One of the most critical issues facing the automobile aftermarket today is the ability of technicians to access service information, programming files and security codes on motor vehicles and light duty trucks being built by automakers.
Without access to this information, it will become increasingly difficult for the aftermarket to offer services new car dealerships can, thereby limiting a consumer’s options as to where they can get their vehicle repaired and serviced.
Why does this matter? If the owner of a 2010 Honda Civic, for example, comes into an aftermarket-service garage (one not associated with an automaker) because their check engine light is on, the technician can perform a diagnosis and look up a code on a diagnosis chart to find out what failed. If it was an issue with the engine control module, the technician can buy the module, install it and program it. But when that technician goes to the Honda website so they can purchase a security code that will allow the vehicle to run again, they will get a message that, “Security codes are not available for Canadian vehicles.” Instead, the car needs to be towed to a Honda dealership and they will need to program the security code so the Civic will start again.
Or, in the case of a Mercedes Benz SL300 with a check engine light issue, the technician is able to set up an account with the automaker, but no codes or diagnostic information will be available to them. Again, the car will probably wind up at a dealership.
To effectively diagnose, repair and service a modern vehicle, a technician needs to be able to access service information that includes operational theory, trouble code procedures and wiring diagrams of the various systems installed.
The technician also needs access to programming files so that when modules and computers are installed, they can program the component and mate it to the vehicle. They also need security access so that the new parts can be synced into the vehicle’s security system, otherwise a vehicle will not start.
All of these issues are currently part of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario’s (AARO) Repair It Right initiative.
Fifteen years ago, Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, the Global Automakers of Canada, the National Automotive Trades Association and the Automotive Industries Association of Canada (AIA) agreed to provide these services and repair information through an agreement called the Canadian Automotive Service Information Standards (CASIS). Initially the agreement, which did not include vehicle security, worked well but there was little oversight and no mechanism in place to deal with manufacturer’s that were not compliant.
A decade ago, the associations agreed to voluntarily add security codes to the agreement, however this was a word-of-mouth agreement and not formally added to CASIS. Most automakers complied, but Honda, Toyota and Mercedes Benz did not. (Some, such as Ford and GM, have done a good job allowing the aftermarkets to access the information we need.)
This is where we are at today. The AARO, the AIA and other organization have been working to address these problems but have made little progress over the last 10 years. What we are trying to do is align the Canadian aftermarket more with the one in the U.S. through the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which has better access to information. So far, the Repair It Right initiative has made little progress with Canadian auto manufacturers, particularly regarding security codes.
One of the excuses that we hear repeatedly from those automakers is that releasing security codes to the aftermarket is not secure. Let’s be clear, any aftermarket technician accessing security codes from a manufacturer must be certified by the NASTF, which includes a police records check and vetting just to be able to get the code. This is a much higher level of vetting than dealership technicians are held to, as they are not checked or vetted at all.
Additionally, we are supporting Bill C-272, a Private Member’s Bill that calls on the Copyright Act to be amended to allow for the circumvention of a technological restrictions or digital locks put in place by manufacturers so they can be repaired by others, as it works its way through Parliament. A legislated solution would be the best solution, but this is more of a long-term fix while the problem is current.
There is no practical reason for the auto manufacturer’s to not supply the information we are looking for other than to control where their vehicles are being repaired. As newer vehicles leave the dealer network and find their way into aftermarket service bays this problem is getting worse. Service technicians increasingly rely on system information to be able to diagnose and repair modern vehicles.
Mark Lemay is the owner of Auto Aide Technical Services a company in Barrie that provides technical training and diagnostic services to the aftermarket. He is a board member of the Automotive Aftermarket Retailers of Ontario (AARO) as well as the chair of the AARO Repair it Right Committee.