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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 foxtrot ( 14140 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:37PM (#8569650)
    When the MPAA comes a callin' with their CSS encryption, the answer is the DMCA.

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

    Why won't they make up their minds?
  • OSS needed! (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Pizzop ( 605441 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:39PM (#8569668) Homepage
    too bad the computer don't run OSS, then the smaller garages would just have to get a computer geek to help.
  • by djh101010 ( 656795 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:39PM (#8569670) Homepage Journal
    I used to work for GE Medical Systems, and there was a similar case there. There is (or was?) a company out there doing third-party servicing of CAT and MRI scanners, place called "R-Squared". They took GE to court saying that we should share with them our service tools, because by not doing so it was unfairly excluding them from competing with us.

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

    This really isn't much different than open-source vs closed-source though, is it...if the person selling it wants to lock you out of the internals, well, your choices include not buying from them.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:40PM (#8569678)
    This only reason for an open interface is for their plans to install ignition interlocks and traffic violation ticket printers in each car. Soon your car will automatically drive you directly to the police station or reeducation camps.
  • by bwalling ( 195998 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:40PM (#8569680) Homepage
    Why stop there? Why not just have Microsoft open up Windows so that we can all service it?
  • Payola (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:41PM (#8569693)
    The car companies are already protected under DMCA. If congress forces them to open up, it just means the auto companies aren't bribing them enough...

  • Preach on, (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bob670 ( 645306 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:41PM (#8569696)
    had to take my car to the dealership this weekend because the shop down the block didn't know what the codes meant. Turns out it was a misaligned break caliper, cost me $225 at the dealership, would have been about $130 down the street.
  • by GoofyBoy ( 44399 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:42PM (#8569711) Journal
    But its a bit more complex that just that.

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

    So maybe its the same issue. A group wants to control their property by using technology which locks things up.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:44PM (#8569725)
    If the auto companies encrypt the computer secrets using weak encryption and claim DMCA jurisdiction, wouldn't the DMCA disallow the applicability of the new law in that case?
  • by ssand ( 702570 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:44PM (#8569731)
    I don't think these small car repair shops should recieve access to car computers that manufacturers don't want them in. By restricting access, car manufacturers can ensure quality, and knowledge about a car. With sucha a range of vehicles on the roads today, chances are that some of these smaller car repair shops have not worked on a car that is the same type as yours.
  • Good For Me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LighthouseJ ( 453757 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:48PM (#8569774)
    If this works for previous model years instead of just new models, I'll be really happy. There's a small but loyal group of people like me that are trying to get a supercharger for our car. A company has quoted if they could produce it, the supercharger could conservatively raise the car from 174hp to ~260hp (300 lb-ft torque) thanks to a solid engine. The physical supercharger is the same as any others, but the problem is that no one has been able to crack the Hitachi (I think) computer so the programming knows about a supercharger and doesn't compensate for it negatively.
  • Lies, I tell you. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Awptimus Prime ( 695459 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:49PM (#8569784)
    Small car repair shops are more and more becoming locked out of the repair business because most late model cars can only be fixed by accessing their computers with codes that are secret."

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

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

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

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

  • Re:I really miss.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @01:54PM (#8569873) Homepage Journal
    I generally love anything new and techie...but, I really miss the days of simpler cars. I miss minimal computer control....large engines with tons of horsepower. Where if something went wrong..it was mostly mechanical...and you could work on many things yourself. I miss when you could drive a stock car off the showroom floor...and it had enough power to smoke the tires for a couple of blocks....and they weren't all 'designed by computers'...the cars looked good and had individual personality. And...even a pretty powerful one was reasonably affordable to the majority of people....

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

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

  • Check Engine Blinks (Score:2, Interesting)

    by huxrules ( 649822 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:00PM (#8569921)
    Say your "check engine" light comes on. Back in the day (just a few years ago) you could turn your key to the "on" position a few times and the light would blink out the error code. You could look it up in your shop manual and you generally knew what the problem was. For some reason on my 2000 Jeep they did away with this feature. I always thought it was so that you had to go to the dealer. Know I know. I hate car companies.
  • by WegianWarrior ( 649800 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:02PM (#8569944) Journal

    MPAA == US organisation. Quite a lot of carmakers != US firms.

