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United States Technology

Congress May Force Revealing of Car Computer Secrets 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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Congress May Force Revealing of Car Computer Secrets

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  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:35PM (#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 [].
  • by indros ( 211103 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:39PM (#8569664) Homepage
    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.
  • by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:39PM (#8569676) Homepage Journal
    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?
  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:40PM (#8569682) Journal
    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 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by leerpm ( 570963 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:41PM (#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.
  • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:42PM (#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.

  • 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?
  • by MoneyT ( 548795 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:45PM (#8569735) Journal
    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.
  • by henrygb ( 668225 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:45PM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by N8F8 ( 4562 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:45PM (#8569741)
    This sounds like an election year doggy treat. Pass it in the House and kill it in the Senate.
  • by IndigoDarkwolf ( 752210 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:45PM (#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:Good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MoneyT ( 548795 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:47PM (#8569764) Journal
    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.
  • by Rude Turnip ( 49495 ) <[valuation] [at] []> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:49PM (#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.

  • Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdfl[ ]com ['at.' in gap]> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:49PM (#8569798) Journal
    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?

  • Obvious Answer? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oyenstikker ( 536040 ) < minus caffeine> on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:49PM (#8569799) Homepage Journal
    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?
  • by PhuCknuT ( 1703 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:51PM (#8569828) Homepage
    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.
  • by ChefInnocent ( 667809 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:53PM (#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.
  • by Gnasty ( 14533 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:53PM (#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?
  • by RedShoeRider ( 658314 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:56PM (#8569896)
    And I'm glad you're not making the laws

    It has little to do with quality. A old-school mechanic with 30+ years of tinkering has considerably more knowledge of automotive systems than some 19 year old fresh out of Lincon Tech. I'd trust my car to the old-timer before the new guy. Fact is, while the interface may be computer controlled, the engine itself is the same basic hardware that it was 100 years ago. The car computer can't "hear" bearing wrap like a human can. Sure, it'll turn the check-engine light on and give you an error code.

    My point: putting the old-timers and the grease monkeys out of business by restricting their ability to solve the simple problems (like having to reset a computer-controlled a/c system, they need the codes), you take out the segement of population most able to solve the really hard problems.

    As for your point about the range of cars on the road....I've never worked on a Dell before. But I have worked on an IBM, a Gateway, an HP, a Tandy, a Mac, a Swan, a Compaq, and a Digital. Does that mean I'm not qualified to work on a Dell?

  • by Stevyn ( 691306 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:59PM (#8569916)
    You can't directly compare this to the DMCA because when you're talking about music, movies, and software, you're talking about 1's and 0's that can be copied over and over. They're talking about codes to ensure fairness in repairing automobiles so the dealers don't steal all the business. The reason congress is stepping in is because no one is going to put their 2004 Explorer on kazaa and share it. They're not talking about opening up all the software. This isn't about open source at all, it's about knowing what is wrong with the care based on the error code the computer spits out.
  • Re:Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hawkbug ( 94280 ) <psx@fimb l e .com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:01PM (#8569936) Homepage
    Problem with that theory is that the Dealership will usually charge you $75 to hook up the computer - when all they are doing is plugging in a damn cable and firing up the reader. Only then will you know what is wrong, after paying $75. Seems like extorition....
  • by Lord Kano ( 13027 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:02PM (#8569947) Homepage Journal
    With the codes to your DVD, you can make unlimited copies, and do anything and everything with them.

    I can't speak a word of Polish, but given enough time I could make an exact copy of a book written in Polish.

    DVD encryption does not prevent copying, it prevents people from watching them with players that the DVDCA hasn't made any money off of.

  • I have news for you, you don't need to obtain diddly to figure out how the part is made. You just take it apart and you figure out how it's shaped, build it in the cad package of your choice (say solidworks, no reason you couldn't use it) and then you can send off the drawings for quotes and have the parts made, assembled, packed, and shipped, all without leaving the comfort of your computer chair. All you need is some good measuring equipment, a decent computer, and the part.

