Many people have long been frustrated with the fact that cars are ever-more complicated, often with proprietary equipment somewhere that requires them to go to an expensive dealership — where they may or may not receive fair and honest treatment — for their car repairs. As our cars age, many of us start doing certain repairs at home, depending on our expertise. The ability to do car repairs at home is one of the reasons cars remain affordable for many people, but now, the automakers want to change that.
According to an article on “AutoBlog,” their justification for trying to stop home repairs and third-party modifications comes from a provision in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Section 1201 of the DMCA contains provisions regarding circumventing technology that protects copyrighted work. Every three years, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress hold hearings to determine who and what should be exempt from Section 1201. An exemption does not mean that those who are exempt can violate intellectual property law carte blanche, though.
The automakers’ main lobbyists say that cars have become too complex for gearheads and third parties to handle, according to the “AutoBlog” piece. The comments they’ve filed for this year’s hearing period argue that the risks of allowing car enthusiasts access to critical functions like steering, throttle control and braking, far outweigh any benefits that these people have.
Do they have an actual, valid safety concern here? Maintenance and repairs performed at home don’t really account for very many accidents as it is. In fact, mechanical failure in a car plays a role in maybe 12 to 13 percent of accidents, but it’s not always the sole factor in those cases. Furthermore, such crashes are most often due to maintenance that hasn’t been done, rather than maintenance or repairs that someone did on their own.
Basically, the automakers are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t really exist. They’re pushing for something that could potentially make it even harder for people to ensure their cars are safe on the road by making maintenance and repair more expensive than ever.
They’re fear-mongering in a very insidious way. To the uninitiated, it might make a certain amount of sense that they would worry amateur repairers and enthusiasts would make, say, a coding error that causes the brakes to malfunction or steering to fail. On the other hand, do-it-yourself repairs on cars have been happening for a very long time. One could make the argument that a side benefit of increased complexity and corresponding proprietary equipment is that this actually traps consumers into shelling out more money for repairs than they really need to.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation published an article titled, “Automakers Say You Don’t Really Own Your Car.” At the moment, Section 1201 of the DMCA could be construed to restrict the ability of home repairers and third-party mechanics to modify the computer code. What they want is for that to become etched in stone.
The EFF lists some other concerns from the automakers, too, which include things like pirating music and hacking the systems altogether. Can they possibly get any more ridiculous in their stated objections to an exemption?
It is important to note that the automakers actually don’t see much profit from the service of cars, though. They might be trying to help bolster the profits of their dealerships, which are generally independently owned and make little to no profit on selling new cars. Dealerships get most of their money from things like warranties, financing and yes, repairs.
So, is it possible that the automakers are under pressure from the dealerships to do something about home repairs? Maybe. They don’t really have much of a voice of their own. Regardless, this smacks more of profiteering somewhere in that chain, rather than legitimate concerns about safety.
Featured image by Minesweeper. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons