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Transportation Technology

Right-to-Repair Law To Get DRM Out of Your Car 403

eldavojohn writes "Ralph Nader's back to hounding the automotive industry ... but it's not about safety this time, it's about the pesky DRM in your car. Most cars have a UART in them that allows you to read off diagnostic codes and information about what may be wrong with the vehicle so you can repair it. Late model cars have been getting increasingly complex and dependent on computers which has caused them, as with most things digital, to move towards a proprietary DRM for these tools, diagnostic codes and updated repair information. This has kept independent auto-shops out of the market for fixing your car and relegating you to depend on pricier dealers to get your automotive ailments cured. The bill still has a provision to protect trade secrets but is a step forward to open up the codes and tools necessary to keep your car running."
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Right-to-Repair Law To Get DRM Out of Your Car

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  • Prediction (Score:5, Funny)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:31PM (#28033323)

    Ralph Nader will find a way not only to fail at getting DRM out of cars, but it will somehow result in more DRM everywhere else. Florida will be involved in some way.

    Yeah, I'm still somewhat bitter at Ralph Nader, why do you ask?

    • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:38PM (#28033397)

      Don't blame Nader, blame your lousy voting system that discourages a third party from forming. Your voting party system is only one party better than the Communism your country hates.

      Captcha was: protest

      • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

        by causality ( 777677 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:30PM (#28033949)

        Don't blame Nader, blame your lousy voting system that discourages a third party from forming. Your voting party system is only one party better than the Communism your country hates.

        Captcha was: protest

        I think the ideal would be for candidates to run as individuals with no such thing as a political party. Then, y'know, people might actually have to think about what the individual candidate stands for (or claims to stand for anyway) rather than reducing voting to the 50/50 chance of "is he a member of my party?" Then the next step would be to get rid of the concept of politicians and return to the concept of the statesman.

        If anyone is aware of any writings the Founding Fathers have left behind about political parties in general I'd appreciate any reference you can provide. Ok, mod me off-topic now if that makes you feel better.

        • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Eskarel ( 565631 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:07PM (#28034307)
          Well, Washington thought we should only have one because having two would be divisive, though he didn't really specify which party ought to be the only one, John Adams thought it ought to be illegal [] to belong to any party other than his, and most of the rest of them seem to have believed that the people shouldn't have had much choice in who was president in the first place.

          That said, it's still Nader's fault, because despite the faults of the US voting system, Nader knew those faults, and knew exactly what he was doing. He thought that getting more funding for his party was worth 4 years of George Bush and as I recall he didn't even get enough votes to get the extra funding anyway so he shafted us, and everything he stood for for 8 years to prove a point.

          • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

            by zonky ( 1153039 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:24PM (#28034457)
            You're making the bold assumption that electing a "democrat" is in the view of nadar voters a better outcome than electing a "republican". Perhaps those Nader voters felt differently?
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by hardburn ( 141468 )

              Not all Nader voters needed to feel that way. Only a signficant fraction of the ones in Florida needed to.

            • Re:Prediction (Score:4, Insightful)

              by Actually, I do RTFA ( 1058596 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @12:09PM (#28040941)

              You're making the bold assumption that electing a "democrat" is in the view of nadar voters a better outcome than electing a "republican". Perhaps those Nader voters felt differently?

              No, I'm making the bold assumption that electing Al Gore is a different (and better) outcome than electing W. I think history has proven that we would have been better off if the President had been choosen entirely at random (or was a random "yes/no machine").

              Anyone who frames an election in terms of a "democrat" vs. a "republican", and yet somehow denegrates the two-party system as limiting choices or thought among the voters, is ridiculously inconsistent.

              That said, I do think that Nader voters thought "Heh, there's no difference between a generic democrat and a generic republican, so I shouldn't look at the individual people running." Those people are morons.

              Nader voters who refused to vote for Al Gore hated the player, not the game.

          • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Interesting)

            by MikeURL ( 890801 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:51PM (#28034731) Journal
            By the time Gore would have been elected the real estate bubble was already an unstoppable force. A reasonable argument could be made that the resultant crapstorm would have then landed squarely on Democrats.

            So in the longer term view it is even possible to see Ralph as the savior of the Democrats. If this recession drags on for 4-5 more years (as the Fed is predicting) the Republicans will be out of power for a generation. And before too very long the Dems will also own the Federal government with a 60 seat majority. If there is anything they want to undo or do then there is nothing standing in their way.