    Fuel injectors, by the way, are not developed by automakers any more. Automakers go to someone and say hey, we need an injector with these dimensions that flows this much fuel and runs off this voltage, and they get a part back, they sign a contract agreeing to buy so many of them and to put however many of them into cars, and that's it. Furthermore a fuel injector is a dog-simple item which can be made better simply by throwing more money at it for better materials - it's just a solenoid valve. They usually run on 12 volts and they open and close in response to an electrical signal which is pulsed once for each opening. They are usually run at a single given pressure by the OEM and you can "trick" them (and your computer) by using a rising rate fuel pressure regulator, which is a popular way of doing a cheap turbo installation. As the boost rises, the fuel pressure rises, and more fuel is delivered. The next step up is to use a box that takes over fuel management for the computer, and/or tweaks the signal from the computer, and the final step is to replace the car's computer entirely. All of this stuff is done outside of the injector. The injector, as I have previously stated, is a simple device and high-rate injectors can be had for little more than OEM parts. Rebuilt OEM (270cc/min, I think, maybe it was 230?) for my car were $69, you can get new 370cc/min injectors for about $100 each. So Territo is full of horse shit, whoever he is. (Too lazy to RTFA, sorry, I'd rather spend my time ranting.)

    Also most of these parts are not complicated. No one owns the facts, so you just stick a thread pitch gauge in the hole, and measure the diameter, and you know what size the thing should be; You can hook up the part and test it using calibration equipment, another (known) sensor (which is calibration equipment of course), or you can build a new one from the specifications. Data sheets are available for automotive sensors, and factory service manuals will tell you the expected range of response from a sensor, most of which are resistance-based.

    Automakers quite simply want to hang onto the lucrative service market. Dealers charge more for service than practically anyone else, except for very high end establishments that specialize on working on exotic cars. For example there's a joint called Canepa's in Santa Cruz that bought, sold, and serviced rolls, lamborghini, ferrari and so on. But if you go to a dealer for your ordinary vehicle you generally pay 10-50% over the average service station for both parts and labor, and you don't necessarily get better service unless you bring in a really special car, which they tend to take seriously.

  • by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:03PM (#8569965)
    But it is probably not patentable. It is not an invention, it is precise settings which have to be worked out over hours and hours of testing. Exact timings for injectors at all speeds and load conditions, while allowing reasonable margins so that performance does not fall off with wear. This data - just a huge look-up table - costs millions of dollars to obtain, because it required many hours of running. But you cannot patent it. You can copyright it, of course, but if a copier made a number of minor, not very significant, changes in the tables, it would be very difficult to prove they had copied the original tables. "Of course we got the same results - they are the right results for this engine".
  • Well I bet they are more worried about repair shops discovering the difference between the "turbo" and the "standard" engine is a software patch and $20 in parts.
  • by unraveled ( 750378 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:03PM (#8569969)
    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.

    What a lame excuse. Independent mechanics duplicating major componets? Can you imagnine that? I'd like to see the day when Joe's Garage will replace your busted on-board computer for half the price, made from old 486's and playstation componets.

    Oh well, I'm glad to hear that someone is doing something about this.

  • by B'Trey ( 111263 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:06PM (#8569999)
    I'm not sure it's that simple. There are tons more regulations that manufacrurers must meet today - from safety regulations to pollution measures. Throwing a 440ci engine with a four barrel carb into a light car simply isn't possible anymore.
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:08PM (#8570015)
    You can get cars today with as much horsepower as ever. The main difference is that they produce far less pollution and get considerably better fuel economy as 60s muscle cars of similar proportions. They are also much safer, more reliable, easier to start, require less regular maintenence, and they automatically keep themselves in tune.

