Legislation pending in Congress would require automakers to provide more information to independent car-repair shops who are increasingly hard-pressed to diagnose and repair problems because of proprietary systems installed by manufacturers.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) said his "Right to Repair" bill is a reaction to complaints that auto dealers have a monopoly when it comes to making some repairs, particularly those involving computerized diagnostic tests. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote later this month.
"Small businesses, companies and individuals comprising the automotive aftermarket are keenly aware that if the bill doesn't pass, not only will (independent repair shops) lose business, but consumers will be big losers as well," said David Parde, president of the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE), a trade group organized to support Barton's bill.
"Consumers will lose money, they will lose convenience, they will lose their freedom of choice in where to take their cars for repair; and they will lose the most important thing, which is the feeling of ownership," Parde said.
Opponents say the legislation would create needless bureaucracy and that it's a way for large repair companies to move toward making their own parts.
Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said an industry-driven approach is the best solution.
"Auto manufacturers have adopted sophisticated technology to enhance the performance, comfort, safety and security of their products," she said. "The technology requires access to expensive computerized tools and knowledge of software access or computer codes to diagnose and repair problems."
Majoras said that representatives of the manufacturers and the independent auto repair operators held discussions facilitated by the Council of Better Business Bureaus for more than 60 hours. However, she said that the talks did not end with a mutually agreeable solution.
"To date, a comprehensive, voluntary solution to the issue of information provision has proven elusive," she said. "The Commission is disappointed that, despite efforts to bring those on each side of the issue together to reach a mutually agreeable solution, the parties have thus far been unwilling to make the compromises necessary to resolve the matter."
The Right to Repair bill was introduced in 2001 and has never made it to a vote. With more than 100 Congressmen signing on as co-sponsors, the measure appears to have more momentum this year.
Under the legislation, automakers would have to provide to independent operators the same service and training information and diagnostic tools that are available to dealerships.