Skip to content

Whose data is it anyway?

The tide is turning in the struggle between OEMs and independent garages over access to vehicle data, but there’s still a long way to go, writes Stuart James, Director of the UK’s Independent Garage Association

The Ricardo report on access to vehicle repair and maintenance information (RMI) commissioned by the EU was published at the end of 2014. The findings, based on ‘real world’ experiences of independent operators, confirmed the long held view of trade bodies that although the levels of access to information, training and equipment are improving, “certain obstacles are still apparent to varying degrees depending on the OEM”. As a result, there is still some way to go to achieve “non-discriminatory” access to information across the EU.

The right of access to information for independent operators was originally defined in principle under the “Block Exemption” regulations of 2002 and refined by the “Euro 5” regulations in 2007. However, although the consumer now has a legally defined freedom of choice in his selection of a garage to service and repair his car, that garage still faces a number of restrictions in its ability to do so.

One of the major problems identified by the Ricardo report is that there is a “wide variation in user interfaces and software compatibility for OEM websites” which means that “independent operators have had difficulties in accessing information – yet most of the OEMs interviewed firmly believe they fully comply with the requirements of the Regulations”.

The report acknowledges that the introduction of ISO 18541, which standardises access to repair and maintenance information, will address many of the issues. However, manufacturers responding to the survey reported an implementation time of around three years to be fully compliant. This means that it will not be before 2018 that principles laid down in 2002 will turn into reality for independent operators in Europe.

ETAS vehicle communication interfaceThese differences in interfaces and software provide a particular challenge to independent operators who may need to access many different manufacturer websites during a working week – and currently there is no easy way to do this with a single PC. This is one reason why third party data suppliers are popular with independent garages, as their interface is consistent across brands, even if their coverage is incomplete. Even after information is accessed, there is no single third party diagnostic device which can provide manufacturer levels of access to the vehicle for all the brands likely to be encountered in the independent garage.

However, there may be good news on the horizon for independent operators in Europe as the continued delays in standardising access to information have led to efforts to achieve the same thing by third party means. In this respect, the Euro-DFT project appears promising. As well as a single PC solution to access various manufacturer websites for information, it provides a new VCI (Vehicle Communications Interface) that achieves 100% compatibility with the manufacturer’s communication with the vehicle – across a number of vehicle brands. Work is under way to extend the number of vehicle brands which are compatible with the system.

As well as assessing the current situation, the Ricardo report looks forward in respect of both monitoring the ongoing compliance by the manufacturers, and keeps a weather eye on the introduction of new technologies such as telematics which fundamentally change the relationship between the manufacturer of a vehicle and its owner. The principle of non-discriminatory access to information for the independent operator must apply whatever the communication method with the vehicle itself, and the “privileged access” to the driver that the manufacturer will enjoy must not be used to reduce consumer choice in the arena of service and repair.

There is some good news for independent operators in Europe: ISO 18541 does more than simply standardise the access to RMI, it also describes the SERMI (SEcurity related Repair and Maintenance Information) scheme which provides for the accreditation, approval and authorisation of independent operators to allow those that meet the rightly stringent integrity requirements to have access to all areas of a vehicle’s systems, including security. It is possible that the SERMI standard will be formally adopted in the second quarter of 2015 and RMI Standards and Certification in the UK is poised to be in the vanguard of European bodies accrediting independent operators to the SERMI scheme under ISO 18541.

There’s still a long way to go until independent operators can truly provide multi-brand service and repair to consumers in the EU – but with changes set to occur in 2015, that time is beginning to get considerably closer.­­­­­­

Stuart James

This article appeared in the Q1 2015 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.

Welcome back , to continue browsing the site, please click here