    To achieve all of this, computers had to be put in the cars. A car without computers wouldn't be competitive in today's market, and it wouldn't be able to produce high power outputs while staying within today's mandated pollution limits.

  • by nm42 ( 310685 ) <nemesis_42 AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:14PM (#8570090)
    Very true, and I miss those days too. BUT, you have to keep in mind WHY those computer controls are there. Anybody heard of CARB? Our good buddies at the California Air Resources Board set standards for emissions(most of which are adopted by the feds nationwide) that would make a car like the old GTO unsellable today. Remember, the slang meaning of GTO is Gas, Tires, and Oil because those are the three things they burn.
    The millions of dollars spent perfecting these components are needed to meet emissions standards so they can continue to sell cars in the US.
  • by dustman ( 34626 ) <> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:19PM (#8570149)
    I don't see why companies don't like the idea of getting help from CUSTOMERS. :D

    Simple: Maybe they would get help from customers, maybe not. If they got help from customers, then their cars would be a little bit better (though probably not much), and their customers would be a little bit happier.

    But by keeping all this stuff secret, they create a monopoly on service and their dealerships can charge $200 for something that Joe Smith at your local garage would charge $120 for.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:21PM (#8570172)
    This lawsuit isn't about valve timing tables and that type of data, this lawsuit is about engine diagnostic codes. They aren't protecting trade secrets, they are protecting their repair business by keeping out competition.
  • by theLOUDroom ( 556455 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:29PM (#8570273)
    It is not an invention, it is precise settings which have to be worked out over hours and hours of testing.

    But it's not.

    This is about ERROR CODES not ignition and fuel maps. This about being able to plug something into my car and have it tell me that there's a problem with XXXXX.

    That doesn't say shit about the design of that part. They just want access to the same diagnostic codes as the dealer. Right now manufactuers are only required to make a tiny subset of these codes availible.

    The automakers are just whining about their "intellectual property" because they think they can get away with it since the vast majority of the public doesn't know the difference between a diagnostic code, and the actual program code itself.
  • by jandrese ( 485 ) * <> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:30PM (#8570289) Homepage Journal
    Wouldn't such a table be largely dependant on the geometry of the engine? It seems to me that unless the other guy is copying your engine design wholesale that the lookup tables should be of little use to them. In any light, that argument sounds like an excuse more than anything else.
  • by Dogers ( 446369 ) * on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:31PM (#8570301)
    "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.

    Someone needs to let them in on a little IBM/Apple secret [] :)

  • by LordNimon ( 85072 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:32PM (#8570315)
    Well...I'd happily pay a gas guzzler tax on one if they made it.

    Fortunately, people like you are in a very small minority. I, for one, prefer my air to be breatheable.

  • by DShard ( 159067 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:32PM (#8570316)
    From Section 8 of article 1 of the US constitution.

    To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

    This is the mandate that gives them right to publish laws to ensure fair competition. It has been quite well tested in reference to monopolies and allows them to pass any kind of laws to this affect.
  • by glassesmonkey ( 684291 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:36PM (#8570349) Homepage Journal
    This should be more obvious what is going on here.. There is no stronger lobby (maybe tobacco) than the American tradition of the automobile, if Congress passes anything it will be with their approval. These are the same people that passed DMCA & Patriot, don't be fooled into thinking they are EVER going to do anything that large, rich corporations wouldn't approve of.

    US Airline industry

    failing miserably ..

    terrorists ..

    Congress bails out whole industry ..

    Industry still hasn't fixed business model


    financially in trouble ..

    blame pirates, hackers, p2p..

    Lawmakers pass all sorts of laws, Judges pass all sorts of sentences..

    Industry still hasn't fixed business model

    US Automakers

    future seems uncertain ... floating 0% financing schemes

    blame the forced opening of proprietary interfaces, blame car-computer hackers

    Congress soon to bail out troubling industry ?? (or at least the retirement funds)??

