Automakers Want to Prevent Car Owners Repairing or Modifying Their Own Cars

How many of you have ever made any repairs to your own cars? I used to all the time when I was able. I’ve replaced water pumps, freeze plugs, generators, alternators, starters and even a rocker arm assembly back in the day.

Besides home auto repairs, there are thousands, perhaps millions of car enthusiasts who not only like to do their own repairs, but make modifications to their cars for a variety of reasons. They modify carburetors, fuel injectors and many other parts to make their cars run faster or look fancier.

However, if automakers have their way that will all come to an end and could even result in citations made for anyone who does their own repairs or modifications.

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Auto Alliance, the main lobby organization for auto makers say that cars have become so complex that it becomes legally problematic for owners and third parties to do any repairs or modifications. They are claiming that auto makers have a copyright on their vehicles that is violated when un-authorized repairs or modifications are made.

The copyright issue rests on the computer software that is built in to cars. According to Pete Bigelow’s article in AutoBlog:

“The dispute arises from a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that no one thought could apply to vehicles when it was signed into law in 1998. But now, in an era where cars are rolling computing platforms, the U.S. Copyright Office is examining whether provisions of the law that protect intellectual property should prohibit people from modifying and tuning their cars.”

“Every three years, the office holds hearings on whether certain activities should be exempt from the DMCA’s section 1201, which governs technological measures that protect copyrighted work. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for individual rights in the digital world, has asked the office to ensure that enthusiasts can continue working on cars by providing exemptions that would give them the right to access necessary car components.”

“Interested parties have until the end of the month to file comments on the proposed rule making, and a final decision is expected by mid-year.”

“In comments submitted so far, automakers have expressed concern that allowing outsiders to access electronic control units that run critical vehicle functions like steering, throttle inputs and braking ‘leads to an imbalance by which the negative consequences far outweigh any suggested benefits,’ according to the Alliance of Global Automakers. In the worst cases, the organizations said an exemption for enthusiasts ‘leads to disastrous consequences…’”

“‘It’s not a new thing to be able to repair and modify cars,’ said Kit Walsh, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It’s actually a new thing to keep people from doing it. There are these specialized agencies that govern what vehicles can lawfully be used for on the road, and they have not seen fit to stop them from repairing cars.’”

“Aftermarket suppliers and home enthusiasts have been modifying ECUs for years without dire consequences. By tweaking the ECU codes, a process sometimes known as ‘chipping,’ they’ve boosted horsepower, improved fuel efficiency, established performance limits for teen drivers and enhanced countless other features. These innovations have contributed to a ‘decades-old tradition of mechanical curiosity and self-reliance,’ according to the EFF.”

“Those innovations could be curbed precisely at a time that automakers believe personalization of vehicles is emerging as a significant trend. Software is allowing for all sorts of technology, such as 4G LTE wireless connections, and motorists can use this software to choose from an increasing array of infotainment options. But the car companies, paradoxically, want to be the ones doing the personalizing.”

Not only will this affect car owners who make their own repairs, but it could also have a financial impact on many people who repair cars on the side to help make ends meet. There are thousands of such people who supplement their income this way who stand to lose that supplemental income and possibly more, but then the big auto makers don’t care about the average person as long as we continue to buy their vehicles.

You can read the rest of Bigelow’s report here. What matters is that car owners need to be aware of what auto makers are trying to do.


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