            So, let's let poor Ralph off the hook because the end result here is more power than Dems dared to even dream about 9 years ago.
            • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

              by techno-vampire ( 666512 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:18PM (#28034957) Homepage
              If there is anything they want to undo or do then there is nothing standing in their way.

              And the idea of any political party having that type of power should be giving you nightmares.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by sydneyfong ( 410107 )

                You (or at least a large majority) of the voters voted for them.

                Why should it give you nightmares? Do you really want politicians to sit there and debate about everything and not actually get anything done?

                • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

                  by Late Adopter ( 1492849 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @05:45AM (#28037215)

                  Do you really want politicians to sit there and debate about everything and not actually get anything done?


                • Re:Prediction (Score:4, Insightful)

                  by dna_(c)(tm)(r) ( 618003 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @07:16AM (#28037573)

                  Why should it give you nightmares? Do you really want politicians to sit there and debate about everything and not actually get anything done?

                  Your reasoning is an example of a 'false dilemma'. Lawmakers and members of the executive branch should debate everything AND get things done.

                  'Getting things done' without the possibility of debate is dictatorship.

          • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Saxerman ( 253676 ) * on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:02PM (#28035317) Homepage

            How the hell can you blame a guy for running for president when it was the *millions* of other people who voted for the guy who was actually elected? Or are people not suppose to vote for the guy who they feel is the most qualified? When did casting a ballot equate to throwing away your vote if your guy doesn't get elected?

            What kind of democracy do you expect to have, where any qualified candidate is required to sell their soul for the funding required from one of your two parties, who stand for nothing more than merely getting their own reelected? They've both been running to center trying to grind out the votes necessary to win without any concern for what principles or political values they're even suppose to stand for anymore. Isn't politics suppose to be the art of comprise rather than forcing down your tyranny of the majority as an entitlement program? Shouldn't be have politicians more focused on what is best for all of us, rather than those they are beholden to? Do you really enjoy run on sound bites and highlight reels rather than any meaningful political discourse?

            I understand you're bitter. I'm pretty bitter too. But why derisively spit at anyone who wants to try and stand up and thinks they might be able to do a better job than the other guy. Or maybe just because they believe the other guy is wrong. Do you really find that the politicians getting elected actually represent you and your world view?

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Narpak ( 961733 )
              I think it can be argued that each candidate should stand or fall entirely on their own merit; not be shoved to the front and top of an established party structure.

              As it appear at the moment the two main parties, the media, interest groups and others, all try to influence who is or can be elected. Idea is to let people decide freely who is the best candidate and certain systems has been implemented to facilitate this. These systems however has in turn been shaped by ideology (in one shape or another) and
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by hesiod ( 111176 )

              They've both been running to center trying to grind out the votes necessary to win without any concern for what principles or political values they're even suppose to stand for anymore. Isn't politics suppose to be the art of comprise[...]?

              [emphasis mine] Assuming you meant "the art of compromise", that can be construed as "running to center". If "center" is the endpoint of a compromise between two sides, then you are vilifying them for doing the very thing you complain that they aren't doing, in the very next sentence.

          • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:19PM (#28035419)

            That said, it's still Nader's fault, because despite the faults of the US voting system, Nader knew those faults, and knew exactly what he was doing. He thought that getting more funding for his party was worth 4 years of George Bush and as I recall he didn't even get enough votes to get the extra funding anyway so he shafted us, and everything he stood for for 8 years to prove a point.

            That is utter bullshit. I didn't vote for Nader, but even I understand that the only reason Nader got votes is because he offered something the other parties didn't. Blaming Nader for being the best choice in some people's eyes is like saying that the only people who should be allowed to vote are those will vote for the status quo.

          • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Late Adopter ( 1492849 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @05:49AM (#28037235)
            Third parties don't have to win to make a difference. The Democratic party now knows exactly the stakes of ignoring the people likely to vote for them. Game theory suggests that they should start adopting some of the Green platform, etc, to draw these voters and win elections.

            With elections seeming to get even closer, third parties have increasingly more importance.
        • Re:Prediction (Score:5, Informative)

          by hardburn ( 141468 ) <hardburn&wumpus-cave,net> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:11PM (#28034337)

          Washington was against political parties, and said so in his Farwell Address []:

          In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

          . . .

          However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

          But not everyone agreed, even back then. Washington was the first and last President to not belong to a major political party (except, kinda, John Tyler, who was thrown out of the Whig party).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dbrutus ( 71639 )

        In the US, factions coalesce into parties before the election. We elect a government. In parliamentary systems, each faction goes on its own and negotiates a majority after the election under the common use case they can't do one on their own.

