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104 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Have You Heard About OBD III?

With the recent approval of regulations governing on-board diagnostics (OBD) information availability, the Automotive Service Association (ASA) as been pleased with the cooperation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the development of information transfer to repairers. ASA was a strong advocate of independent service shop owners and technicians having access to the same information accessible to new car dealers. The EPA protected these rights in its draft information availability rule and in the final rule published last summer.

One area of concern has been the recent discussion surrounding a waiver of federal preemption to permit California to implement its own OBD regulations. The serious question for independent repairers has been whether our rights will be protected as strongly as in the federal regulations. This is an issue ASA is discussing with regulators and other members of the aftermarket. ASA will make a decision in the near future as to a California strategy on the waiver.

As the OBD II (federal OBD uses the same basic technical standards as California OBD II) debate comes to a close, speculation is already mounting about an OBD III concept in California. OBD III is being discussed as a program to minimize the delay between the detection of an emissions malfunction by the OBD II system and the actual repair of the vehicle.

This includes a reading of stored OBD II information from in-use vehicles and the direction to owners of vehicles with fault codes to make immediate repairs. In this concept, faults are picked up by a monitoring technology and reported to a regulator, and the vehicle owner is then directed to get further testing and possible repairs.

The debate over controlling vehicle emissions may soon move from what type of testing facilities and test methods are most effective to the complete on-board cycle of fault detection, notification and follow-up testing and repair being discussed in the OBD-III concept.

What types of technology can be used to detect and relay data pertaining to emissions malfunctions? Options include roadside readers, local station networks or satellites. The roadside reader has been tested by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) since 1994. It is capable of reading eight lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic at 100 miles per hour. It can be used from a fixed location with portable units or a mobile unit. If a fault is detected by a reader unit, it has the capability of sending the vehicle identification number (VIN) plus the fault codes to the regulator. (The term regulator is used broadly here--patrol officers, private contractors or others could be involved, depending on how a program is structured.) The local station network has not been tested by CARB, but would allow a location and monitoring service.

The satellite system can be used with a cellular phone hookup or location monitoring technology. The vehicle would receive an alert via a cellular phone or the monitoring technology. The location, date, time, VIN and OBD II data would be returned to a satellite beacon.

Several issues surround the OBD III concept. From a regulatory perspective, all of the technologies used, other than roadside technology, require a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) license. The possibility of interference with other signals in the same band is of concern. The issues of commercial operators, law enforcement, jurisdiction among state agencies, Intelligent Vehicle Highway Systems, etc., have to be addressed before OBD III is a reality.

How would an OBD-III program prompt further testing and possible repair?

An OBD-III program could be incorporated into the current inspection and maintenance (I/M) program. OBD III might also be used to generate an "out-of-cycle" inspection. Once a fault is detected, a notice could be mailed to the vehicle owner requiring an out-of-cycle inspection within a certain number of days or at the next registration or resale, or a citation would be issued. Penalties might include court appearances or fines related to vehicle registration.

A roadside pullover might work this way: the monitoring technology detects a fault, a law enforcement officer stops the vehicle with the fault code, and a technician working with the officer at the scene verifies that a code is set.

A citation is then issued requiring testing at a test center, with a time limit for the vehicle owner to do this before a penalty is incurred.

What legal issues arise under OBD III?

There seems to be some question as to the "suspicionless mass "surveillance" of private property. There is no opportunity to confront or rebut the results; no notice that the vehicle will be tested. Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues tend to arise.

There are obviously technologies and enforcement procedures available to support the OBD III concept. Do the public health arguments as to controlling the severity of air pollution override the constitutional privacy questions involved? What about consent? These are questions that will undoubtedly arise, and could bring a court challenge.

After several court battles with OBD II, the issues are still unsettled as to the California waiver. I/M programs are still to be finalized in several states and the threat of congressional action looms. The concept of bringing all the issues under one program will certainly be controversial, but is being discussed as far as a long-term policy. Independent repairers need to prepare for the next waive of emissions and information issues as they continue to participate in the current debate involving the same.

ASA is working with regulators and other members of the aftermarket to ensure that the independent repairers' interests are included as long-term policies are developed.

-Bob Redding is ASA's Washington representative. He holds a law degree from the George Washington University School of Law.

104 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Well there goes the need for radar and laser guns... and throw out your detectors. They can have a roadside reader pick up your speed from OBD-III.

I do believe the ACLU will be hard on that as the previous post article
stated at the end that other than monitor emissions anything else would
be treading on the 4th Amendement Rights or very close to it.

Even with roadside polling, you'll have to have a "Emissions Enforcement Tech"
to accompany the LEO and verify the vehicle is out of compliance (CEL ON)
to have any citation stand up in court.

My next post will add some info that GM is proposing to add with OnStar.


104 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·

OBDII is a very sophisticated and capable system for detecting emissions problems. But when it comes to getting motorists to fix emission problems, it is no more effective than OBDI. Unless there is some type of mandatory enforcement, such as checking the MIL light during an emissions inspection, OBDII is just another idiot light.

Currently under development are plans for OBDIII, which would take OBDII a step further by adding telemetry. Using miniature radio transponder technology similar to that which is already being used for automatic electronic toll collection systems, an OBDIII-equipped vehicle would be able to report emissions problems directly to a regulatory agency. The transponder would communicate the vehicle VIN number and any diagnostic codes that were present. The system could be set up to automatically report an emissions problem via a cellular or satellite link the instant the MIL light comes on, or to answer a query from a cellular, satellite or roadside signal as to its current emissions performance status.

