Light Duty: The Fight Over Right to Repair

The "Right to Repair" debate is still very much alive in the industry.


A simple question, though the answer is anything but.

Right to Repair is nothing new, but as technology improves, some say it is becoming more important than ever. Since computers began taking over vehicle functions in the 1980s, manufacturers and their dealerships have often been at loggerheads with the folks who run independent aftermarket and repair facilities.

The point of contention is how much repair information OEMs should provide to the shops, giving fleets more (and presumably lower-priced) options when getting their vehicles serviced. Some in the aftermarket repair industry say manufacturers are making access to this information increasingly difficult and costly to obtain, while others say both sides are working well enough together on the issue, and forced solutions like Right to Repair (R2R) could ruin that.

H.R. 2694

This is the latest version of the federal Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, which “prevents vehicle manufacturers and others from unfairly restricting access to the information, parts and tools necessary to accurately diagnose, repair, re-program or install automotive replacement parts.” Introduced in June 2007, the bill has 42 co-sponsors; fewer than in years past.

The legislation calls for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to institute and enforce regulations that ensure competition in the vehicle repair business, and would permit the FTC, vehicle owners and independent repair facilities to take legal action to ensure all information and tools are available and affordable. The act does not affect the dealer’s right to perform any service, including warranty work, and does not unconstitutionally take the manufacturer’s intellectual property or require them to disclose trade secrets. Legislators in several states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, are also considering similar Right to Repair laws.

Aaron Lowe, vice-president of governmental affairs with the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), said the industry successfully lobbied for access to emissions information as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act, and with computers controlling more of the vehicle today, still more information is needed. He says a new law is not a must to ensure a level playing field, but it would at least ensure compliance.

“We would be in favor of a non-legislative agreement, but it would have to be legally enforceable—there would have to be some action we could take to make sure the manufacturers make the information available,” Lowe says. “Right now, all they’ve done is sent a letter saying they promise to make the information available, which is fine and good, but there is nothing to hold them to that if they decide, unilaterally, not to do that anymore.”

DIS-AGREEMENT

That promise is part of the 2002 ASA-Automaker Service Information Agreement between OEMs and independent repair shops that set up the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) as the forum to address access issues. It is comprised of OEMs and aftermarket associations representing tool and equipment companies, independent shops, parts companies and dealers, but there is significant disagreement about its effectiveness.

“It has absolutely no teeth at all, and it’s only been effective because there is a Right to Repair Act there keeping the manufacturers honest,” Lowe says. “If the bill were to go away, manufacturer cooperation would go away because there would be no legal repercussions if they decided not to follow their promise.”

Lowe says while the agreement has improved things between OEMs and independent shops, some information is still unavailable.
“A lot of reprogramming and the ability to re-initialize systems is not being made available, and we’re going to continue to fight to make sure that information is available to us,” Lowe says.

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