    Industry still hasn't fixed business model

  • by alazar ( 463253 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:40PM (#8570411) Journal
    Would it not make even more sense to simply have a small display in the dash that translates the codes into english. This is what should be mandated. It would not cost much more than what is there now and would be far more useful, for all. I'm sure that dealership mechanics have to look up the codes.

    Look, if they want to continue to compete with other mechanics then they should do so by providing service as good as my independent does.
  • by ChrisMaple ( 607946 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:44PM (#8570462)
    In California, modified cars must meet legal specs and use parts approved by the California Air Resources Board. All cars not classified as antiques must pass emissions tests every two years. Many other states have similar laws, particularly those controlled by "liberals".

    Modern muscle cars are more powerful off the showroom floor than those of 40 years ago. The horsepower ratings are fairly honest. In 1960, 10% horsepower exaggeration was officially allowed by some professional organization (The ASME, IIRC).

  • by Zeriel ( 670422 ) <> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:45PM (#8570464) Homepage Journal
    Same as always:

    We like patents on mechanical devices that can be built, demonstrated as a physical object, and are noticably innovative. (such as noticable improvements in fuel injection systems etc.)

    We hate patents on software, business methods, and anything else which cannot be built or demonstrated as a physical object. (such as one-click purchasing as in Amazon, or patents for things for which no prototype exists)
  • Amen! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by turtles11 ( 667466 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:48PM (#8570512) Homepage
    I agree! It used to be that the average mom & pop or even home enthusiast could purchase the "decoding" machines or the books that translated the engine light codes. Those days ended around 1992, I believe. As a car enthusiast and do-it-yourselfer, it's irritating as hell to have to pay an exorbitant fee to some dealer just to tell me what the computer THINKS is wrong with my car. 9 times out of 10, it's just some sensor somewhere that is malfunctioning and needs replacing. Usually, if the sensor weren't there, the car would run fine, too. I'll take my good-old v8 any day over cars with 50 million sensors that go bad.
  • by corbettw ( 214229 ) <corbettw&yahoo,com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:50PM (#8570529) Journal
    Yeah, but you're only talking about people not being able to watch a movie. Annoying, yes. But locking out independent mechanics actually hits people where it hurts: their wallets. And if they can't earn a living, they can't pay taxes, or donate to political campaigns.

    Check out the homepage for the Automotive Service Councils of CA []. Under 'Legislation', they explain what bills they're lobbying for or against. So the real answer, if you want to protect something you think is important, hire a bunch of lawyers to take politicians out to lunch once a week. Otherwise, you ain't got no hope.
  • Re:Good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by salemnic ( 244944 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:51PM (#8570547)
    Um, re-read that sentence...

    They are designing a product that functions in such a way that competitors can not service them.

    So they are locking out competitors in the service arena. How is that not abusing their positions (as they are using their commanding position as a manufacturer to force service buisness)?

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:56PM (#8570595)
    I think that you're looking back with rose-tinted glasses. I had a Camaro in the 70s, and compared to today's cars it was a total piece of garbage. It had dangerous handling, it broke down constantly, it was shoddily constructed, and chunks were falling off of it when it was only 8 years old.

    Maybe a few cars from back then claimed more horsepower than what you can get today. (I kind of doubt it with cars like the Dodge Viper on the market). Keep in mind that horsepower numbers were inflated back then, and the drivetrains and suspensions were not capable of utilizing the horsepower that they had.

    If you read any car magazine, there are plenty of aftermarket shops that do modify today's cars, and they manage to keep them legal as well.

  • Re:Solution (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jeff DeMaagd ( 2015 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:57PM (#8570610) Homepage Journal
    The thing is, telling what the problem is doesn't clear the fault code if there is a "check engine" or "service" light on. Fixing the problem often doesn't clear the fault code. I'm not sure what the problem is as Snap-On sells a diagnostic system that can read and clear these computer codes from most major manufacturers. It costs money, I think $1k or so, but that's business.