        It's not self-evident that coalitions before voting are worse or better than coalitions after voting.

    • You're going to blame the 500 people who voted independent, while ignoring the millions who voted republican? As if those 500 votes somehow counted more? Nope. You should look to the 120,000 democrats who voted for Bush in florida. Every Nader vote could have gone to Gore, but the Democrats who voted Republican still would have fucked up up. and you know why? Because they're paying to the 2-party "system". (Which doesn't actually exist, because THERE WERE MORE THAN 2 PARTIES ON THE BALLOT!)

      Ironically, the

  • Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DinZy ( 513280 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:34PM (#28033361)

    I'd like them to take it a step further and have it so the owner can see the error codes and refer to the manual. I got a check engine light on a 2 month old car while driving across country with no dealer for 800 miles. I chose to risk it rather than have to pay a local mechanic to look at it. As it turned out it was only a dirty fuel filter caused by crappy gas. Forcing me to worry and go to a dealer 700 miles before my destination is really a crappy way to squeeze money out of someone who just gave you 30 grand.

    • you already can. Go get an OBD2 reader or have a shop pull the codes. Interpreting them is a bit harder - I thought there was legislation requiring manufacturers to divulge the codes, but I'm not sure.
      • Re:Good. (Score:5, Informative)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:52PM (#28033549) Homepage Journal

        The real problem right now is reprogramming data. OBD-II cars (everything 1996+ and some earlier) have standard protocol, connector, pinouts (kind of), et cetera. They also have standardized codes. But there are also manufacturer-specific codes which are only required to be provided for a reasonable fee which means (in practice) they can be presented as a book of text and they can charge you a hundred bucks. And most importantly there are manufacturer-specific codes which get sent to the PCM ("powertrain control module", what we used to call the ECU or "engine control unit"... but PCM is standardized terminology per OBD-II spec) which are used for tuning, for example for altitude.

      • Re:Good. (Score:4, Informative)

        by jozlod ( 1304051 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:58PM (#28033611)
        i can bridge 2 pins on the ecu plug on mine, and its flashes the dash lights in sequence to give me the codes, its just a matter of looking them up. though im not sure if newer cars are still keeping anything like this available.

        Also, generally if your engine light comes on, your car will go into limp home mode, which is a cut back operation that uses default configs and ignores either all or some of the sensors just to enable you to get home, or to a workshop somewhere without the working sensors.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by TinBromide ( 921574 )
          You can get the odb-II codes on a PT cruiser by switching the key from off to soft on (electrical system is active but the engine hasn't started) like 3 times or so. It'll then spit out the codes. I used those codes to replace my camshaft location sensor by the side of the road... A $35 dollar part, I sent my wife to buy a new one (she wasn't in the car at the time).
        • Re:Good. (Score:5, Informative)

          by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:44PM (#28034053) Homepage Journal

          Time to spend more of my state-sponsored education. The mandatory light on all 1996+ cars is known as the MIL or Malfunction Indicator Light. The MIL lights when your vehicle's emissions are out of spec for any reason. I shit you not, that light is there specifically to tell you that your car is putting out excessive emissions. This happens whenever any of the "monitors" fails. A monitor is a list of conditions. Most monitors are "trip" monitors; a trip is a certain set of driving conditions. For example, if you run the vehicle at 50% or more load for a certain period of time and then coast for a certain period of time the car will operate the EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) valve, and it then has a chance to test to see if it is working. There's also a comprehensive monitor which runs every so often (pretty often actually) and checks to see if any sensors are giving a value which seems exceptionally wacky, either on its own or compared to the state of other sensors.

          The MIL will clear itself so long as the fault was not serious (IIRC there are four conditions) if the monitor which failed passes three times in succession. All this is from memory so, bear with me if I get something slightly wrong. When it happens a snapshot is also stored. This is some of that "black box" data that can tattle on you in an accident; the car knows the position of the accelerator pedal and how fast it thinks you were going (and usually also knows what gear you're in and how many RPMs you're making, anyway, from separate sensors/senders) as well as the state of every other sensor under the hood, and possibly some others. There may also be a CEL (check engine light) and if the manufacturer is feeling particularly benevolent, a "check gauges" (or even "check gages"... heh heh) light which lights if, say, your oil pressure is low or your coolant temperature is high, but not so high that the computer thinks that what the sender is saying can't possibly be right.

