Electric vehicle repairs down the road could be costly and difficult to find, says mechanic
Calls for automobile right-to-repair legislation are increasing as EVs change the game for service
With electric vehicles becoming increasingly popular — especially as gas prices soar — industry experts say future repairs could be costly and harder to access unless automakers provide service information to independent mechanics.
Information on how to repair many parts of EVs is currently limited, with manufacturers preferring drivers service their vehicles at dealerships, said Emily Chung, an independent mechanic and owner of AutoNiche in Markham, Ont.
"All the manufacturers, their [fuel-powered] engines are pretty much the same," she said. "We understand the basics, it's just the plumbing around it that is different."
"When it comes to EV technology, though, every manufacturer does it differently and there's no standardized way to do this."
That means mechanics like Chung can do basic maintenance, such as replacing brakes and swapping tires, on EVs — but not service the complex, high-voltage systems that drive electrified vehicles.
"That's like telling me to operate on a body to which I have no idea where any of the organs are placed," she said.
Ultimately, this lack of information from automakers could mean less choice — and higher prices — for consumers taking their EVs in for annual checkups, she warned. Requiring a trip to the dealer for service could also prove tricky for people who live in rural parts of the country.
But there may be good reasons why manufacturers choose to withhold that information, said Peter Frise, a professor of mechanical and automotive engineering at the University of Windsor in Ontario.
Cars are increasingly computerized, relying on software to control everything from the air conditioning to throttle, he told Cross Country Checkup. Self-driving and safety features make those systems even more complex.
"The number of lines of software code are much, much larger in a typical electric vehicle than they are in the space shuttle," said Frise.
"If you do the wrong thing with some of these repairs, the vehicle will behave erratically…. You could get unexpected results like unanticipated acceleration or impaired braking performance or impaired steering performance."
In the event of an accident, he said automakers, rather than individual mechanics, could be liable.
Right-to-repair legislation needed, says MP
The concerns highlight long-standing questions about who is allowed to repair the products that consumers buy and own.
Tech companies, like Apple, have faced public and government scrutiny over the repairability of devices like smartphones and computers for years. The iPhone maker began offering official repair manuals and parts for consumers to self-repair certain devices earlier this year.
Chung says it's a similarly "huge issue" facing car owners.
In Canada, no legislation requires automakers to share documentation and diagnostic tools with third-party mechanics.
However, an existing voluntary agreement, reached in 2009 by stakeholders in the auto services sector and automakers, makes documentation and tools for maintaining vehicles available to independent mechanics. Mechanics typically pay the manufacturers for access to the maintenance information.
But the agreement doesn't address many of the digital elements of modern vehicles.
"The voluntary agreement either needs to be amended or it needs to be made into a permanent solution, because right now, even groups like Tesla are not even registering into the voluntary agreement," said Brian Masse, a member of Parliament for Windsor West in Ontario.
Masse proposed automotive right-to-repair legislation earlier this year that would require major manufacturers to share the software and training they use to service their vehicles.
The MP says such legislation is important for public safety as some drivers may put off repairs if their vehicles aren't serviceable by a local mechanic.
Masse's legislation is awaiting a sponsor in the House of Commons.
Information availability varies between automakers
Tesla, as one example, has made its diagnostic "Toolbox" available to third-party service providers for a fee, while documentation including service manuals and wiring diagrams are free. CBC Radio has reached out to Tesla for comment.
But the availability of service information varies from one manufacturer to another, said Chung.
Manufacturers' concerns about safety and security are reasonable, she said, but the mechanic believes that they can work together to find solutions.
"We don't want just anybody coming into this system and messing with it, and then all of a sudden these cars are getting into unsafe situations," Chung told Checkup.
She wants to see legislation that would require automakers to provide this information to independent mechanics. Without it, she worries consumers will end up bearing the costs.
"At the end of the day, let's be honest, the consumers are the ones who's going to pay for this," Chung said.
Written by Jason Vermes with files from Steve Howard.