In which the American auto industry mistakes cars for Coca-Cola

Over the holidays, I got to talking to my Dad about cars.  “I brought my first car when I was sixteen,” he told me, “and it was horrible.  I had to completely take the engine to pieces and rebuild it to get it to work properly.”

The internal combustion engine is a simple beast at heart which runs on gears, grease and just a tiny spark of electricity.

For car manufactures, this is a problem.  If owners can fix their own cars, then how are they going to continue to harvest money from consumers after they leave the showroom?  Well, some bright spark came up with an answer for them:  Fixing your car may soon be a breach of copyright.

“Oooo… it’s gonna cost ya…

Having already filled the engines with so much electronics it’s beyond most owners to even diagnose problems–for which you now need a special suite of software instead of being able to simple listen to the engine–manufactures are locking trained mechanics out with anti-trust law suits.

The North County Times reports on a bill currently in the United States House Committee on Energy and Commerce which would require auto manufactures to provide all the information to diagnose and service vehicles.  Currently, that sort of information is sold for tens of thousands of dollars, changes every year, and is specific to each model of car.  The only garages able to keep up are the manufacturers own dealerships.  The utter lack of competition that creates means those dealerships can charge pretty much anything they like.

Charlie Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures, asserts:  “Coke doesn’t give away the recipe for Coke. What this bill seeks to get is the recipe for Coke.”

Which would be true, if you needed the recipe for Coke to clean the kitchen counter when you spill some.

The ‘no user-serviceable parts inside’ creep continues.  Companies aren’t expecting consumers to actually own the things they pay money for, but rather lease them on terms and conditions which they can dictate.  After Amazon took back all the Kindle copies of  Animal Farm and 1984 they’d sold, the door was open.  How long before we’re expected to hand over money for cars with expiry dates coded into their software, where we’re expected to pay an annual subscription to keep our vehicles bug-free?  (GM Motors’ swipe at Microsoft is suddenly becoming more foreboding than funny.)

You’d think hog-tying their customers and dangling them over a pit would be enough to drive the customers away from the auto companies.  The companies would realise their business model was, perhaps, not great and they would alter it to stop themselves from going bankrupt.  That’s the way capitalism works, right?  Well, when the companies are ‘too big to fail’, perhaps not.  Why bother changing their business model when the government is going to be there to clean up their mistakes?

Perhaps we should keep our clunkers and learn how to fix them instead of trading them in for tech-rich closed boxes.  After all, the best way to avoid the bully is not to play with him.

Picture from ollesvensson at Flickr, some rights reserved

Be Sociable, Share!

19 Responses to “In which the American auto industry mistakes cars for Coca-Cola”

  1. things like this reaffirm: classic cars are the way to go. sure, they’re sometimes unreliable, and sure, they might eat gas and oil…at least i don’t have to go to to stealership to get it fixed.

    after working in a Chevy service center (part of a dealership), i’ll never take another car to a dealer.

  2. Sigh. There’s another reason not to buy a modern car. I’ll settle for some vintage Aston Martin any day. 😉

  3. Forget automobiles – I’ll take a monowheel, autogyro, or even a dirigible from here on forward!

  4. -Sigh-. Never have a car that isn’t older than you. I’ve got a 1982 VW Rabbit diesel (ah, superior German engineering. and overly convoluted.) My husband has the 1981 VW Caddy version. There’s a bio-diesel pump in Wilson, which is about 30 minutes away from us. We get 38-43 miles per gallon. The ’73 Mercedes got like… 13. On a good day. When she was in a good mood.

    Honestly, I’ve never thought that auto shops (including dealer shops) should be able to fix ANYTHING they find wrong with a car. Too many stories of people getting unnecessary expensive repairs.

  5. […] Conijn has been traveling around Europe in his very steampunk-able car. After Dylan’s post on the evils of the auto industry, a custom wooden car definitely sounds like a good idea to […]

  6. Since the American “Big Three” (except Ford) are rapidly getting out of the auto manufacturing biz, I’m astounded that the majority stakeholders (ummm, that would be citizens of the US) aren’t requiring idled production capacity to be turned toward manufacturing wind turbines (just a big alternator, right?)

  7. Very interesting post about this on our forum, by Soyuz:

    The gist is that, in order to undercut each other’s prices, the car companies cut the showroom price and made their money back on warranties and repairs. That makes them dependent on the money from the repairs to make a profit on each car, and they’re going to protect those profits come hell or high water, common sense or legal rulings.

    Head over there and give it a read.

  8. I have a 1964 Dodge step van that weighs 4600lbs.
    It gets 20+ MPG, better than my ’99 Ram van.
    I can stand up in the step van and it has twice as much work room.
    PLUS, I can fix ANYTHING that goes wrong on the step van.
    They can keep their new cars.

  9. […] # What happens when we can’t fix our own cars? […]

  10. Besides the bit about the car, the other main point is that we are now moving to a “rent to not own” economy. Car leases, phones, computers, e-readers, video games, and car radios are all becoming dependent on you paying a monthly fee and agreeing not to change anything. Try modding that Xbox or iPhone and see what happens.

  11. Most people ALSO don’t know that some companies own patents on human cells in YOUR OWN bodies! I other words, it’s getting to where not only will you have to rent or lease everything, you ALSO don’t really own the rights to your body, now. This is FACT. I think they used to call this slavery, back in history…
    I just wonnder how long people will CONTINUE to put up with this or will they light their torches and sharpen their pitchforks instead?

  12. Interesting, that idea has been picked up and the reaction to it is developing it’s own culture. Have a look into ‘biopunk’ (, Steampunk’s GM cousin as I like to think of it.

  13. It really doesn’t surprise me the direction that the auto industry is taking and am not surprised if the industry moved to a rent to not-own mentality. I’d love to assemble my own vehicle but I think the registration issues are built to be defeating. Perhaps we should look at this?

  14. What are the legal definitions of a taxworthy roadworthy vehicle? What leeway do we have for inventing our own transportation and driving it, legally? How outre could you get, technologically and artistically?

  15. Capitalistic society supports this type of behavior, as it is based around a scarcity based economic model. Communism is no answer either as it too is based upon a superficial monetary system. A Technocracy is the only answer to handle an economy that is reliant on the machine. Though the Technocratic Government model has not entirely been ironed out the base theory is superior to every other form of governmental system when coupled with a Thermo-economic model. Anyone is interested in further information concerning Technocracy related information may contact me at I am also open to other vantage points concerning this matter and would love to have feedback.

  16. The manufactures are even taking over the auto auction process.

  17. awww… just when those Jeep commercials were making me feel all warm, fuzzy, and patriotic…whatever happened to making things that would withstand the tests of time… whatever happened to pride in your handiwork… whatever happened to gentleman… whatever happened to honor… whatever happened to men of substance… blah… now I am disgusted and sad… greed…who wants to live for money?

  18. i need a new car!

  19. awesome i want one

Leave a Reply