          Anyway, when any major sensor/sender flails the car will go into limp-home mode. It will also happen if there are repeated misfires, but misfires cause at least one of the monitors to fail (I forget which one though, sorry) and should light the MIL. The limp-home mode will not only retard the timing and thus reduce performance and worsen emissions, but in some cases it will also restrict maximum speed. When limping home the vehicle usually runs rich, which can kill your catalytic converter but which helps reduce misfires due to many types of engine problem.

        • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:02PM (#28034251)
          If I can buy an MP3 player that has a 2" video screen for $50 - the auto manufacturers have no excuse for not having a user-friendly display (better than cryptic flashing lights) built in with the OBDII interface. It should (in the US) use plain English to describe exactly what is wrong and what the implications are - no reference manual required - hell, the reference manual should be available on an on-board http server with a WiFi network that both serves the info to the owner's notebook PC, and downloads updates and tech bulletins (automatically, for free) when driven onto a dealer's lot.

          Everything I have described above costs less than one air-bag, and should be standard equipment on all but the most basic models, and provided as an "at cost" option for any car it doesn't come standard on.

          Should... in a fantasy world where the corporations are actually serving their customers.
          • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Chyeld ( 713439 ) < minus painter> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:21PM (#28034431)

            They have the perfect excuse: Money.
            They have the perfect backup bs excuse: Cars is hard!

            They are protecting the poor, stupid, car owner. Who undoubtedly is incapable of understanding the workings of the modern car and therefore should always be directed to an authorized dealer to diagnose and repair any issues that pop up. Therefore, providing too much information must be avoided. The owner must prove they understand the workings of the car in order to access the information concerning the workings of their car.

            You see, it's all for you really.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 )
            It should (in the US) use plain English to describe exactly what is wrong and what the implications are

            It can't, because there could be many causes, most of which mea absolutely nothing to a non-mechanic.

            High cyl head temperature = bad thermostat or blocked radiator or failed water pump or broken belt or low coolant level(why? because the radiator has a pinhole) or collapsed return hose or 18 other things. For something so 'simple' as the cooling system.

            Troubleshooting/diagnosis is quite often not so s
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              But it would cut down on a lot of pointless service calls. Sure, have the advanced part and use (standard) codes for mechanics, but I'd rather know that my check engine light is something trivial like the gas cap is off or not screwed in tightly. Lets just say that its the cooling system. Most people who don't know much about cars can't fix it themselves, so they take it into a mechanic. However if they keep getting the check engine light for trivial things, they will ignore it and might end up damaging the
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by RobertLTux ( 260313 )

              if there was a way for the data to be displayed on what stands to be an included (chances are #price rank of car#* 10%) display then even if its gibberish to a non mechanic then all i would take is a mechanic to see the display (maybe via cell phone pic) to advise the person from the "oh not serious come in when you are ready" to "STOP THE CAR RIGHT NOW IM SENDING YOU A TOW TRUCK" range.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by sjames ( 1099 )

              As a shade tree mechanic (professional mechanic years ago) who does not have money shooting out of any of my body orifices, I would prefer a simple well documented way to get at the codes.

              That's doubly true if I'm not at home at the time (a remarkably common condition when I'm driving a car!) and want to know if I'll be better off completing my errands then fix it, returning home immediately and hope I get there, or try to limp somewhere and park it.

              For your example, High cyl head temperature tells me to ta

            • Re:Good. (Score:4, Informative)

              by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @08:45AM (#28038067)
              The implications of High cyl head temp could be, in laymen's terms, something to the effect of:

              "Engine is hot, continued driving may cause engine failure and damage requiring expensive repair or replacement of the engine. Stop the vehicle in a safe location and keep the engine running."

              When in park,

              "Cylinder head temperature is dropping, do not turn off your engine, unless there is a safety issue. The cylinder head temperature gauge is measuring 477 degrees. Normal operating range for cylinder head temperature in this vehicle is 180 to 350 degrees. Operation with cylinder head temperatures above 450 degrees for more than a few minutes can lead to head gasket failure, lubrication failure, and will eventually lead to complete engine failure. Possible causes for elevated cylinder head temperature include cooling system failure, lean fuel mixture, and operation at high engine load for extended time in a hot environment. As long as the cylinder head temperature continues to drop quickly, the engine should be kept running to allow the cooling system to operate. This vehicle has experienced high cylinder head temperatures 3 times in the past year, indicating a possible intermittent problem with the engine, or operation in extreme conditions. Consultation with a qualified mechanic is recommended."


              Cylinder head temperature is 342 degrees, this is within normal operating range (180-350). All other engine status monitors are within normal range. If cylinder head temperatures continue to run above normal your vehicle should be serviced by a qualified mechanic as soon as possible.

