Aftermarket parts and service providers, including rebuild-ers, are being increasingly stymied by their inability to obtain vital diagnostic and repair information about the vehicles or parts they are servicing. Whether the information is totally unavailable, provided only after much searching or inquiry or available but uneconomically priced, the effect is to deny the provider the ability to repair the vehicle or to repair or manufacture the part needed to complete the repair. While always a problem, the availability of information through third party providers and trade association technical departments helped to offset stoppages in the flow of information from the vehicle manufacturers.
However, due to the increasing proliferation of part numbers, the sometimes frustrating complexity of the engines and other parts in new vehicles, and the need for many parts to coordinate their functions more closely with other parts in the same system, more information in greater detail is needed. At the same time, computer controls and coding, vehicle security systems and sometimes extensive claims by manufacturers that information is proprietary, have combined to restrict access to vital information.
No better example of the barricades which can be erected to impede information access is the requirement contained in the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments that all light duty vehicles be equipped with on-board-diagnostic (OBD) systems. OBD systems allow for repairs to be made sooner because the malfunction or deterioration of parts monitored by the system is known at any earlier time. But, for a service technician to adequately correct problems identified by these systems, he must be able to access the information stored in the on-board computer and to obtain sufficient additional information to allow him to understand the computer output and adequately diagnose and repair the problem. Parts manufacturers and rebuilders must also have sufficient information to ensure that their parts function in a fashion which will not arbitrarily cause the OBD system to register a malfunction.
Fortunately, the same legislation which created the OBD system requirement also created the framework for providing information access to aftermarket providers. The law itself mandates information access, at least for those doing service and repair, but left the details of what was to be provided and how it was to be provided to EPA.