    See the difference? One one hand the US congress wants to protect the "intelectuall property" of americans, on the other hand it wants to open the "intelectual property" of other people (non US) to the carmechanics in the US... and possible to carmanufacturers in the US as well, but I think that might be an unintended sideeffect.

    While I see how this bill might benefit the small autoshops in the US (and possible elsewhere if this catches on), I feel that a more ideal solution would be if the carmanufacturers could agree on one common interface to use. Won't happen off course.

  • Re:I really miss.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:03PM (#8569959) Homepage Journal
    You also handle the point that allowing users to get into the inner workings of their cars is not inherently evil.
    I foresee some argument along the lines of "If we do this, <insert terrrorist/criminal organization here> will be able to soup-up the performance of their cars, and escape capture.
    People working on their cars at low level resembles people working on Linux From Scratch, with the difference being that a core dump is only embarrassing, whereas an engine becoming several hundred flying sub-engines at the I95/I495 interchange, known with affection as 'the mixing bowl', could have substantial costs...
    I hope the safety gestapo doesn't win the argument.
  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:03PM (#8569970)
    The simple reasoning behind this is to encourage competition in the belief that competion results in better products and/or lower prices.

    Cars are something that are easily understood by most people. You buy a car and you want to get it fixed but the place that fixed your old car can't fix this car because the car manufacturer won't let the mechanic read the computer information in YOUR car.

    So, you'll have to pay the prices that the car manufacturer wants you to pay to get your car fixed.

    I think will be an easy bill to pass. The average person will see it as a way of saving money.
  • by Brad Mace ( 624801 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:04PM (#8569978) Homepage
    Part of the anti-trust business required microsoft to open up their APIs to other software companies so they could compete on an even footing with microsoft's own software.
  • MS APIs? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gr8_phk ( 621180 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:04PM (#8569979)
    So why does MS get to keep secrets about the Windows API?
  • Re:Lies, I tell you. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hicktruckdriver ( 29349 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:06PM (#8569996) Homepage
    Unfortunately, that's only true if the dealer provides an edge over the general mechanic.

    I had a bit of a scraping sound in my truck about a year ago, that sounded like a brake caliper had gotten out of alignment and was rubbing. So I took it to a Monro, they said my brakes were fine, but it sounded like it might be in the rear end, something that was more complicated than they were used to doing. darius The car was out of warranty, but my first instinct was to go to a GMC dealer to get it looked at -- they took the car for a day and told me that it was definitely the rear end, which would have to be replaced for $1500.

    Since that was significant, I sought out a second opinion, a "general" mechanic of which you speak. He took the truck for a day, and found out that the problem was that the wheel bearings were pitted. Then he discovered that there was still some minor scraping, and had to replace a bearing in the rear end. Total cost: $300.

    The dealer would have charged $1500, and not actually fixed the problem!! Until there's evidence that dealers use their "insider" knowledge of their brand of automobiles to provide better service, it will be a shame if the independent mechanic disappears.

  • Fair use (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Explodo ( 743412 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:07PM (#8570009)
    I think that this should be required under fair use. Consumers should be allowed to fix their own cars if they have the know-how. As it is, most new cars cannot even have a problem diagnosed by an owner, but must be taken to a dealer, who charges you at least $75 just to hook up a computer and say, "Your oxygen sensor is bad." I get really pissed off that I can't read the codes on my '99 Cherokee unless I buy an OBD2 code reader and then I have to know what the numeric code it gives means. On older vehicles, the codes are easy to find, but on newer ones, it's getting much more difficult and in some cases impossible. The auto dealers will throw lots of money at this and buy off the congressmen and this won't happen.
  • Re:Lies, I tell you. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alberk ( 761269 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:07PM (#8570012) Homepage
    You're absolutely correct, and this is common misunderstanding.
    My father and uncle own an auto-repair shop in Brooklyn, my father being the head mechanic and the one that runs all the diagnostic equipment. He's been running into this issue for years now, and whenever he needs the codes to access the computers of a car, he either has to pay the manufacturer for the DVD/CD's that will access that computer via the diagnostic machine, or call the manufacturer's local rep and get it out of him nicely.