    That is why having the operational codes are important, to identify the problem and clear the flag.
  • by Vindicator9000 ( 672761 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:00PM (#8570632)
    Free rental car, free labor/parts, and less than 24 hours later I had my car.

    At 29,999, it damned well better be free - Most cars with that few miles are still under warranty. I still get free parts/labor on my used Honda, with 89,000 miles.

    The point is not about warranty work - that has to be done by the dealer anyway. The point is non-warranty work that *ought* to be able to be done by any mechanic. How will you feel when you have to have your valves adjusted at 100,000 miles, and the only place that can do it is the Saturn dealer, who will charge twice as much as a comparibly experienced independant mechanic? The only reason that a normal mechanic can't work on these cars is because of manufacturer lockout.

    I keep waiting for someone to realize that there is a hobbyist market out here that would love to have cars that are both modern and easy to work on. Honda seemed to have this right for about 10 years (great cars from about 1989-2000) - specifications were well-documented, computers were easily hackable, and many parts were interchangable. Alas, they seemed to start moving away from this in 2001 with the new K series engines. Anyone want to help me produce a Gnu/CAR under the GPL?

  • Re:Good! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mr. Slippery ( 47854 ) <> on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:03PM (#8570673) Homepage
    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?

    You want the the government out of private business? Fine. We can start with eliminating corporate charters, patents, copyrights, trademarks...let's see how the auto manufacturers like that.

    No? Then if we're going to build a legal infrastructure that makes corporate behemoths like GM possible, we also need to build in governering factors.

  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jim_Maryland ( 718224 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:07PM (#8570707)
    I've only ever purchased two new cars in my life and both of them did not include any statements about where I could or could not have work performed on my vehicle. I could see the same applying to computer hardware, but then I built my system from components rather than going to the Dell's of the world. Maybe they have some statements that invalidate the warranty if you have any work done by non-vendor technicians.

    As for the right to have work done at a non-dealer location, I do believe you have the right. The purchase of a vehicle is different from that of say software. In the case of the vehicle, you do truly own the car (not bringing "leasing into this picture). I can take that car and sell off individual parts, rent it out, modify it, etc... without prior consent from the manufacturer. We must not confuse the car with other forms of purchase, say an end user license where you essentially buy certain rights with lots of restrictions. The car is owned by the individual. Now the one area that I'm not positive on is the right for an individual to copy a part. I don't know if an after market company needs to license the ability to produce a part or if they just "copy" the part. I'll have to ask the next time I go to the parts store (hopefully not for a while with relatively new vehicles 2002 & 2004).
  • by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:14PM (#8570778)
    "Without licensed DVD players for Linux and other operating systems, an entire class of computer users is completely cut off from viewing DVDs."

    As far as I know, there has never been anything stopping some enterprising commercial software company from obtaining a license to do CSS decryption, developing a player application for Linux, and selling it.

    "A DVD player for Linux" does not have to mean "a DVD player under [GPL|BSD|otherwise [Ff]ree] software licensng"...
  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:28PM (#8570926)
    I think that you haven't picked engines that are very representative if the two categories. A '93 Ford truck engine is not going to be a very advanced example of computer control. It was early in the history of computerized engines, and there were minimal requirements on economy and emmissions of trucks. Ford wasn't going to put much effort into that system.

    OTOH, your custom Lincoln engine has mods that may have been too expensive for a car manufacturer to put in any high-volume production car, old or modern. You can't take that as an example that proves that computers are worthless. Maybe the computers achieve the same goals at a lower cost than fancy machining and manifolds. Production engines made for the general market also need to satisfy more goals than one put in a moster truck; they need to run quiet and idle smoothly, for example.

    Maybe you should try again, comparing a stock 73 Lincoln motor vs. a 2004 Cadillac Northstar, for example.

