A petition on Change.org demands that Congress change US law to give consumers greater control over vehicle data. While the petition is run by an industry group with an interest in the outcome of this debate, it does raise important points about consumer rights and future repair costs. However, there needs to be more discussion of the privacy implications of vehicle data.
The petition (and accompanying campaign website) outlines several of the reasons vehicle owners should be concerned about who controls their vehicle’s data. When automakers have full control, owners don’t have the ability to decide which repair shops and other businesses have access. In some cases, it could discourage owners from choosing an independent repair shop for out-of-warranty vehicles, or not even be aware that anybody but the dealer could help.
It should be obvious why this situation would concern the Autocare Association, an industry group representing independent repair shops, and the petition’s backer. If manufacturers funnel customers to dealers and do things to discourage owners from using local shops, it could hit that whole part of the industry in the pocketbook.
That having been said, the concerns they raise are valid. While independent repair of battery EVs is not yet common, the more established hybrid repair industry does show us how this could go. When the relatively small battery pack on a Toyota Prius throws error codes, many owners think that only a Toyota dealer’s service department can fix it. Replacing the hybrid battery pack costs thousands of dollars, usually above $3,000.
Owners who seek out independent repair shops find much lower costs with refurbished batteries and cell replacements, often spending under $1,000 for the repair, with a warranty. Those willing and able to do the repair themselves often spend far less, sometimes as little as $100 to replace the faulty cells.
Given this, and the generally well known high costs of repairs at dealers, it’s not hard to see why many automotive enthusiasts call service departments a “stealership.” Independent repair shops and DIY fixes are a great way for owners to save money, especially on older vehicles that are out of warranty.
A Concern Not Raised
The other issue that the petition and campaign only briefly mentions are the privacy implications, especially of driver behavior data.
For example, Tesla still plans in the future to offer lower-cost insurance to owners willing to let Tesla share that information to insurers. While that would be strictly opt-in and voluntary, many fear a future where it’s either required to give up your driving data or too expensive to opt out of such sharing. The National Motorists Association points out other issues, like the use of vehicle data to incriminate drivers or possibly regular checks on vehicle data to force motorists to automatically be billed for all driving infractions.
If vehicle owners have legal control of all vehicle data, these concerns can be balanced by the owner on their terms. For example, the owner might want to get lower insurance rates by voluntarily sharing that data and could do so, while those choosing to not share that data (or have it recorded at all) can have legal protections from price gouging if a majority of other drivers do something different.
The overall point is that drivers can have their data protected while not being deprived of the benefits of the vehicle’s data through an “opt-in” arrangement instead of an “opt-out” system (assuming one can even opt out at all).
Either way, the petition and the campaign are worth a look for anyone concerned about these issues.
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