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FTC Report Details Technological Repair Restrictions

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June 1, 2021—A report submitted to Congress by the Federal Trade Commission seeks to address some crucial roadblocks that independent repairers have when working with the newest vehicles.

Called “Nixing the Fix: An FTC Report to Congress on Repair Restrictions,” the report follows hearings and testimony about the tug of war between OEMs (and affiliated dealer service centers) and independent repair and maintenance facilities. The report sought to identify potentially unfair practices and suggest paths forward.

Trade groups like the Auto Care Association and the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association praised the report and it’s findings, which included that OEMs showed no evidence “to suggest that independent repair shops are more or less likely than authorized repair shops to compromise or misuse customer data.”

Take a closer look at some of the report’s findings that deal with newer vehicle tech and data.


Battery Replacement

Independent repairers are concerned about getting proper training and equipment to work with lithium ion batteries, the report says. 

The battery cells in these units aren’t like traditional batteries, because they can have specific and changing power demands and may not be interchangeable. There is also a risk of “thermal runaway” that leads to chemical fires, so careful handling is necessary.

Lastly, an interesting cautionary note was made about the shape and size of batteries. Lithium ion battery cells come in a standard shape denoted as “18650,” which means 18mm x 65mm. The issue is that multiple different lithium ion batteries might not be distinguishable when necessary to get the correct battery for the correct application. They also may not be currently labeled to distinguish between uses.

“Unlike the common household batteries, which come in different shapes and sizes, and are labeled by type, lithium ion batteries are the same size and shape (e.g. 18650 form factor) regardless of internal chemistry, and are not labeled by type or internal chemistry,” the report says.


Telematics

Access to telematics has been a top concern for aftermarket repairers and installers. These groups worry that OEMs are creating separate, proprietary data streams that will give dealer service centers an advantage in acquiring repair and maintenance customers.

The report quoted commentary it received from parts distributor LKQ Corp.:

“Information and advertisements sent by the vehicle manufacturer can appear on the information display[, and f]ollowing an accident, vehicle manufacturers can steer the consumer, perhaps unwittingly and at the time when they are most vulnerable, to a dealership or loyal repair facility,” the report says.


Software Locks

A related issue comes from “software locks” that control access to onboard vehicle systems. OEMs argue that they need to secure their proprietary technology and aid security, while independent repairers say that it locks them out of necessary and commonplace maintenance and repair.

Similar issues have played out in right to repair cases related to Apple and John Deere products.

One trend reported to the FTC is called “VIN burning. Here’s the description in the report:

"With VIN burning, a manufacturer can constrain a part to function with only a single car. Using the part on another vehicle would be blocked by the vehicle’s embedded software. This practice is reportedly being used by General Motors as well as a number of European luxury brands."


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