              Most of this information is already codified in a reasonable form for the service techs, it wouldn't take as much effort or expense to put it into owner consumable form as it does to formulate a seasonal marketing strategy for a splinter brand (Pontiac, for example.)

              One diagnostic that I could have used would have read something like:

              The engine coolant temperature gauge is measuring 877 degrees. This indicates a lack of coolant in the system, or possibly a faulty temperature sensor. All other engine status monitors are within normal range. Recommend service with a qualified technician as soon as possible, the engine monitoring system cannot function properly without accurate engine coolant temperature information.

              Instead, I just got a pegged temperature gauge and a check engine light. This, coincidentally, happened just after I hooked up a rather heavy trailer to a new-ish pickup truck. Freaked me out, but it was just a bad sensor, we were lucky to find a mechanic in a strange town who would fix it on a Saturday afternoon. If the light had come on 3 hours later, it would have been a nerve wracking Sunday driving 400 miles with the temp needle spiked, check engine light on, and nothing really wrong.
      • by mister_playboy ( 1474163 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:15PM (#28033815)

        Interesting, numerous Cadillac models built after the start of OBD1 have the ability for the owner to both access and clear diagnostic codes by him/herself. My 1993 Cadillac Seville is one such car... I hold down two buttons on the dash, and I can access all of this information via the dash display.

        In-dash text displays were rare in 1993, but now all most all cars have them... so this functionality really ought to be in all new vehicles.

        It's YOUR car, isn't it? Then again, BMW has build a few models that have no dipstick and no oil cap (visible, anyway)... :(

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mzs ( 595629 )

          Lots of cars were like this. I had a Mazda with with a few terminals. There was a screw to ground a pin to reset the codes. Another terminal you could put an multimeter prong in when you grounded another pin with the same screw. Then you watched the needle for the codes.

          I had a Volvo that had a little box with a LED and a couple of buttons, very simple. These were early OBD-II cars.

      • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JoeMerchant ( 803320 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:52PM (#28034141)

        you already can. Go get an OBD2 reader or have a shop pull the codes. Interpreting them is a bit harder - I thought there was legislation requiring manufacturers to divulge the codes, but I'm not sure.

        Point of the article is that the standard OBD2 readers aren't cutting it anymore, they're giving the legally required (smog related) codes and nothing else. If you want a reader like the dealer uses, prepare to fork out more than you paid for the car... This is why the independent mechanics are feeling screwed.

    • Re:Good. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Propaganda13 ( 312548 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:45PM (#28033477)

      You can get readers for them which will clear the code after you fixed the problem. I've seen some that give a warning level on how bad the code is. Just because you have the code and maybe even the explanation, doesn't mean you'll know what to do though.

      P0411 - secondary air injection incorrect flow

      It means either a hose has a hole, or a solenoid, vavle, or pump isn't working. This is basically an emissions system which I'd rip out in a heartbeat if I didn't have to pass an emissions test.

      • ...until you tossed out 1970's era emissions gear assumptions. Most modern emissions control gear actually works by improving the efficiency of the engine. Not all of it (have to put that here because it's /. and someone will point out catalytic converters and a few other things) but mostly, all that computer control fuel metering and mixture controls, increased engine running temperatures and variable timing (and so on) serve to make the engine run more efficiently, which is why there are fewer artifacts

    • I got a check engine light on a 2 month old car while driving across country with no dealer for 800 miles. I chose to risk it rather than have to pay a local mechanic to look at it.

      You gambled. You won. This time.

      Now tell me why you chose a car which has one dealer every 1000 miles. 30 grand does not buy you a Rolls-Royce.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        I take it you haven't driven cross-country before? It's rather easy to get in a situation like this.
    • Re:Good. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:58PM (#28033609)

      Cars are already more or less pretty open with some proprietary stuff tacked on. ODB-II (or now CAN) has a set list of standard messages that everyone uses. Now car companies can choose to extend into their own messages if they want. Engine speed, throttle, etc all have a set upon CAN Id.

      AutoZone and AdvanceAuto and every other car repair place will read these codes for free. They may be cryptic (Your fault could have probably been FUEL PRESS LOW or something), but Google and auto forums can decode them for you pretty easily.

      There are also 3rd party options (at least for VW). Ross-Tech makes VAG-COM [] which will let you connect to almost any ECM in your car and read diagnostics or monitor blocks which is much cheaper than VW's "OE" tool (Many $k).

