Right to Repair…Right to Choose
Repair” is an issue which has been developing in our industry for well
over a decade. International in
scope, it refers to the vehicle manufacturers’ reluctance, and often
refusal, to make necessary technical data, training and tools available to repair
facilities other than their own dealers - in essence paving the way towards monopolizing
the auto repair industry by dealerships.
Modern automobiles are
virtually run by on-board computers, or modules. Everything from power train, to braking
and steering, to entertainment and comfort, is controlled by a computer or a
network of computers. Troubleshooting these systems typically
requires the use of an appropriate scan tool to interface with the on-board
computers to obtain fault codes and monitor sensor and output data. In addition to diagnostics, it is
becoming increasingly necessary to program modules and other electronic parts,
either as the fix to a problem or simply to initialize a replacement part to
make it work. This also requires
the use of special tools, software and protocols which most of the original
equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) are reluctant to share with the
aftermarket. Since computer control
of our vehicles increases every year, this issue may soon reach crisis
proportions, affecting our right, as
an independent repair facility, to conduct business as well as your right, as a consumer, to choose
where to have your vehicle repaired.
In order to ensure our
ability to effectively diagnose and repair most vehicles, AML has been diligent
in purchasing and maintaining the best equipment available to us. This includes top of the line
scope-meters, some vehicle-specific scanners such as Tech2 for GM, and a number
of aftermarket scanners loaded with capabilities as close to dealer level as we
can find. Other OE level scan tools
in which we’ve invested include NGS for Ford and Mazda – both of
whom have since switched to a different system; Mastertech for Honda –
also now using another system; and DRBIII for Chrysler (the distributor for the
DRBIII is no longer allowed to sell to Canadians, making it very difficult for
us to acquire updates).
Fortunately, many of us in the aftermarket repair sector have developed
some of our own diagnostic strategies rather than rely on manufacturer’s
charts (many of which have proven unreliable in the past anyway). Of course, this still does not get us
around the issue of reprogramming modules when they need replacement.
A case in point is a
vehicle that came to us to determine the cause of the gauges not
functioning. This had been
previously diagnosed at the dealer as a faulty instrument cluster (IC). Our diagnosis confirmed this, finding
that the IC was unable to communicate with the engine control module, despite
having communication available to it.
We recorded our diagnostic information (scope snapshots) to be able to
prove our conclusion if a problem arose.
Unfortunately, however, we did not have – and could not acquire at
the time – the equipment to reprogram the IC after replacement.
If you’re following
me on this: we were able to diagnose the problem; we were able to replace the
part (it was already removed as part of the diagnosis); but now we
couldn’t proceed with the repair because we could not complete the job
due to non-disclosure of information – in this case the software and/or
protocols required to reprogram the IC after replacement. What followed was even worse.
We arranged to take the car
to the dealer on the client’s behalf. Everything was fine until they finally
received the part and, apparently, it did not work. “It can’t be the cluster”
they said, or it would have solved the problem. (For what it’s worth, it was now actually
a different symptom.) Their
technician now started back-probing the harness at the engine control module
(ECM), thinking the problem had been misdiagnosed. We received a call back telling us the
IC was ok but the ECM needed replacement.
Fortunately, our thorough diagnostic procedures left no doubt as to what
was at fault and we told them to recheck, and that we had proof that the IC was
at fault. They ordered another
cluster, installed it and programmed it to the vehicle. Problem solved. Sadly, this whole episode took about two
months to complete. Would it have
been faster had we been in charge from start to finish? Probably, but we have no way of knowing,
since it may have been simply a faulty part that held up completion of the job. For sure, we saved the customer from
additional expense for unnecessary repairs due to confusion over a defective
part or improperly performed procedure.
We’re not trying to
tromp on dealers. We believe most
of them do their best to ensure their technicians remain up to date and well
trained. Even at that, this trade
can be difficult at times, and diagnosis can be very difficult, especially in
an ever-changing environment such as automotive electronics. And faulty parts or procedures can be
especially difficult to overcome.
The point is that we had the answer and the confidence to properly
repair the vehicle; the dealer, in this situation, did not. But we were locked out, unable to access
the tools or software needed to complete the job.
