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US legislation might force dealership visits

Labeling vehicles mobile devices may prevent maintenance by owners, independent garages

Published: April 26, 2015, 2:25 AM
Updated: May 1, 2015, 4:57 PM

Checking Oil

Weekend mechanics be warned: according to an online report, it may soon be illegal in the U.S. to perform maintenance work on your new vehicles.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization committed to defending online civil liberties such as user privacy and free expression in the digital world, is reporting that companies such as General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen (the world’s top three sellers) are supporting legislation that may in essence label the vehicles they produce as mobile devices, under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), and possibly prevent anybody but authorized company representatives from working on them.

The justification is that today’s vehicles are so sophisticated that having unlicensed personnel dealing with them could compromise safety and security systems.

For example, having access to computer codes could allow owners to modify mileage or repair history, leading to misleading information for buyers when it comes time to sell the vehicle in the used car market. The other concern is that as cars become mobile WiFi hotspots, it might allow tampering to pirate music, as an example, which would infringe on copyright. Even accessing the computer code might give unwanted access to how the vehicle works, companies such as BMW, John Deere and Mitsubishi claim, which could lead to hacking of security systems.

The EFF claims that protecting vehicles under the DMCA is unnecessary because the potential problems are all covered under other existing legislation, such as intellectual property protection, piracy provisions and even theft.

Further, it argues that making it illegal for people to make their personal property work better at altitude or on a race track, or simply to perform their own maintenance, is an individual decision, and the owner should be able to willing give up warranty protection in order to do so.

Opponents to the move say that including vehicles in the DCMA would essentially mean people don’t own their vehicles but are simply buying the rights to use the technology inherent in them for an extended period.

The EFF is petitioning the copyright office to deny the action and is asking anybody who has had trouble accessing the codes on their vehicles, or had a mechanic unable to fix a vehicle due to not having codes, to contact the foundation.