      Now letting them see the latest service manuals would help, many companies use MATLAB/Simulink to autocode their ECM software. The lines of code and the possibility for bugs is scary. And like software companies, no one is going to be doing software updates on 3-4 year old cars meaning instead of "Don't buy X car because the wheel bearing goes bad" you could get a bug report of "Don't buy X car because the throttle position sensor flips out".

      • Re:Good. (Score:5, Informative)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:03PM (#28033679) Homepage Journal

        CAN is a wiring spec and a protocol and falls under OBD-II; You can read all about the SNAFU on Wikipedia [] but the short form is that there are five protocols including CAN, which is mandatory on 2008 and later vehicles. Wikipedia doesn't make it clear that CAN has been allowed for in OBD-II for years, if not all along, but that is indeed the case. AFAIK CAN is the most expensive of the protocols to implement, so some OBD-II interfaces don't include CAN support. CAN is also commonly used for communications between the PCM and the computer which operates the transmission, so your PCM might actually have multiple CAN interfaces, though only one of them pins out to the OBD-II connector.

    • Re:Good. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:11PM (#28033775)

      A better option is to just reform software patent laws. If we make software patents work like machinery patents this whole thing would be solved.


      Source code == Blueprint
      Compiled code == working model

      You can get a patent with one or the other, or both, but then you have to file it with the patent office.
      Any changes to the patented design of a significant functional nature invalidate the patent, just like with hardware.

      If I make a device that is designed to alter your product, it is NOT a patent or copyright violation, until you enter the world of software. This is horsecrap. Being able to not only patent a specific program, but an entire algorithm and everything it applies to is a drastic abuse of the very idea of patents.


  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:35PM (#28033369) Homepage

    And I thought it was resolved long ago. But now that I am part owner of "big auto" since my government now owns controlling shares in it, I have to say that there is NO "trade secret" that should be allowed to supercede the right to repair or modifiy your personally owned equipment. This is especially true when the purpose of said "trade secret" is the protection measure itself.

    • by Rayeth ( 1335201 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:47PM (#28033503)

      The argument for DRM in the car MIGHT fly in cars that are leased (which in my lay-person's brain sounds somewhat similar to a license for using software), but there can be absolutely no reason for preventing me from accessing information on something that I own outright.

      Its not like I bought a license to drive the car (that was provided freely (sans a few yearly fees) by the government of my state), I own the metal. What possible argument can there be for preventing me from reading the information in my car's engine?

    • Yes, "personally owned equipment" is probably key here. The auto companies are not "licensing" the car to me, or the software on it. I own my car outright. I should be able to do anything I want with it. Of course, the manufacturer has the right to revoke any outstanding warranty as well as well as be absolved of any liability if I make changes.

      Read-only data should have no restrictions here. But modifying data though can have reasonable exceptions. Ie, if the diagnostics dongle allowed me to reset th

  • on the essential car systems stuff but can auto manufacturers separate it from the user facing stuff? I'm thinking I'd like one of these [] to be driving the GPS, screen, and sound system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by camperdave ( 969942 )
      They can have their DRM on the essential car systems stuff but can auto manufacturers separate it from the user facing stuff?

      Not sure what you mean by essential car systems stuff vs. user facing stuff (the computers running the engine, traction control, brakes, navigation radars, autodrive, etc. all report to the user via the dashboard) however DRM is meant to protect copyrighted material. Last I heard, lists of data (such as the error logs that a car's computer might produce) are not copyrightable mate
  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:46PM (#28033495) Journal

    Its one thing to introduce DRM to protect the copyright on a song, book or video. That isn't fair but it's also unlikely to get anyone killed. (Laws that introduce overly harsh penalties like jail time, ruin a career, or bankrupt someone are a whole other kettle of fish). How can any company justify pricing people out of having their car repaired? Lives are at stake. I wonder how long it'll take before people start suing because repair work was so unreasonably expensive via authorized channels that it leads to injury and death? It should be illegal to lock up certain kinds of information. It should be illegal to use laws like these to prevent competition where lives are at stake.

    • by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:38PM (#28034007)

      Lives are at stake

      see: big pharma.

      clue: no one cares about 'lives'. the world is only about money and power and control.

      (sorry for the wake-up call).

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Your post is kind of vague but it sounds like your criticizing the evil pharmas for not giving away patents on drugs they spent billions researching when no one else did the same with the success they had, and that this therefore proves that the law doesn't care about saving lives.

        I think it's an unfair criticism.

