Rising car theft could really hurt right to repair

by | Feb 23, 2024 | 0 comments

Right to repair has indisputable benefits for the car owning public, but recent high profile moves to fight rampant car theft might have a dampening effect on the push to get it through Canada’s parliament.

At least that’s according to David Booth, whose “Motor Mouth” columns have are among the most prevocative and thoughful discussions around vehicle cyber security, the rise in vehicle theft, and how automakers see things.

Canada is now in the throes of fighting a massive increase in car theft, with a significant international trade in stolen vehicles spurring govenment and law enforcement to put unprecedented coordinated efforts at play.

Speaking on The Great Canadian Aftermarket Podcast, Booth–who also spent considerable years as editor of the long-gone Canadian Automotive Trade magazine, writing about and for Canadian shops long before his more high profile commentaries—said that automakers will use those concerns to fight back agains access to repair information.

“The automakers have been trying to prevent the right to repair; they were even doing it 30 years ago in my day. And they came up with all manner of reasons, but the real reason at the time was they just wanted to drive work to their own dealership service centres, as opposed to having it go after the warranty went out.

“I forget what the numbers were, but like in the fifth year they lost 60% of their business. I don’t remember exactly, but it was a number like that again, back in my day. I don’t know what it is now. but now they’re doing it from a security aspect.

“And the issue there is, while I’m certain that at least part of the motivation is to get money in their service centres, they’ve got a legitimate concern because, right now we’ve got the stealing of key fobs and the Intercept and all that other stuff.

“The stealing of the future is one guy in Russia makes a tool that can get into 10 million cars.”

Booth says that a recent guest of his on a webinar he hosted–a super hacker of sorts–detailed how access to vehicles with ill intent is easy. How getting in through infotainment systems have weaknesses that allow access. Additionally, some vehicles–Booth noted some specific models–were particulalry vulnerable to CAN Bus hacking.

“You could go to them, pop off the headlight, pop off the trim on the left hand side, pull below the wire, connect to it, get into the CAN Bus, okay? And pretend you had a key, it was that simple. It took minutes. The, now you needed a tool, right? You know what the tool was? Somebody took a JBL Bluetooth speaker. They added a $10 chip, some minor reprogramming. That’s what it took.”

Adding that this vulnerability has been corrected, Booth says that the what consumer want in their vehicles is complicating issues.

“Everybody wants the right to repair their car. Everybody wants more convenience apps and all these connectivities to the car, which is the weakness that these [criminals] exploit. Those wireless over-the-air connections that start your car. That’s what they exploit. But not everybody wants their car stolen. So you can have two, you can’t have all three, right?

And so,he says, right to repair is going to become more an important subject, especially in a world where cars are expected to have some 500 million lines of code, where any rules would be difficult to enforce, and difficult for decisions makers to understand.

“It’s going to be become a complicated discussion that will not be easy to put in front of people. It will be difficult to enforce, and it will be really difficult to motivate people unless you can as the, your industry and mine used to be, can motivate people by saying, “Look, I can’t fix your car.””

This is a particular concern as EVs come to the forefront.

“How many times have we read headlines where somebody’s gone to a dealer, a Nissan Leaf battery needs replacing. The car’s worth $10,000, and they want 30,000 bucks for it. Okay? That’s where they need a strong, healthy,independent service industry. And as you know, right now, there’s not that many 10-year-old EVs with their batteries blowing up, but it’s going to become something. We need an independent, service repair industry to be able to take care of everybody that just can’t go, “Oh, well, my Tesla broke. I’ll buy another one.”

Booth says that the impact on employement if automakers are successful in quashing right to repair is also a major concern.

“It’s important to talk about, We can’t have all these technicians losing their jobs, but more importantly, the huge cost if we leave everything in the automaker’s hands, the continuation of those $30,000 batteries for a $10,000 car will be in the future, and how many of them there will be. It’s really important.”

Listen to the full podcast here


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