Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of SCRS, is seen here speaking at an SCRS board meeting earlier this year.

On July 11, the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), the Auto Service Association (ASA) and the Alliance for Automotive Innovation announced they had signed a “landmark agreement on automotive right to repair,” reaffirming a 2014 Memorandum of Understanding stating independent repair facilities shall have access to the same diagnostic and repair information automakers make available to authorized dealers.

Later that same day, the Auto Care Association (ACA) and CAR Coalition released statements criticizing the pact, calling it a “thinly veiled attempt to confuse lawmakers and drivers” from federal right to repair bills currently being considered by Congress, including the REPAIR and SMART acts.

"While the agreement purports to be relevant, all it does is affirm the 2014 MOU rather than implement a meaningful solution to preserve the entire automotive aftermarket and the competition and consumer choice that it creates," ACA said in its statement.

On July 18, Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of SCRS, spoke about the criticism in an exclusive interview with Autobody News.

What is the response to the ACA and CAR Coalition's concerns about the pact?

Last week was an announcement between repairer organizations and automakers, who provide information and data necessary for repairs, that established independent repair facilities should have access to the same information available to dealers. The foundation of that agreement is the fact that we’re all working toward the same goal.

It wasn’t about replicating the 2014 agreement; it was about collaborative work between organizations that have built a trust all trying to accomplish the same thing.

Access to information, data, tools, equipment and procedures for collision repairers is critical in performing proper repairs. The agreement is an acknowledgment that we all believe---SCRS, ASA and the alliance and all the automakers it represents---that consumers deserve a safe, proper repair and that independent repair facilities should be and are able to access the information that’s necessary to do that.

I’m not sure I understand how or why any organization that claims to support right to repair would dismiss or oppose an agreement that reinforces that position. If we’re truly interested in or in favor of the right to repair, an agreement that enforces that independent repair facilities will continue to have access to the information they need to perform the repairs---the same diagnostics---this should be a good thing, and it’s odd that it’s not.

Is the pact taking away focus from the REPAIR and SMART acts? Is it meant to be in place of or in addition to those laws, should they be passed?

[The pact] is meant to be in recognition of our members’ needs. I can tell you the independent repair facilities we represent are not coming to SCRS saying they are struggling to gain access to tools or data needed to fix these vehicles correctly. What they are struggling with is downward pressure through insurance claims practices and others, that place challenges on them and their consumers and discourage the use, in many cases, of the available repair data.

It's interesting because many of those proponents of the REPAIR Act don’t often act in the marketplace as if they support the use of OEM information in the process of repairs.

That’s part of the challenge here---you’ve got this scenario where automakers have really worked closely with SCRS and the independent collision repair community to develop repair opportunities with, in our opinion, an emphasis on upholding quality and safety standards, training, proper equipment, to perform repairs as designed by engineers. And the consumer choice has been more limited by proponents of other initiatives.

I'll give you an example. The CAR Coalition is comprised of used and aftermarket parts groups, alternative parts sourcing platforms and insurance companies. All those groups, interestingly enough, have been waving this banner claiming to be in support of consumer choice and right to repair because independent businesses are being deprived of the information needed to fix the cars properly. But all of those companies have a financial interest in pushing consumers to the cheapest possible repair. Many of those businesses have also opposed initiatives that would hold repairers accountable to using the data already made available to them.

Again, our agreement is that independent repair facilities should continue to have access to the same diagnostics and repair information available to automakers' dealers.

It's a win for consumers, a win for the industry to affirm a commitment for that. We view it as a genuinely positive commitment for our members and their consumers.

ACA pointed out the pact is non-binding, doesn’t include some automakers, like Tesla, or compel any to join. What is the response to that?

It is an agreement. The nature of it, when you make public commitments, is that people are going to hold you accountable to them. It is true that agreement is between SCRS, ASA and the alliance, which has its direct members. SCRS only represents the collision group.

The agreement is not one we took lightly. It’s been under development. It's one we all anticipate being held accountable to and one we all anticipate living up to as well.

I think the challenges of the authenticity of the agreement are just misguided to be frank. I certainly think that groups that truly believe there should be a right to repair for independent facilities should be championing it rather than casting aspersions at it.

What is SCRS’ position on the REPAIR and SMART acts?

There are some concerns on our end, specifically around the proponents. The SMART Act is one [SCRS] has had conversations about in the past. We do not support it. We do believe in intellectual property rights. [The SMART Act] is not in consumers’ best interests for entities looking to create the cheapest possible option for safe and proper repairs, so we have not supported that.

What is the response to the criticism the pact doesn’t address safety and security of the telematic data?

We specifically said telematics systems would not be used to circumvent the commitments made in the agreement, that automakers will provide access to diagnostic data to the extent it’s needed to complete a repair. The safety and security of that data is an obligation the automakers have in their compliance with safety standards.

Our interest as a representative of the collision repair group is to make sure our members have access to the information they need to perform those repairs properly. I would encourage talking to the alliance specifically about their concerns of safeguarding that information. It's a pretty critical point of their conversations at the state level, making sure that info isn’t just open to anyone.

Relative to the SMART Act, there’s nothing in it that addresses safety concerns and that’s one of our biggest objections---vehicles are often one of a family’s biggest purchases, but the people who occupy it are irreplaceable. It’s important safety be prioritized in these conversations because consumers expect proper repairs, which are not a given. But to consumers, a collision repair should assure their vehicle is restored to the same condition as before that accident, and the safety systems will operate the same.

I think there’s just a lack of focus on how we restore the consumer, and much of the initiative is how we protect the companies that would otherwise benefit from consumers being pushed to cheaper, imitation parts.

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