What makes this approach so attractive to regulators is its effectiveness and cost savings. Under the current system, the entire vehicle fleet in an area or state has to be inspected once every year or two to identify the 30% or so vehicles that have emissions problems. With remote monitoring via the onboard telemetry on an OBDIII-equipped vehicle, the need for periodic inspections could be eliminated because only those vehicles that reported problems would have to be tested. In effect, GM is essentially offering that now with their OnStar system on 2004, 2005 and 2006 vehicles. OnStar monitors the OBD II system and notifies the driver if a fault is detected. GM says by detecting problems early, it can reduce repair costs (and save GM a bundle in warranty costs).

On one hand, OBDIII with its telemetry reporting of emission problems would save consumers the inconvenience and cost of having to subject their vehicle to an annual or biennial emissions test. As long as their vehicle reported no emission problems, there would be no need to test it. On the other hand, should an emissions problem be detected, it would be much harder to avoid having it fixed, which is the goal of all clean air programs anyway. By zeroing in on the vehicles that are actually causing the most pollution, significant gains could be made in improving our nation's air quality. But as it is now, polluters may escape detection and repair for up to two years in areas that have biennial inspections. And in areas that have no inspection programs, there is no way to identify such vehicles.

OBDIII would change all that.

According to Mark Carlock with California's Air Resources Board, the technology exists now to make OBDIII possible. "The idea is to streamline the inspection process by only inspecting those vehicles that really need it." Carlock says the technology to do so is "no big deal." But he concedes that it might be years before OBDIII is actually be required on new vehicles.

A prototype system built by GM Hughes Electronics has already been evaluated by ARB that uses a roadside transmitter to interrogate vehicles as they pass by. The system uses ultra low power 10 milliwatt receiver stations and 1 milliwatt transmitters (which is about 1,000 times less power than a typical cellular telephone) with a broadcast frequency of 915 Mhz. The system is reportedly capable of retrieving information from 8 lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic whizzing by at speeds up to 100 mph!

When the vehicle receiver hears the query signal from a stationary or portable roadside transmitter, it transmits back an answer in the form of the vehicle's 17-digit VIN number plus an "okay" signal or any trouble codes that may be present. The information can then be used to identify vehicles that are in violation of clean air statutes so a notice can be sent that repairs and/or smog testing is required. Or, the information could be used on the spot to identify vehicles for a pullover roadside emissions check or issuing an emissions citation.

The projected cost of such a system would be $50 per vehicle, says Carlock, based on similar transponders that are in use for electronic toll collecting. The transponders are about the size of a small calculator.

The same basic approach could also be used with existing cellular phone links (local station networks) and/or satellite systems. To keep motorists from tampering with or disabling their telemetry systems, vehicles could be interrogated randomly or on a scheduled basis to monitor their condition. The OBDIII telemetry could also be combined with global positioning system (GPS) technology to document or monitor the whereabouts of vehicles.

Orbiting 11,000 miles above the earth's surface are 24 military satellites that make up the Navstar global positioning system. By timing radio signals from these satellites, the position of a vehicle, boat or plane anywhere on the earth can be fixed within a few meters. The GPS system is currently used by many fleets for tracking the whereabouts of their vehicles as well as by onboard navigation systems for pinpointing a vehicle's location on an electronic map.

The advantages of using a satellite based telemetry system for OBDIII rather than a roadside system are:
  • Greater coverage of the entire vehicle population for more accurate surveillance. Vehicles could be monitored and queried no matter where they were, even while sitting in a garage or driveway. There would be no way to avoid the watchful eye of the emissions police.
  • Being able to locate vehicles that are in violation of clean air statutes, either for "demographic studies" or to track down and arrest violators.
  • Being able to monitor the whereabouts of vehicles for purposes other than emissions surveillance such as recovering stolen vehicles (like the LoJack anti-theft system ), keeping tabs on suspected drug dealers, gang members and other undesirables.
  • Being able to disable vehicles that belong to emission scofflaws by transmitting a secret code. Law enforcement officers might also be able to use such a code to disable a vehicle fleeing from a crime scene or one that belonged to someone with a backlog of unpaid traffic violations.
The specter of having Big Brother in every engine compartment and driving a vehicle that rats on itself anytime it pollutes is not one that would appeal to many motorists. So the merits of OBDIII would have to be sold to the public based on its cost savings, convenience and ability to make a real difference in air quality. Even so, any serious attempt to require OBDIII may run afoul of Fourth Amendment issues over rights of privacy and protection from government search and seizure. Does the government have the right to snoop under your hood anytime it chooses to do so, or to monitor the whereabouts of your vehicle? These issues will have to be debated and resolved before OBDIII stands a chance of being accepted.

Another change that might come with OBDIII would be even closer scrutiny of vehicle emissions. The misfire detection algorithms currently required by OBDII only watch for misfires during driving conditions that occur during the federal driving cycle, which covers idle to 55 mph and moderate acceleration. It does not monitor misfires during wide open throttle acceleration. Full range misfire detection has been required since 1997. OBDIII could go even further by requiring "fly-by-wire" throttle controls to reduce the possibility of misfires on the coming generation of low emission and ultra low emission vehicles.

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