    The only problem is, the vehicle repair manual doesn't contain the necessary codes for everything, and that just prolongs how long a car stays in the shop, until the mechanic running the daignostic machines updates the latest codes. Regardless of 50 years of experience with cars and trucks, foreign and domestic, since he was put to work by the commies or now here in his shop in the US, he still has to wait around for hours sometimes and pay through the nose for some access codes. He can still fix a car better than any rookie out of tech school.
  • by Bill, Shooter of Bul ( 629286 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:08PM (#8570017) Journal
    ALL of the car manufactures are doing this and it is affecting ALL consumers and creating vertical oligarchies for the companies. They are unfairly restricting competition from non dealer repair shops. And that is a an ABUSE of their position as Car manufactures.
  • Dishwashers too! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by avkillick ( 698274 ) <avkillick AT yahoo DOT com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:08PM (#8570018) Homepage
    Saturday last, a repairman came over from Sear's to do a prev maintenance on our dishwasher. All he did was hook up a laptop to a connection inside the machine - executed a few diagnostics and left 3 minutes later! The bill was $114 - but cost us nothing under the warranty.
  • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jim_Maryland ( 718224 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:09PM (#8570032)
    I seem to recall a while back that dealers would only honor a warranty if you had all service, including oil changes, done at the dealership. I believe the outcome was that they couldn't force you to have your vehicle serviced a the dealership in order to maintain the warranty, unless they provided all the parts. While this may not be particular to warranty work, essentially they are forcing you to have the repairs done at the dealership, effectively eliminating your ability to choose where to have the service done. As a backyard mechanic myself, I would welcome an open interface to the system. I doubt I'll actually get the tools for the diagnosis, unless an after market tool becomes available at a reasonable price.

    If the concern is over the ability for competition to copy the manufacturers IP, I doubt opening up an API will really affect it that much. Anyone with enough incentive should be able to bypass and figure it out on their own anyways.
  • A great new market. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by antimith ( 683310 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:10PM (#8570044)
    If the spec sheets etc... are released, or can be bought, we can write software for the cars and market it. I look forward to the day when you can download a open source program for linux that you can plug into your GM or Ford or whatever and at least do stupid stuff like reseting those GOD FORSAKEN oil change indicators. 30$ just to get that set is pretty unreasonable.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:11PM (#8570064)
    If they open it up, I am sure some engineers out there will do their own tests and improve on what is already there.

    I don't see why companies don't like the idea of getting help from CUSTOMERS. :D
  • by J. T. MacLeod ( 111094 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:12PM (#8570069)
    Not all of the codes are published.

    Furthermore, the legend for the published codes is often more ambiguous than that available privately.
  • This great! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theLOUDroom ( 556455 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:13PM (#8570077)
    As someone who's part-way through the 100+ hour task of reverse engineering the computer in his '86 Mazda RX-7, I can say this truely is a great thing.

    The are all kind of problems that are extremly difficult or impossible to diagnose and solve without the ability to REALLY talk to a car's computer.

    I think most people don't realize just how much is coming under control of the car's computer these days. It used to be the computer just controlled the injectors, then it was spark. Now the computer might also control your ABS, traction control, regulator-less fuel system, electric power steering. In many modern cars (A 2000 Corvette would be an example) there isn't even a direct link between the throttle body and the gas pedal anymore. The gas pedal has a sensor and the TB has an actuator.

    The government needs to junk ODBII and come up with a totally new approach. They allowed too many manufacturer-specfic exceptions, and made it require too much special hardware.