Another case comes to mind
where the customer was traveling in the US. The engine was running badly and the
malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) was on.
He took the car to a dealership; they checked the codes, made a repair
and then informed him that further diagnosis was required because the condition
had barely improved. He declined
and, once back in Toronto,
brought the car to AML and we ran a diagnostic. This particular European vehicle was one
that did not have sufficient diagnostic data on our scanner, making it
necessary to use non-OE methods to diagnose the problem, which turned out to be
simply a faulty coil. Diagnostics
do not always have to be “high-tech”, although the strategy we used
to determine the cause of the fault was at one time considered “cutting edge”. Go figure!
I could give more examples,
but that’s not the scope of this article. Everybody makes mistakes; how mistakes
are dealt with sets one shop apart from another, be it a dealership or an
independent. That is precisely why
consumers need to maintain their right to choose. You have the right to choose who works on
your vehicle based on what is important to you, be it a friendly atmosphere,
low cost service, competent technicians, sincere counter personnel, or
whatever. A level playing field
simply maintains your right to do so.
What can we do to ensure
that we retain our right to choose where we repair our automobiles? In the US, Right to Repair legislation has
been introduced to Congress repeatedly since 2001, with little success. I say
little instead of no success because in 2002, the Environmental Protection
Agency forced manufacturers to grant access to their service information web
sites to make all emission-related information, including flash programs, accessible
to everyone (in the US, that is; many of these sites remain closed to Canadian
technicians). Fearing legislation,
manufacturers took this a step further in allowing access to all their service
information on their sites. Charges
for usage vary, but are generally available in subscription lengths of anywhere
from 24 hours to 1 year. Even with
this set-up there remain problems, such as with tooling and programming,
especially on non-emission related modules, making legislation the next logical
In Canada, there
are two courses of action taking place, much as in the ‘States. Backed by trade associations across the
country, VISTA (Vehicle Information &
Service Tool Access) is a campaign seeking a voluntary remedy by the vehicle
manufacturers, similar to what is currently in place south of the border. “Right to Repair” activists,
led by the Automotive Industries Association (AIA), demand a legislative
solution to ensure complete and thorough compliance by the manufacturers. To date, a number of manufacturers have
made their sites accessible to Canadians, but we are still a long way from
where we need to be. Brian Masse,
MP for Windsor West, has introduced right to repair legislation in the House of
Commons. Bill C-425 takes aim at
amending the Competition Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to
ensure that the aftermarket is guaranteed access to information and tools
necessary to repair vehicles. It is
endorsed by both the CAA and Pollution Probe. You may want to contact your MP to back
this legislation if you agree this issue is important to you.
For AML and other
independent automotive service outlets, the means to resolving this problem is
of little importance. Whether the
manufacturers volunteer information or they are mandated to do so, the outcome
would be the same: we will be able to continue to offer our high standard of
service to our customers, who bring
their vehicles to us because they choose
to do so.
If you’d like to read
more on this topic, the following sites may be of interest:
You can also search
“right to repair”.
P.S. Since beginning this article for the
newsletter, new software has been released for the NGS which improves our
capabilities on Ford vehicles to match those of the dealers. Unfortunately, access to their web site
is still disallowed, but we’re working on that. Also, we have been able to access the
Chrysler site by contacting them directly and purchasing the subscription over
the phone. And aftermarket
diagnostic software is improving all the time, proving the old adage
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.
October is Car Safety Month
Be Car Care
Aware; and remember that October
is Car Safety Month. If you
haven’t already done so, make sure your vehicle is going to be ready for
the fall and winter months ahead.
This should include checking your brakes, steering and suspension;
making sure your windshield wipers are in good operating condition and capable
of wiping the window clean; making sure you have winter w/s washer fluid so it
doesn’t freeze when the cold weather starts; checking all lights and
repair as necessary; making sure your headlights are properly aimed so you
don’t impair visibility of other drivers; testing the battery and
charging voltage; installing winter tires before
the snow flies; taking care of any exhaust leaks so the fumes don’t pose
a risk to your health when in stop-and-go traffic with all the windows
closed. AML can check everything
you need checked as part of our regular maintenance program, which includes
inspections at regular intervals.