        If you were to void all patents today, yes, you would make some medications more affordable and save more lives. You would also make these pharmas think really, really hard about investing another

        • by dbrutus ( 71639 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:17PM (#28034943) Homepage

          Just finished listening to the latest econtalk podcast and they covered this very thing. The majority of the sunk cost in bringing a drug to market is in the clinical trials. You could get rid of patents on drugs by simply requiring any competing manufacturer who wanted to make the same drug to buy out the original drug company's clinical trials investment. Let's say the first company spent $800M on those trials. Somebody else wants to make the drug? No problem, pony up $400M and you now have two manufacturers. Subsequent companies also pay $400M but it gets split up among the prior license holders.

          It's an ingenious way to spread the costs so drug innovation continues without patents.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:46PM (#28033497)

    The article cites the DMCA as a legal problem, but this doesn't apply in this case. In fact, two of the cases it cites, garage door openers and printer ink cartridges, have already gone to court, and in both cases the judge determined that "lock-out" codes are not protected by the DMCA because they're meant to prevent interoperability, not copyright infringement.

    Technically, this Right To Repair act is unnecessary. As long as you're bypassing the restrictions for the sake of interoperability, you're legally in the clear.

    But that's only in a perfect world. Unfortunately, in this litigious society you're likely to get sued anyway. It's too bad doing something perfectly legal can still end up costing you thousands in legal fees. Hopefully with an actual law to back up the rulings, there will be a lot fewer lawsuits

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @07:53PM (#28033563)

    Right-to-Repair is also being fought over in Canadian federal parliament. Bill C273 just passed its second reading []

  • by mzs ( 595629 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:12PM (#28033781)

    OBD-II (the UART mentioned in the article) does not really tell you what is wrong with your car. It gives you another clue. Experience, know-how, tools, other clues, and a process of elimination tells you what is wrong with your car. OBD-II tells you that something was detected like a knock, misfire, oxygen rich, emissions leak, etc. Now a mechanic has to hunt down the cause and fix that. I just wanted to make that clear. It is like looking at iostat not dtrace.

    It will be nice to get the codes, but most of them are pretty much known by now. Some ranges are pretty defacto standard too. It's annoying though that the codes can be different on the same model car sold in CA vs IL though. That can trip you up when you have a code list that does not include the correct region.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I'm not sure which cars you've been working on, but the OBD-II interface on my 2001 BMW provides an insane amount of information. Fuel flows, air flows, oxygen sensor voltage, etc... all real time. A lot of times people are just using those little $100-200 hand held OBD-II readers you can buy at PepBoys. Those just flash the error codes and maybe some real time information. Repair shops will have a dedicated console or a laptop with software that can display all the additional information. Your right i
  • by RyoShin ( 610051 ) <tukaro AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:13PM (#28033793) Homepage Journal

    Do... do I still try to make a car analogy?

    Maybe a simple "In Soviet Russia car analogy make you?"

  • by Onyma ( 1018104 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:44PM (#28034057)
    I hope they get this sorted out before cars can fly. I'd like to know that 3 long blinks and 2 short ones means my parachute failed... long before I'm cursing the manual while free-falling from 20,000 feet.
  • Outright Dangerous (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nick_davison ( 217681 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @08:50PM (#28034129)

    In my case it was an error code that Mini do everything they can to keep meaningless... as opposed to DRM. It was also potentially life threatening.

    Coming back out of the mountains, the electric system shut off in the car, the engine cut out. There was no shoulder so the first place out of traffic we could get to was the gap between the main freeway traffic and an oncoming merge lane.

    It was a fairly dangerous spot - no walls, no guard rail to get behind, between two streams of traffic moving at speed - but the best option we had.

    The car restarted, flashing up CC-ID 354 - whatever that meant. Most likely, we'd be safe pulling away and finding a less risky spot. But, if it was about to fail again, as we accelerated, we'd be dumped, stalled, in the middle of moving traffic with no shoulder.

    Obvious answer: Call Mini service. First Mini dealership couldn't get their service department to answer. They sent me to Mini Roadside Assistance. That muppet had a call sheet he had to work through and couldn't do anything as he couldn't find out VIN in the system. By this point, as we got buffeted by every passing big rig, my wife told him she didn't give a damn about whether we were in the system or not, we simply needed to know if 354 meant it was safe or unsafe to move... Turns out he has none of the details. All he can do is call a tow truck. We hung up and called another dealership's service. They at least answered but refused to say what it meant, only that we shouldn't drive it. No details about whether it would likely get us half a mile to the next off ramp, nothing.

    An online search (thank you iPhones) turned up nothing (curse you googles). Turns out the codes are kept pretty much to Mini alone.