    ODBII deliberately uses a nonstandard baud rate, to make it difficult to interface with a PC. The result of this is that an application (with cable) to read codes with your laptop will cost you $100+ instead of the $40 it should.
    It's damn frustrating to have to buy a $160 computer to tell you that you car needs a $5 set of spark plugs. (It would have cost $70 just to get a shop to tell me the same thing).

    A new interface should be designed that is a standard serial port, and allows for VERY few "undocumented" codes.
  • Re:Obvious Answer? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by psykocrime ( 61037 ) <mindcrime@cp p h a c k e r . c o .uk> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:13PM (#8570082) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Not true. I don't have specifics handy, but I've read quite a few tales of performance enthusiasts putting together vehicles that could easily pass the tailpipe emissions tests, without ANY of the factory "smog" equipment. And I'm talking carbureted, 350 ci, small-block chevy engines at that.

    This is one reason why performance enthusiasts have argued some vehemently against the required visual inspections to make sure the factory smog equipment is intact. If they can pass the tailpipe test without it, they feel like (and I agree) that they should be able to run without it.

    Again, I don't have references handy, but a little digging around in some back issues of Car Craft, Hot Rod, Super Chevy, Popular Hot Rodding, etc., would turn up plenty for anybody who's interested.
  • Re:I really miss.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rick the Red ( 307103 ) <Rick,The,Red&gmail,com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:14PM (#8570091) Journal
    users to get into the inner workings of their cars is not inherently evil.
    Since the late 1970's this has been considered evil in the USA. The EPA mandated caps on the idle screws back then, and it's been downhill ever since. You really can't adjust anything under the hood anymore -- not like you used to. All in the name of keeping the air clean, which is a reasonable goal. And cars are better for it -- they don't need those adjustments anymore.
    I hope the safety gestapo doesn't win the argument.
    It's not the safety gestapo, it's the environmental gestapo, and they won the arguement 30 years ago.
  • by Necrobruiser ( 611198 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:14PM (#8570097)
    You're absolutely right. Additionally, Coca-Cola should be forced to release it's recipe so smaller bottlers can compete. And Microsoft should be forced to open source it's source code. And Google should be forced to release its proprietary search algorithm so smaller search engines can compete.

    I went too far with the Google thing, didn't I? Now I'm screwing around with slashdot's sacred cows. My bad.

    -1 Troll
  • WTF!?!? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mynameis (mother ... ( 745416 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:19PM (#8570146)
    What are they talking about!?!?

    I'm a gear head. I know lots of geeks who are gear heads. I, however, have never encountered a problem due to inability to access 'calibration codes'.

    I know that you can hook your laptop up to your OBDI/II based vehicle. What can ya do?
    -monitor telemetry in real time [RPM,Throttle position, timing, fuel inject pulse lengths, etc.]
    -read error codes stored in computer [terse format]
    -reprogram the computer[really the data on which decisions are made, not the heuristics themselves]*

    *You can't change stuff on earlier computers! Must be that we don't have the 'calibration code' to make a PROM into an EEPROM?!

    Seriously though! What you need to 'know' to fix a car is:

    Interface specification

    Table of error/condition codes and triggering parameters.

    Wiring diagrams, mechanical diagrams, parts lists, etc.

    how modern cars work

    From what I understand, the Interfaces are standardized [think ISO,IEEE, not RFC]. The error codes, and at least short descriptions, are available. The diagrams, etc. are available via repair manuals/KB Systems. I know that at least some manufacturers publish/authorize official such products. As for knowledge, can't legislate that:)

    What information is being withheld that makes non-dealer repair impossible?

