Saturday, 31 December 2005 17:00

Right to Repair Act gains momentum in Congress

Congressional support for The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, H.R. 2048, has reached 77 co-sponsors. 

The Act was introduced by Chairman Joe Barton, (R-TX), and Reps. Edolphus Towns, (D-NY) and Darrell Issa, (R-CA) in May 2005. The bill would require the automakers to make available the same service information and diagnostic tools to independent auto service businesses that they do to their dealership service centers.

In collision repair, the legislation presently impacts primarily those shops that do their own mechanical work rather than sending it out to dealers, but there is the fear that as more manufacturers certify collision repair facilities for their brands they could begin to restrict information to non-certified shops.

The group of legislative co-sponsors for the Right to Repair Act is bipartisan, comprised of 61% democrats, 38% republicans and 1% independent. The growing list includes several who hold top leadership positions in the House - Joe Barton, sponsor, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Donald A. Manzullo, chairman of the House Committee on Small Business, and Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.

"This is a major mile-marker for motoring consumers, as well as small businesses, who will enjoy the many benefits of the bill including increased convenience, safety and cost-savings," said David Parde, president of the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE).

"On behalf of America's vehicle-owning consumers and the five million employee-strong automotive aftermarket, we thank our 77 cosponsors,"

According to Parde, recent events including a second hearing for the bill before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection in November, and the addition of seven cosponsors since then, clearly demonstrate the growing momentum for passage of the bill. He continued, "Unmistakably, the sponsors have their finger on the pulse of America's motoring consumers and small businesses. They stand for what drives free market competition."

Why is this bill needed?

Sponsors of the bill say that current automotive technology is being used to successfully "lock out" car owners and independent repairers from being able to repair and maintain vehicles. This means that later model cars can only be serviced and repaired at automobile dealerships, which makes it impossible for independent repairers to compete with dealer service organizations.

"Without the ability to choose," said Parde, "consumers are denied competitive prices and the right to choose where, how, and when to have their vehicles repaired - at affordable prices and convenient locations."

What this bill does

According to CARE, this bill:

• Reaffirms the owners' right to repair their automobiles.

• Promotes consumer safety by allowing owners or their auto technicians' access to the same information and tools available to franchised dealers to repair and maintain late model computer controlled vehicle systems.

• Permits owners to choose the repair shop to service and maintain their vehicles.

• Authorizes the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce requirements in order to protect consumers and to promote competition in auto maintenance and repair.

What this bill doesn't do

CARE says that the bill does not:

• Affect the dealer's warranty agreement with the vehicle manufacturers.

• Require manufacturers to disclose manufacturing processes or trade secrets unless that information is made available to the new car dealer.


ASA opposes bill as unnecessary

In 2004, the Automotive Services Association, based in Bedford, Texas, brokered a deal with the auto manufacturers that resulted in more service information being made available to independents. That organization says the Right-to-Repair Act is unnecessary.

Eddie Ehlert, owner of an independent Mazda repair shop in Chamblee, Georgia, testified on behalf of ASA before the U.S. House of Representatives Small Business Subcommittee on Workforce.

"The ASA-Automaker Agreement provided our repairers a dramatic new information source placing our technicians on an equal playing field with franchised new car dealers," he stated.

Ehlert made three key points in his testimony before the subcommittee:

• There is a viable industry solution, already in place, for the service information issue.

• Service information opportunities have expanded under the ASA-Automaker Agreement.

• Independent repairers want less federal government bureaucracy in their businesses, not more.

NASTF reached agreement with OEMs

ASA's Collision Division Director, Darrell Amberson, AAM, confirmed ASA's position. He explained that the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), a group set up to address Right-To-Repair issues, has the capacity to resolve any problems through its already established channels with the OEMs.

He pointed out that I-CAR always recommends double checking the manufacturers' web sites for validation of suggested procedures, so the court of last resort is by and large currently available.

Amberson noted that ASA is concerned about the cost in time and money of setting up new oversight systems, and that ASA believes that the existing avenues provide an adequate road to resolution of any problems.

Amberson concluded that, to his knowledge, there have been virtually no complaints that couldn't be resolved through NASTF, particularly on the collision repair side.

FTC opinion

In response to a letter from Congressman John Dingle requesting the Federal Trade Commission's views on the subject, the FTC replied in part that "self regulatory programs, when successful, can address issues with greater speed and more flexibility than government regulation. That may be particularly true here where the groups would have greater familiarity with automobile technology as it evolves than the FTC's attorneys and economists."

ASA is not the only trade group that feels this legislation may be unnecessary. The Associated Locksmiths of America, Inc. (ALOA) actually withdrew support from the bill. The association had hoped that this legislation would help locksmiths gain information about key codes that would ultimately benefit the consumer.

However, after supporting the legislative process for nearly three years, the locksmith industry now believes that there are other, non-legislative, means to reach the same goal. Currently, the association is working with NASTF to meet these goals.