Strengths, weaknesses shared by 150 independent technicians who took part in the audit.
OEM websites are well organized and a helpful resource for information, according to the results of an audit conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These same sites, though, are not without their problems, the auditors add.
In 2003, the EPA finalized regulations that required OEMs to share on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems and emissions-related repair information on 1996 or newer vehicles via full-text websites. As part of an effort to evaluate each of the 26 automakers' websites, the EPA gathered valuable input from 150 independent technician volunteers. It is important to note that the audit covered access to emissions-related repair information only.
An executive summary of the audit reports that, "in most cases, auditors indicated that the OEM websites serve as an excellent resource for obtaining the information or guidance they need and are relatively well organized with helpful search and navigation features." Several auditors did comment, however, on the differences between each website's navigation features, which they say make it more time-consuming to find what they're looking for. It was also problematic that some of the sites didn't include key word search mechanisms.
John Millett, press officer for the EPA, says these issues were common themes among most of the websites, but they will be easy to address with the automakers.
Bob Redding, the Washington representative for the Automotive Service Association (ASA), believes the results are very helpful. "These sites we think are good and will continue to improve. They aren't going to be perfect for us," but they also aren't perfect for their dealerships either, says Redding.
He believes the issue of techs obtaining service information is being resolved by an industry effort championed by the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). He thinks the audit results, which fared on the favorable side, are proof of that. "Go back pre-2001, all this information was not on the Internet. There weren't working groups talking about what's missing and what isn't."
Redding tells us that NASTF and automakers meet regularly regarding access to repair and service information. "We have weekly meetings with them and they query us as to what's working and what could work."
Though there is no regulation set for what OEMs can charge for emissions-related data, we're told most automakers offer three options for access. Costs range from being free (Hyundai) to being overly expensive. Volvo charges $8,000 per year for access. Ford, Acura and Audi charge about $20 for a 72-hour timeframe. Honda and Acura charge $50 for one month. BMW, Chrysler and Ford charge between $200 and $300 per month.
For an independent shop that services several vehicle makes and models, this could get pricey. The cost of longer-term subscriptions is one reason most auditors noted that they primarily use aftermarket sources, like ALLDATA, for gathering repair information.
Some of the auditors, who were set up with free access to the automaker sites for the audit, noted that they'd like to see per minute and per hour subscriptions. The sites that offered data on a per document basis were rated as less favorable.
Holly Pugliese with the EPA says that the audit "verified to EPA that more work needs to be done on the consistent availability of pass-through reprogramming, OBD Mode 6 data and OBD system monitor information for nearly every manufacturer." Overall, however, they were pleased with the findings and found no large-scale areas of concern. The EPA says they will continue to work with each automaker to address these issues.
Aaron Lowe, vice president of government affairs for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), says, "The audit just enforces the fact that legislative efforts do work," because automakers are required by law to have the emissions-related information posted online. Lowe, a member of the audit's steering committee, says the car companies were "extremely restrictive on how the audit was carried out.
"Any lesson to be learned from these audits (is) if the aftermarket doesn't stay politically active, the aftermarket doesn't get results." In the case of the emissions information, OEMs are doing what they are required to do by law, he adds. "It took a law to make this happen on the emissions side."
The EPA, which takes a neutral stance when it comes to the Right to Repair Act, has yet to decide if they plan to conduct more audits in the future. "We are going to learn a lot from this process and any lessons learned will be taken and applied in the future, but whether we go through a formal audit again or not is too soon to say," explains Millett.
Lowe says, "I applaud them for at least looking to make sure (the OEMs) are doing the right things...it was a good first step."