Auto Service World
Feature   November 1, 2003   by Auto Service World

The Unwon War

Even the tough betting money would have predicted, by now, that access to the electronic codes that inhabit virtually every car built in the last seven years would have been a foregone conclusion. There were the organized, robust campaigns in California and Washington, D.C. There were the declarations of victory time and time again, all south of the border of course, but they were victorious trumpetings just the same.

Seldom have so many victories been claimed in the face of ultimate defeats as in the case of the battle for access to OBD II data.

The automakers have had their fun, of course. I recall one episode where when some legislating body or other demanded access, one manufacturer responded by plunking down thousands of printed pages of computer code. The latest salvo came at Equip Auto in Paris in October. (Yes, it is a concern in Europe, too.) What I heard was that the reason why the OEMs want to protect the data is because the code is such a disorganized mess of patchwork fixes that releasing it would be too embarrassing. Uh, sure.

If it weren’t such a serious issue, it would be laughable. The fact is, though, that the independent sector in Canada continues to be at the mercy of personal relationships with dealer personnel. To rely on the employee of a competitor to surreptitiously provide the tools or diagnostic information is not a business model that I want to plan my future on.

Cooperation is important, and the original equipment service and independent sectors of the automotive aftermarket remain part of a common community in many ways, but it is a community divided markedly into the haves and the have nots. Without true, free access–in terms of availability, not cost–the independent sector risks becoming an information ghetto.

I believe that the creeping nature of the change in vehicles on the road has lulled our aftermarket into believing that it can continue to get by on an increasingly low-tech piece of the pie and ad hoc methods. Service providers across this country, faced with the tremendous costs of upgrading their equipment, too often opt to go after the other business because it is easier.

And, even if they want to pursue the diagnostic and vehicle systems business–where the money is–they are handicapped by lack of everyday exposure to it. Sometimes this means they get it wrong. Too often it means they never get the chance.

As a jobber, you are in a unique position to help remedy the problem. On the one hand, you can mobilize by contacting your associations to let them know that you think they should work to bring this issue to light. And on the other you can do what John Cochrane, our Jobber of the Year, has done: invest a chunk of money in acquiring the best tools you can and then make them available to your customers. Only by working often with these tools will they become well versed in their use, and only in this way will they see the true potential of the market.

Where we are right now is simply not good enough. I believe we need to show that we have the courage to change, starting today. Would you build a business plan that included relying on your competitor for critical information? Right now, service providers will likely deny there is a problem. That will change when their friend at the dealership starts saying no. We need to ensure access before that happens. And if the independent service providers won’t fight the battle themselves, we need to fight it for them.

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