanced electrical diagnosis, then it is up to them to buy the proper equipment.

What would happen if car makers were forced to GIVE the information away? Would it give you more options on getting your car fixed? Yep! Would, at some point, raise the cost of buying that new car? Maybe.. Remember that the costs will always roll down hill to the customer. I don’t care what side of this you are on, NO ONE can argue that.

I will be keeping my ear pretty close to this one. With that said, what do you guys think? Do dealers have “unfair” advantages? Please keep in mind the word “UNFAIR”. I really would like to know your thoughts on this.. Post it up in the comments.

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15 Comments

  1. Sam buzzacco

    I completely disagree with the “right to repair.” as you stated, the tools are available to everyone already, for a price. Ford’s VCM is available to any persons that want to purchase it. The Way I look at it is you can take the time and be factory trained like you and I have, or you can pay the price to obtain factory equipment that we who are trained is supplied with.

    1. Jim

      Your correct in saying that the information is out, just need to buy access. Sometimes it takes me a little longer but for the most part there is nothing that I have not been able to repair, program or code. It is a bit difficult to get the information to program keys, but thru NASTF you can apply to get a locksmith license to get pin codes!

  2. Ryan Robitaille

    Completely agree. I can sympathize with the aftermarket shops, but the truth is in the past 15-20 years things have changed completely.

    No one is being “locked out”, its just more complicated and expensive (FOR EVERYONE). Granted I’m more biased learning in a VW dealership – with access to all the tools, knowledge, “old dudes”, etc. Hell, I remember the day (’99?) when they rolled in the first full VESIS diag touch-screen box…

    My biggest argument was always the “value add” of the “stealership” – they cost more, for sure – but in that role you see the same shit so much (and go to very specific training), end up knowing everything inside and out (eventually), and get to use actual OEM parts. It’s like ‘specialized vs generic’ sometimes – ESP after the release of a new line with new systems, etc.

    Ok, rambling done. 😉 I have nothing against aftermarket shops, I have great friends that work for them, it’s just the nature of the beast these days…

    (Hell, at least for VW/Audi cars, almost any aftermarker shop can probably afford a VAGCOM… problem solved!)

  3. Bob K

    Manufacturers (i.e. NISSAN) do not provide all the data required to complete all repairs. Case in point: 2002 Altima. The fault code P0507 (idle setting) can only be re-initialized with a Consult II scan tool and current software — only available at Nissan dealers. The various key on/off sequences do not work. Cost at the dealer for a scan and reset $109 for 20 minutes work.

    Right to Repair will eliminate the car manufacturer’s stranglehold on consumers and introduce much needed competition from independent shops.

      1. Bob K

        I’ve talked to a number of local shops (some who use Snap-on Modus) and they all tell me that Nissan (dealer) is the only one that can do the idle reset properly using a Consult II scanner.

        I’ve seen other scanners on the web that claim they can handle all Nissan vehicles — but most of them are software only that you run from a laptop through a connector adaptor.

        The work-around is a manual procedure (key on/off, etc.) that is very difficult and not usually successful.

        1. Bob K

          BTW – I see you’re a VW guy. I had a 59 bug years ago. (also had a 62 & 64) Easy to fix and a blast to drive. Other than the lousy heater (which they all had) it ran like a top for years. Makes me long for the days of simple machines.

  4. Garrett Craven

    I think it’s fair if ALL info is available for a REASONABLE price. Every time I buy a car I go right to the parts store an buy a repair manual. It’s just nice to have to refer to if needed. But if the dealer reserves info for themselves I don’t feel that’s right, not only for independent mechanics but for do it your self mechanics as well.

  5. Doug

    As someone whos worked on both sides independent and dealer shops my opion is this it makes the tech look stupid its not his or her fault the boss is cheap and alot of techs dont want to pay 7 to 10 grand for a modis or verses then in a year be stuck for another 1 grand for updates.However i dont think they should be forced to give it away.They spent money devoloping the tecnology they should be paid.its a tough one

  6. rodney

    I have a laptop with alldata on it and it works. 500 for the laptop.
    or 150 for just the alldata. or I can send you the information you need when you start working on the car.

  7. Howard Pitkow

    Great site you have here. I’ve been servicing VW exclusively for over 40 years and have had my business for 25 years. Like you providing excellent customer service is also my top priority. Additionally I’m a member of ASA and a past member of the Mechanical Operations Committee.

    At ASA we have fought against RTR since day one. Why? Because we already have the right to repair and so do our customers. We choose to work with the OEM’s rather than against them.

    Thanks again for all you do here. After 40 plus years of turning wrenches I still learn something new everyday. Being away from the dealer environment siites like this are extremely helpful to someone like me.

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