    And what are 'calibration codes'?
  • by NormalVisual ( 565491 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:22PM (#8570179)
    I feel that a more ideal solution would be if the carmanufacturers could agree on one common interface to use

    The OBD-II interface actually is an industry standard that everyone agreed on - the problems arise because the standard allows for manufacturer-specific codes for stuff not explicitly covered in the general spec. Having some means of specifying the maker-specific stuff is necessary, since not all cars are the same and making the basic standard conform to everything it might encounter would make it rather large and unwieldy. That said, I think the maker-specific stuff should be documented.
  • by e1618978 ( 598967 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:24PM (#8570211)
    I would like to see standard (bluetooth?) interfaces to the stereo and telephone keypad/ handsfree/antenna in every car. So, for example, in 2007 - I have a brand new iPod phone. I get into any car, and I can controll the iPod via the stereo controlls, and it plays through the car stereo. The phone hooks up to the cars antenna and keypad - if I receive a call it routes through the handsfree, and I can make calls via the keypad. I know that some of this is already available, but it is not standard or widely used.
  • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:29PM (#8570279)
    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.

    Riiiight. Cause they're stupid and don't know people will try this. That must be why a lot of dealerships charge a "diagnostic fee" that you have to agree to (check the fine print) before they'll look at your car. The same reason they will waive that fee when they find $900 worth of repairs that you "need".

    Best place to find car info - groups.google.com. Had our Jetta freak out, alarm was sounding, anti-theft wouldn't let us start the car. Took it to an independent mechanic, they couldn't find anything, and the problem had gone away. Before I went to pick it back up, I did a quick search on groups.google.com. Found it. I called them up, talked to the tech, and said "check the wiring harness that goes to the rear door. Open the rear door, pull back the rubber boot, and see if there are any stripped or worn wires." There were 3 wires that were cut and a couple more were stripped. I guess the wiring harness on those cars was just a little too short, and eventually they would wear out. I could have spliced the wires myself, but I had dealt with this shop before and they are good guys. And I could have them do it while I was at work. But without those newsgroups, it probably would have happened to me again and again and again, and would have cost me a lot of diagnostic time.

    Ahh the internet - is there anything it can't do?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:34PM (#8570327)
    I have a 2003 Cavalier that I had for 6 days when the Sunroof refused to close all the way. I took it in the next day and they had to resync the position in the computer.

    Basic functions like opening and closing the sunroof are computer controlled. The manufacturer controls access to the computer. That's how they can extort service contracts out of new car buyers. You have no choice other than to take it to the dealer. The radio is computer controlled, and I would bet that the electric windows have to calibrated by the dealer as well.
  • Re:WTF!?!? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theLOUDroom ( 556455 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:39PM (#8570403)
    What information is being withheld that makes non-dealer repair impossible?

    The issue is that ODBII is a pathetic subset of the real information avaible. In some cases it's useless (diagnosing climate controls, etc), in other cases it just a LOT less information than the dealer-specfic compter would provide.

    Obviously not having it doesn't make non-dealer repair impossible, but it does make it a lot harder. If you knew nothing about cars you could just replace parts until you find the right thing but it this the right way to do it?

    The point here is that independent shops are being put at a severe disadvantage by being provided only a minimal subset of the availible data.
  • by Cramer ( 69040 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:41PM (#8570428) Homepage
    This is not exactly true... modern cars have a "closed loop" system where various sensors feed data into the computer which it uses to tune engine parameters. Thus, the computer is "self learning"... about a decade ago, Ford recalled a number of Tempo's. They replaced the injector and downloaded the engine calibration data -- they used a federally mandated recall to collect this "millions of dollars" worth of data.

    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.)

    Ironic side discussion... the only real difference between the VW 1.8T engines (150hp and 180hp anyway) is the ECU programming. I can "upgrade" my engine with a serial cable :-)
  • Nothing is stopping you from opening up the hood of your car (YET [slashdot.org]), throwing out the fuel injection, and putting in a carberator, distributor cap and a mechanical gas petal line. Edelbrook and others make fine carberators that fit happily onto modern engines... but then it's not stock.

    If it pisses you off, do nothing (huh? but seriously) - when your car gets older and starts having problems, don't take it to the dealer. Take it to your local mechanic, and tell him you want a carberator installed and to go ahead and throw out the fuel injector.