  • by Repugnant_Shit ( 263651 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:33PM (#8570970)
    But if it is *my* car, why am I not allowed to know all the specs?
  • by geekee ( 591277 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:36PM (#8570982)
    Trade secrets are fundamental to business. No one should be forced to give up their trade secrets just because others can't compete. Personally, I think it's a bad busniess practice to not tell independent mechanics enough info about the computer system to diagnose and solve probles, since it gives your customers less choice, and therefore, less incentive to buy your car. However, a specific car manufacturer does not have a monopoly on cars, and there is no just reason for the govt. to force a business to give up its trade secrets, if it chooses not to do so. I don't have a right to demand from anyone (non-monopoly in US) that they tell me how their product works, and if laws are passed that give me this power, it a blow to individual rights. If you believe a law that forces car manufacturers to give up their secrets on computer control is just, should should review your ideology, because you certainly don't believe in individual rights, or at least that not everyone has the same individual rights, if you grant yourself this power.
  • by Nogami_Saeko ( 466595 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:38PM (#8571004)
    I look at my new 04 Prius with more computer sensors and monitoring than I can shake a stick at. There's literally a sensor monitoring every component in the car, and it can pinpoint trouble spots very accurately.

    When something goes wrong, what happens? You get a big triangle on the display and a "service vehicle" message.

    What the hell?

    Why not put up some diagnostic info on the screen? "ABS Failure in Braking System", "O2 Sensor clogged", "MG2 - Generator Failure", etc? Maybe even a nice like "star trekky" diagram pointing to the component, or the area of the car the problem is located at.

    But that would make it possible for other people to diagnose problems, and possibly fix them. Toyota doesn't want that.

    They want people to bring their cars into the dealership for a few reasons - first, because they make the money on (out of warrantee) repairs. Secondly, because the dealership reports faults back to Toyota, who can then investigate the problem to determine if they had a bad run of components, or there was a design defect.

  • by Surreal_Streaker ( 636407 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:55PM (#8571148)
    You can copyright it, of course, but if a copier made a number of minor, not very significant, changes in the tables, it would be very difficult to prove they had copied the original tables. "Of course we got the same results - they are the right results for this engine".

    Mapmakers routinely include small false items on their maps to prevent copying - it is nearly as hard to identify and remove the one made up town on the map of the US you intend to copy as it is to go out and make your own map. Perhaps this could work in this situation.

  • by davebooth ( 101350 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @04:04PM (#8571264)
    But how are they going to know what's in your car? Its not like they open the hood and check compression ratios, etc on cars that do inspections. I hear some places do checks for what your exhaust is putting out (CA? AZ?).

    Many states that do inspections that involve emissions checks are using the computer interface to have the car itself report how clean its running. This, IMHO, is the reason opening up those standards aint ever going to be allowed to fly. If its all open and anyone can code stuff for it how long do you think it will be before the automotive equivalent of script-kiddies are offering downloadable patches that cause any vehicle to lie about its emissions or set it into "emissions test mode" where the computer stubbornly refuses to run the engine in any way that causes the vehicle to fail a test that is still performed by sticking a sensor in the tailpipe.

  • by ChaosDiscord ( 4913 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @04:29PM (#8571591) Homepage Journal

    Reputable people don't need access to their car's computers. If you want access you must be a thief of some sort. Oh, some Free Car/Open Car hippy here will whine "But I want to be able to repair my own car," or "I want to be able to hire a third party to repair my car." Yeah, right. Most people can't fix their own cars, having the ability to open the hood and work on their car is totally worthless. Letting the millions of thieves in just so that a few freaks can try (and probably fail) to fix their own cars is unacceptable. Only the original manufacturer can really fix it. Fortunately I think we can expect to see EDLA (End Driver License Agreements) that will make this nice and clear to everyone.

  • by theLOUDroom ( 556455 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @04:51PM (#8571861)
    If you believe a law that forces car manufacturers to give up their secrets on computer control is just, should should review your ideology, because you certainly don't believe in individual rights, or at least that not everyone has the same individual rights, if you grant yourself this power.

