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Car servicing and the Hippocratic Oath

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Car manufacturers spend millions every year on developing systems and software that keep new cars on the road.

Therefore, it is not surprising that they might be motivated to take steps to protect their intellectual property.

Hollywood and record companies have taken a financial battering because of the unlawful downloading of movies and music, so why wouldn’t car companies try to maintain ownership of their data.

But, by refusing to share all of this information, owners have to take their vehicles back to the dealer for even the most basic of repairs.

I’ve experienced how annoying this is first-hand when my car simply got a flat battery.

My vehicle lowers the windows slightly when the doors open, so when my car senses low voltage from the battery my windows just keep coming down.

Not so good if it’s raining, or you want to secure the vehicle because you can’t get it started

Fortunately, my roadside assist got me going again, but they couldn’t reset the airbag warning light, which is the default warning for any fault with my vehicle.

So off to the dealer I went for half a day, and paid $100 for the service light to be re-set.

But there are lots of places in Australia that don’t have a dealer for every type of vehicle on the road.

And, in a key difference from movie and music piracy, independent repairers have always offered to pay for the use of the information.

But that still hasn’t produced consensus between the manufacturers/importers represented by FCAI (Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries), the dealers represented by AADA (Australian Automotive Dealer Association) and the independent repairers represented by AAAA (Australian Automotive After-market Association).

FCAI and AADA last month pointed out that a 2012 review by CCAAC (Commonwealth Consumer Affairs Advisory Council) found that “there does not appear to be any evidence of systemic consumer detriment regarding the sharing of service and repair information in the automotive industry”.

From that you might infer that it was all sorted. But CCAAC also recommended that, “the automotive industry develop, within a reasonable period of time, an outcome that ensures there is a process for independent repairers to access repair information”.

Two years later that still hasn’t occurred, and the FCAI and AADA still claim that they are “the only organisations that appear to be making progress on this matter” with a voluntary code.

AAAA have fired back with accusations that FCAI has “walked away from the negotiation table”, and that the voluntary code is “biased and inadequate”.

FCAI have accused AAAA of “abandoning the process” – a little unfair, I feel, when they released the voluntary code without consulting the other parties.

AAAA say that restricting access to the information is anti-competitive and restricts the owner’s choice of repairer.

As a peace offering, the VACC (Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce) has offered to make their extensive repair information library available to all independent repairers in Australia.

Apparently, the VACC call centre currently answers 98 per cent of received technical inquiries.

AADA say that, “it’s therefore difficult to understand what repair information AAAA wants, which is not readily available at a small cost, or provided as part of being a VACC member”.

That all looks like smoke and mirrors to me, because AAAA have clearly said that they, “are seeking access to the information, tools and training required to diagnose faults, repair and maintain today’s technically complex vehicles under ‘fair and reasonable’ commercial terms”.

And just getting back to that 98 per cent figure regarding answers to technical inquiries, I’d bet that the remaining 2 per cent relates to information about the flux capacitor, which we all know is a very important component in modern cars.

While I’m not a betting man, I’m putting my money on the little guys at AAAA, who have said that, “as these are the same multinational car companies operating in the Australian market, we must ask the FCAI: ‘Why do you believe Australian consumers do not deserve the same rights as car owners in Europe and North America?’”

As doctors, we are spared these silly arguments about who owns the fleas on the dog.

After all, the Hippocratic Oath states that, “I will teach them my art without reward or agreement; and I will impart all my acquirements, instructions, and whatever I know, to my master’s children, as to my own; and likewise to all my pupils, who shall bind and tie themselves by a professional oath, but to none else”.

Enough said!

Safe motoring,

Doctor Clive Fraser