    What angers me about the whole experience is that "Error 354 means a fuse has blown and the car will stall over 10mph" would've told me there really was no safe way off. "Error 354 means the keyless ignition charger has a faulty connection, drive with the key out of the charger and take it in for service." would have told me it was safe to get out of that exposed position. "It's a secret" did nothing save endanger us.

  • by mikefocke ( 64233 ) <(mike.focke) (at) (> on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @09:24PM (#28034461)

    The ODB2 standard defined certain codes that had to be standard and certain codes that must be revealed and any $49 code reader can read them and potentially shut them off.

    But manufacturers also implement extensions to those codes that are for diagnostic purposes or option enabling purposes that they do not allow access to except through proprietary computers which they sell at extremely high cost (high 4 figures) mostly to dealers or to mechanics who specialize in one make of car.

    The problem is a "we work on all cars repair shop" can't have the diagnostic computers for all the makes let alone all the manuals that tell them how to troubleshoot the problem (multi-page flow charts), the parts on hand to make the repair a prompt one, the specialized repair tools necessary to do the job or the expertise to do the job right.

    I have all the repair codes for one of my cars and all the repair manuals and a code reader. Doesn't mean I can or should do most of the work, (but it does help me keep the repair shop honest).

    Doesn't mean a do everything shop is gonna be the right place to take my car for all the possibilities of failure either. I want a shop working on my car that is doing the same car day in and day out and thus has the computer, manuals, parts and expertise to do the job right and promptly.

    All makes shops can do some jobs, but there are lots they shouldn't attempt any more than I should.

    Nadar's request won't change this because the do every make shop will still not have the parts or manuals or expertise to do many jobs.

    It is up to us as consumers to know what each shop can do and pick the right one.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @10:52PM (#28035235)

    Independent repair shops in the US can purchase the same tools and repair information that franchised car dealers can.

    Details about individual manufacturer's offerings to the aftermarket as far as tools, service information, and training can be found at

  • Proprietary, not DRM (Score:3, Informative)

    by ltkije ( 635596 ) on Wednesday May 20, 2009 @11:56PM (#28035625)
    Agreeing with the commenter up-thread, it really is just proprietary stuff. Fred Von Lohmann, usually an astute guy, gets it wrong this time.

    Back around 2000 I did some work on diagnostic tools. Engine- and emissions-related trouble codes are industry standard as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). There are plenty of tools that will read these trouble codes. Where it gets interesting is that in various cars, the communication hardware could be UART-based, PWM, in the last few years, mostly CAN, but there were others.

    A decade ago, I think it was under a consent decree, the 3 Detroit auto companies had to make diagnostic information available after one year. This being the auto industry, through incestuous business relationships one company got to collect the information, and of course they were the only source for the second year, and after that your friendly neighborhood repair shop could get the information from several sources.

    The thing about vehicle buses is that they carry a lot more information besides diagnostics, and this "everything else" is held pretty closely by the auto companies. Dealers get access to at least some of it because repairs are where the cash flow is. Also, making warranty repairs quicker helps the auto companies keep their costs down.

    Slashdot readers should realize that the world of embedded software inside the car has very little in common with desktop computing; automotive electronics resemble distributed systems more and more every year; and the shadetree mechanic is SOL these days.

  • by alecwood ( 1235578 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @03:22AM (#28036621)
    It's already mandatory in the EU (and Japan I believe) for auto manufacturers to make all diagnostic code information which affects the "function or efficiency of the vehicle" freely available.

    Now, while the EU obviously has no bearing on the US, auto manufacture is a global industry, standard parts abound, and most US manufacturers have one or more European brands in their stables. You'd have to have some kind of Canute complex to think that if you were to try and charge the US drivers for this information, they wouldn't just turn to the net and ask their European associates for it.
  • by silver007 ( 1479955 ) on Thursday May 21, 2009 @08:54AM (#28038153) Journal
    Give the general public access to information they -think- they understand and watch cars start to blow up at red lights. I am a bit of a shadetree mechanic and have never ran across a late-model vehicle I couldn't diagnose and fix. If I can do it, surely these fancy "SAE Certified" mechanics can, right? Oh no, you don't suggest... that... maybe, they're not all they're, um... cracked up to be? Maybe... they want a little midget to jump out of the dash and tell them exactly what to do? This isn't about DRM, FFS, DMCA, PCM's, ECM's or any of the other fancy little acronyms these folks would like to blame their lack of skills on. It's good ol' laziness and lack of education. The auto repair industry has been a magnet for unqualified, less-than-desireable humans for decades. They're not trying to make the leap from ignorant to ignorant victim. Oh, the irony.

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller