WASHINGTON-Auto aftermarket representatives are ecstatic over implementation of an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that vehicle manufacturers must give independent repair shops access to on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems and emissions-related information. At the same time, they are protesting the state of California's request for additional anti-tampering protections for OBD computer chips. Those protections, they say, will restrict OBD access for independent auto technicians.
The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 require OBD systems for emissions equipment on 1994 and later vehicles. At the request of the aftermarket, the EPA later issued a Service Information Rule requiring automakers to make available to technicians ``any and all information'' needed to make use of OBD systems.
``By implementing the Service Information Rule, EPA meets the wishes of.*.*.*the technician who was often left in the dark about certain repair processes, and the consumer who demands a choice when obtaining repairs,'' said Alfred L. Gaspar, president of the Automotive Parts & Accessories Association, at a Dec. 19 press conference.
Mr. Gaspar was accompanied at the conference by Donald Seyfer, chairman-elect of the Automotive Service Association; Aaron Lowe, APAA senior director of regulatory and government affairs; and Paul Melton of the Commerce Department's National Technical Information Service.
Mary Nichols, EPA assistant administrator for air and radiation, was absent due to the government furlough which began Dec. 18.
The NTIS, through its FedWorld on-line information network, will make automakers' OBD information available to independent repair shops via computer, according to Mr. Melton. Technicians may either download the information directly from FedWorld or access it via any computer service that serves the auto repair industry.
When asked about access to OBD systems for technicians without computers, Mr. Melton said: ``We are certainly entertaining the idea of paper distribution or a fax-on-demand service, though we haven't done that yet. We could work with the vehicle manufacturers to develop it, but when it's the paper side of our operation, we have to bring in the expertise of others.''
Meanwhile, California has asked the EPA's permission to require extra soldering, potting and encryption techniques to restrict access to OBD computer chips on vehicles sold in California.
The state wants these protections to prevent potential tampering with the chips, allowing faulty emissions equipment to escape detection.
Unfortunately, according to the aftermarket, extra soldering, potting and encryption will also render it difficult, if not impossible, to run in the vehicle an OBD program which is not the manufac-turer's original.
``Vehicle manufacturers will only design and build one OBD system for use nationally in a vehicle model,'' wrote ASA Washington Representative Robert L. Redding in comments to the EPA.
``If the California regulations stand, that vehicle will contain devices and other program characteristics that defeat aftermarket efforts to participate in its service and repair.''
The agency is expected to rule on California's petition in the late winter or early spring. If it grants the waiver, the aftermarket reportedly will face a choice of suing the EPA, suing California, seeking legislation to overturn the waiver, or a combination of the three.