    Or may you just believe that sometimes individual rights must be sacrificed for the good of the community.

    It's the same type of ideology that leads to crazy things like the public roads that we drive our cars on in the first place and it's the reason all that expensive emissions equipment is on your car in the first place.

    Society as whole has an interest in seeing that cars are properly maintained for both safety and emissions reasons. If you can't understand that you probably need a refresher that as a citizen of this country you have both rights and RESPONSIBILITIES.

    Sometimes the needs of society are more important than your own "intellectual property", just as they as sometimes more important than your own rights to real property. Do a search on "eminent domain."
  • To anyone... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @05:12PM (#8572108) Homepage
    To anyone who says this is government interfering with private business, or the free market, or whatever, let's remember that "intellectual property" is a government-granted "right" to begin with. If the government wasn't already regulating the market in favor of these companies, with copyrights, patents, and trade secret laws, they wouldn't have any protections against anyone getting hold of their secrets in the first place.
  • by antiMStroll ( 664213 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @05:28PM (#8572309)
    Here's where being a computer geek starts showing its limits. ;)

    That's not the reason, not at all. Discounting potential damage and erroneous warranty claims, car makers must also adhere by federal law to an enourmous body of regulation involving emmissions and performance standards. These computers are an integral component of meeting those goals. Letting third parties alter algorithms and parameters conceivably puts them at risk.

  • by furchin ( 240685 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @05:53PM (#8572549)
    Because you own the car, but only license the software that runs it.
  • by wskellenger ( 675359 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @05:55PM (#8572570) Homepage Journal
    In fact, it actually takes a mere afternoon to build the calibration data. It takes a fair bit of equipment (diag station, dynamo, etc.), but the process is rather simple. (that is, for those that know how to do it.)

    I work in vehicle development -- electronic braking systems.

    Our module interfaces directly with the engine controller, as we request a torque reduction during traction control events.

    It is entirely untrue that it takes a "mere afternoon" to build the calibration data. Testing is required at different altitudes and in different climates. You'll find auto testing going on everywhere from Wanaka, New Zealand (for wintery conditions in the middle of Michigan's summer) to Borrego Springs, California... Or up in Arvidsjaur, Sweden when it's -40. A dyno and a diagnostic tool won't do much to simulate these climates and altitude variations. Throw a trailer on the vehicle and you'd never sell a car that you validated using the method you describe. Depending on the maturity of the engine and the system as a whole (including sensors, fuel delivery systems, etc.) it takes at least a year, probably more like two years, to develop an engine calibration.

  • by pedrop357 ( 681672 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @07:44PM (#8573588)
    This seems to me that the parties supporting this legislation want the codes and data for non-engine related codes. For those of you who don't know, cars made after 1996 have to be OBD-II(2) compliant. OBD stands for On-Board Diagnostics. The OBD-II system has to monitor the same set of engine functions and some transmission functions, use the same codes and have the same connector no matter what car. A 1999 BMW will have the exact same engine diagnostic connector as 1999 Ford Escort, and the basic engine trouble codes will be the same. The problem seems to be that repair persons and DIYers like me DEMAND more information pertaining to transmission, brake, air bag, electric seat, climate control, electronic suspension and various other modules. Hell, a lot of Fords use one module for everything called GEM (Generic Electronic Module) which control everything from windshield wipers to sprak timing. This crap about companies wanting fuel tables or component design specs is complete crap. Anyone remember a couple of years ago when various groups wanted this type of info and the car companies used the straw argument that "giving away the entire computer code would allow people to bypass theft prevention systems." No one wanted all the codes, they wanted the non-generic codes. It would be nice to find out why my brothers air suspension is acting up while not having to pay one hours rate so a grease monkey can hook up a scanner for 5 mins.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.