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Privacy group warns tinkering under hood could violate DMCA

Plan on repairing or modifying a car in the garage this weekend? You might want to first consult a copyright lawyer.


Privacy Group Warns Tinkering Under Hood Could Violate DMCA

"It gives manufacturers the power to control secondary markets by leveraging the copyright law, if it doesn't include enough of a safety valve." – Kit Walsh


The Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S have been struck by a minor gremlin, but the repair is turning into an episode that ends with "Stay Tuned" rather than a definite conclusion. Automotive News reports that a software mapping hiccup can cause the adaptive engine ECU to get out of whack with the engine, which can, in turn, cause rough idling and stalling.


2010 Nissan Patrol - Click above for high-res image gallery


Hitachi Automotive supplies engine control units to Nissan. Further up the chain, an unnamed supplier hasn't been able to fulfill Hitachi's need for a custom integrated circuit, so Hitachi hasn't been able to fulfill Nissan's orders for ECUs. That has put Nissan in the potential position of needing to halt Altima and Sentra production for three days, July 14-16, at factories in Tennessee and Mexico.


During the 17 years this writer worked on braking and stability control systems, we occasionally joked about being able to remotely update the software in people's vehicles and bring them to a halt. At that time, the technology didn't really exist to actually do that. Today that's no longer true. Researchers the Universities of California and Washington will present a paper at a security conference in Oakland, California next week outlining how they were able to hack into vehicle computer system


Over the last decade, the electronic content of new cars has climbed steadily as features like navigation, satellite radio, MP3 and Bluetooth interfaces have become increasingly common, even on mainstream models. However, this year's recession combined with the dramatic slow down in overall sales has, at least temporarily, put the brakes on electronics growth. The market in many regions has shifted toward smaller, less expensive cars and buyers are selecting fewer options.


Nissan GT-R SpecV - Click above for a high-res image gallery


Dinan, renowned tuners of all things from the propeller people, have finally decided to offer an ECU upgrade for owners of BMW's delectable 335i. The reflashed upgrade necessitates the installation of either BMW's or Dinan's oil cooler, but once the Bimmer's brain is reprogrammed, throttle response is sharpened, the top-speed governor is removed and power levels jump to 384 hp at 5,700 rpm and a kidney pummeling 421 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,300 rpm.


In an effort to reduce emissions, increase drivability and/or prolong the life of the engine, most automakers spend an exhaustive amount of time balancing performance and usability on the factory engine computer. Before jumping headlong into modifications, one of the more effective ways of boosting output, particularly on turbocharged engines, is to have a reputable shop perform a reflash on the factory ECU or to install a piggyback computer to eek out any extra power left on the table by the OE


As any fledgling tuner knows, a car's ECU's are the little things that mean a lot, and the modern car has dozens of them. For Toyota, which is working with suppliers to create an in-house operating system that will rationalize the number of control units and the amount of code controlling them, fewer ECUs will mean massive cost savings, faster development, and increased efficiency.


Back in 1994, the FIA banned the use of traction control systems on Formula One cars in an effort to put more emphasis on driver skill rather than technological prowess. By 2001, there was considerable hue and cry from some of the participants that certain teams were using advanced engine management software to work around the regulations, so the ban was lifted.


BMW Car magazine's March issue features what is likely to be the only 240 MPH, twin-turbocharged E60 M5 in existence. Put together by Currency Motor Cars in Westlake, California, this blown uber-sedan sports the aforementioned duo of turbos, acres of custom intercooler plumping and a modified exhaust that, when combined with what we'll assume is some pretty creative ECU tuning, creates an astounding 810 horsepower.


Just a decade ago, engine management was a relatively simple affair. Spark advance and fuel injection quantities were the key parameters, and the determination of both was a relatively simple matter of determining engine speed and load and using those values to index a lookup table. Nowadays, however, technology to improve power, drivability, and fuel consumption - such as variable valve timing and lift, intake tuning, and variable displacement - have greatly complicated the task of calibrating


A few years back I had the good fortune of owning a WRX wagon whose tenure began with me leaving it unmodified for as long as I could stand. All told, it only took about two months for all rational thought to be overwhelmed by the relentless pursuit of ponies and I found myself at a highly regarded, local tuner.

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