    It may be more expensive the first time through, but that way you won't have problems with 20 year old computer equipment - that your mechanic doesn't know how to fix without using junk-yard parts anyway.

    Many have said it before, and others will say it again - if it displeases you... vote with your wallets.

  • by SuiteSisterMary ( 123932 ) <slebrun AT gmail DOT com> on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:51PM (#8570540) Journal

    I had a problem with my '99 cavalier; the engine would drop it's RPMs by several hundred every once in a while; almost, but not quite, enough to stall.

    Took it in to the dealer, they said 'is the check engine light on?'

    'Nope,' I replied, 'but here's what it's doing...'

    'Sorry,' came the reply. 'If the check light's not on, there's no diagnostic codes for us to look up. We can't fix it unless we know what's wrong.'

  • Re:I really miss.... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 15, 2004 @02:56PM (#8570602)
    There was much more LOW-balling of HP numbers than HIGH-balling of HP numbers back then, especially on the highest performance cars. This was to keep the regulators at bay.

    The idea that a 12.5 compression ratio, .600" lift cammed 427 Chevy makes 430HP is an absolute joke (it will do that with 2 spark plug wires disconnected). My 9.3 CR, .520" lift cam 427 makes 505.
  • shade tree mech (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rodentia ( 102779 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:06PM (#8570696)
    This is good news for those of us who like to tinker with our cars, too. A while back I looked into available OSS interfaces to various models. It was a moot search. You ought to be able to plug your friggin' car into the serial port of your laptop and run diagnostics on emissions, compression, etc., as a matter of course.

    It should also be noted that legislation addressing this issue was originally championed by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone of MN.

    It should also remind us how close we are to similarly prescribed access to the internals of a general purpose computer. Wouldn't some interests like to see a *No user serviceable parts inside. Opening case voids any warranties or EULAs associated with this machine.* sticker on your next box.
  • by Spirilis ( 3338 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:19PM (#8570832)
    Part of the problem with tuning is the slow data rate supported by OBD-II: somewhere around 10Kbps.

    I guess if you're only pulling 1 parameter then you can sample data fast enough, but if you're pulling, say, 5 sensors' data at once, the samplerate for each individual sensor is rather slow. Doing a 0-60 acceleration run in my Maxima, I got 3 readings for RPM during the entire run, pulling around 5 different readings at once for comparison (RPM, MAF throughput, Ignition timing advance, front and rear bank O2 sensors)

    FYI this was on a 2000 Nissan Maxima and using the Auterra OBD-II Dyno-Scan for PalmOS on a Palm m505.
  • Chrysler Cars too (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jim_deane ( 63059 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @03:43PM (#8571041) Journal
    It isn't just Cadillacs. Chrysler vehicles since the early 1980's have a diagnostic sequence that you can run easily.

    See http://www.allpar.com/fix/codes.html for details. Through the mid-1990's, you usually:

    * Start with the key in "off"
    * Within about five seconds, turn the key "on-off-on-off-on". Leave it in on the last "on".
    * Watch the "Check Engine" or "Service Engine Soon" light. Count the blinks. Digits are seperated by small pauses, individual trouble codes are seperated by longer pauses. The "end of codes" code is 5-5.

    See the above link for more information.

    I wouldn't be suprised if one of the ultimate goals of the open-car-computer push is to make it so that anyone can download the most recent engine computer code and flash it into the engine controller. Stealerships charge you a lot to do this simple procedure, and there is no reason why you or an independent mechanic shouldn't be able to use the common OBD-2 interfaces to upload new control software.

  • by GhostCypher ( 748646 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @04:31PM (#8571619)
    I've been training as a mechanic and in most of our classes we use computer diagnostic tools as one step in verifying the problem.

    First off, while the error codes are usually VERY accurate to what POTENTIAL problems are, they DON'T always tell you exactly what the problem is. Case in point: '96 GMC Yukon, the Service Engine light comes up every few days. Running the computer codes, it spits out a problem with an O2 sensor in the exhaust system, saying there is too much O2 in the exhaust. Now, this could be a number of things wrong...from problems with plugs and whires to bad gaskets, etc. that allow O2 leakage. However, the problem is nothing more than a crack in the weld on the exhaust pipe that leaks air into the exhaust system before the sensor, causing it to go off.