For more information on winter driving, see our web site
(amlautoservice.com) and check previous articles on the Newsletter page. You may also visit carcarecanada.ca.
Shocks and Struts…They do a lot for your ride
equate shocks and struts with the bouncing effect they experience when going
over a pothole or speed bump and don’t realize the role shock absorption
plays in safety. So it naturally
doesn’t seem like a big deal when the car bounces more and more as it
gets older and the struts wear out.
But shocks and struts affect much more than just the feel of your ride,
in that they help the tires maintain full contact with the road. In so doing, braking, steering, handling,
tire wear and even fuel economy are optimized. Good shocks/struts would prove
especially critical during a sudden stop or evasive maneuver, when it is most
critical to keep your tires firmly planted on the pavement. Most strut manufacturers recommend
replacement around the 80,000 kilometer mark. So it’s a pretty safe bet that if
your vehicle has 100,000+ kilometers on it, you will benefit from new shocks
and struts. In keeping with car
safety month, AML will be putting shocks and struts on sale through the month
of October, so there’s no better time than right now to get it done. See the ad at the end of this newsletter
for details and take advantage now!
Things You Need To Know
A recent fatal accident on the Gardiner Expressway brings
to mind something that usually goes unnoticed and un-talked about. That being that the tightness of your
wheels should be checked every now and then, just like you should check your
oil. It is a little known fact that
wheels can loosen over time, even though they were properly installed and
torqued during service. This is
especially true of alloy (aluminum) wheels. If you look carefully in your
owners’ manual, you can probably find some mention of this, although it
may not be especially noticeable. I
checked the manual for my new Caravan and found mention of checking wheel
tightness with other checks I should be doing periodically. Owning a torque wrench and
checking for correct wheel tightness before starting a long trip or after a
stop-over is a small but smart investment to make. Even if a torque wrench isn’t
something you want to invest in or learn to use, you can still check wheel
tightness with the tire iron that is supplied with your vehicle, at least to confirm
that the wheel nuts are not loose.
And pay attention to unusual noise or vibration while driving: if you
notice anything unusual, the first thing you should do is check the tightness
of your wheels. We will be happy to
demonstrate wheel torque procedures to anyone interested, or check your wheel
torque for you before you leave on that winter vacation.
It’s That Time of Year For…
●Shocks and Struts Actually it’s always
that time for shocks and struts, but since they’re on special
there’s no time like right now.
From September 1 through October 31, 2007 you can save on the purchase
of 4 struts and/or shocks for your car, van or SUV as AML offers our exclusive BUY 3, GET 1 FREE* event. This
is an in-house promotion and covers both AC Delco and Monroe lines only, subject to
availability. Don’t wait
‘till the last minute, as this offer won’t be extended beyond
*Installation extra. In the event that not all 4
shocks/struts are the same price, all 4 pieces will be discounted 25%.
Help make your
winter driving safe and stress-free with the purchase of 4 premium snow tires
from AML and we’ll give you 50% of on your 4-wheel alignment if done
on the same work order. Offer
expires October 31, 2007.
●Winter-Ready Checks On every vehicle we have in for service,
we will perform the following complimentary service: top up your windshield
washer fluid; test your battery and charging voltage; test your coolant’s
freeze point and level; check your oil level; check lights, horn and windshield
wipers. Note that some service
packages may include these complimentary services anyway and no cash value is
associated with them. Offer valid
throughout the fall and winter.
Our Records Once again, we’re trying to update
our customer files to include e-mails and preferences. A small part of our customer service
includes maintenance reminders and newsletters. Please let us know if you prefer to
receive these via e-mail or land mail.
Also, if you prefer not to receive anything, this will be noted on your
file so we can avoid sending you unwanted mail of any kind. Be assured that your personal
information will not be used for any purpose other than for communication
between AML and you.
Questions? Letters? Comments? We can be reached at:
AML Auto Service, 126 Laird Drive, Toronto,
Ontario, M4G 3V3.
Phone 416-423-6209; or call toll-free 1-877-955-6800
Visit our web site at amlautoservice.com
If you have any ideas for future articles or any
questions you’d like answered in or out of our newsletter, we’d
like to hear from you.