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Independent repair facilities need access to vehicle information to perform repairs, but auto manufacturers don’t always want to release it. The Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA) is one of many industry organizations fighting to allow facilities to access this information.
The AIA’s history in this battle goes back many years, and has taken on a new front recently with the advent of wireless communication between autos and their makers. By 2022, it’s predicted that over 70 per cent of new vehicles sold in Canada will have this technology, and the scope of the information collected and transmitted is considerable.
From diagnostic trouble codes, to maintenance requirements, to driving habits and locations, automakers will harvest a bumper crop of details — not only about their products, but how we use them.
That information highway is a two-way street as well. For some time now, automakers have been able to download software updates. These go into innocuous features such as infotainment systems, to more serious components such as engine and transmission control computers.
You may have concerns about what carmakers do with all that personal info, and you’d be right, but for this discussion we’ll focus on how this new wireless age affects your ability to repair something yourself, or get servicing done by non-dealership shops.
Who has the right to repair?
As of last year, there were 20 U.S. states with “right-to-repair” legislation that gives vehicle owners and independent shops the right to access parts, tools, software, and information from manufacturers in order to repair their products. But a private member’s bill in Ontario, focused mainly on personal electronics, was defeated in 2019.
The impetus behind this movement hasn’t been about getting vehicle parts. For common replacement items, there are usually several aftermarket firms offering alternatives if you don’t like a dealership’s price or the part is discontinued, and if they don’t have what you need, there are always auto recyclers.
But when the part you need is a software fix, you likely won’t have the same variety of sources for it. Many quality independent repair shops have subscriptions to online services that provide them with detailed shop manuals, part specifications, and some software updates, but not for all of these, and certainly not for all makes and models.
A two-way street for information
Perhaps there should be a trade-off. If carmakers are going to collect data from your vehicle and use it any way they like, maybe when software updates are required, they can all be transmitted wirelessly into your vehicle at no cost to you. Or if you’d like the choice of whether or not to update one of your ride’s computers, the automaker can provide verifiable details of what’s involved, and then either transmit it only if you agree, or send it to you on a thumb-drive to allow you control over what goes into your vehicle.
All of this adds fuel to the idea that having a conversation with your indie repair shop about your next vehicle and its repairability – before you buy it – can save a lot of headaches down the road. At least you still have that choice.