    Secondly, last time I checked, I could buy manufacturer-specific computer equipment to diagnose cars from the manufacturers as a mechanic. Yes, the're about $600-700 a pop. (Snapon in turn sells a computer for that price and sells modules for each manufacturer for diagnosis).

    Also, these performance maps and such you think aren't necessary...are. Why? because, during diagnosis, one of the things we look at is engine performance to verify that the engine isn't having trouble. The computer calculates and spits out performance data for the technician based on the information in the computer. No, we don't get to see all of the information on the chip directly, but for the sake of diagnosis, our tools have to be able to access it in the event that the car's performance is lagging behind what it should be and we have to diagnose it.

    Thank you for our time.
  • by geekman2000 ( 698474 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @05:01PM (#8571987)
    While it is all fine and dandy to claim the bill is to help out the service market the fact of the mater is this bill is help counter what the automotive industry has been doing lately. In the last several years as demand for SUVs and more horsepower vehicles Auto manufacturers are getting more and more clever with emissions testing. Today's cars can figure out when they are being emissions tested, between a certain set of operation parameters (like CARB's dyno-tests) and certain requests from the OBD-II interface the ECU can easily figure out what is being done to the vehicle and tune its behavior accordingly. There are many, many reasons for this; some of which are to give the vehicle more performance on the road, others to counter some legacy laws of the EPA such as the rule saying all vehicles must have catalytic converters, converters that have to be doing something, however today's modern electronically controlled vehicles under steady state burn fuel clean enough that they don't emit measurable levels of unburned fuel, thus the engine has to be de-tuned to meet the EPA rule saying cats have to be doing something. Detroit Diesel got in some serious trouble a little while back when the EPA found out it was detecting emissions testing and adjusting performance parameters accordingly. By forcing the car manufacturers to open up their bus protocols the EPA can make sure that there is no special emissions test mode that the ECU is going into and make sure the numbers are real. I doubt anything from this law will help the automotive service industry.
  • by Boricle ( 652297 ) on Monday March 15, 2004 @07:26PM (#8573453) Homepage
    I am not from the US, so my familiarity with your government is scant at best, however - there may well be a better mechanism for this change than attempting to change the laws.

    Changing the laws usually involves a very long an complicated process, where the automobile manufacturers are likely to moan and complain and lobby even after any legislation is passed.

    As an alternative, or even as an addition, consider

    * The government is a very large purchaser of vehicles for all sorts of purposes - transport, police, maintenance, military, car pools, inspectors etc - it is therefore likely that there is a massive purchasing bueracracy to go with this.

    * The purchasing beaurarcracy usually drives billions in purchasing and has the ability to set the requirements for goods to be purchased.

    So, perhaps the government should REQUIRE, through its own purchasing (where no legislation would be required, that all vehicles it purchases MUST have open standardised diagnostics) given the likely scale of purchases the government makes, the automobile manufacturers would be left to either Do It (in which case its done, and there is at best its adoption into all cars, at worst only government vehicles - but there is at least a fleet of vehicles out there you can target), or to Not Do It (and face allegations of collusion, or provide a trigger for the government to legislate it with some justification)

    I'll admit that there are a few flaws:

    * You can still lobby the government to force purchasing not to mandate the changes.

    * The manufacturers could (perhaps the best option from their perspective) provide free equipment to access the data.

    * Manufacturers could do it only to government vehicles (but at least then there would be a large number of vehicles out there in the second-hand market. Which would eventually lead to discussions about why the manufcaturers are maintaining two seperate systems.

    * Takes a long time.

    This kind of problem can be solved generally in two ways - purchaser preference, and legislative involvement. In most situations though, individual purchasers have very little leverage - big purcashers on the other hand, have a LOT of leverage.



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