Light Duty: The Fight Over Right to Repair

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


By refusing access to repair information, he says OEMs are eliminating competition to gain a stranglehold on the market.
“As long as there’s competition out there, you have to be careful that someone doesn’t undercut your price, and that you’re offering the best service possible,” he says. “If the dealers are the only place to get certain services, what is their incentive to provide good services at a good price? All we’re asking for is that the owner has a choice in where they go. Where we’re headed is the car company/dealer is going to have more control over your repair than you will.”

NO COMPETITION

A lack of competition for repairs is a problem for fleets as well as the everyday person, Lowe says.

“We have a company up in New Jersey that had a fleet of light trucks that needed computers re-programmed to fix a problem, and the shop owner could not get the ability to re-program the systems from the manufacturer,” he says. “So the fleet owner was forced to bring the vehicle to a dealer, and it took them several days to get that done. So it is absolutely critical, especially from a fleet owner’s perspective, to quickly and efficiently get their fleets serviced, and if the dealer is the only place to do it, they can be in big trouble.”

One argument against R2R is it would force OEMs to share trade secrets and proprietary information, which Lowe says is bunk.
“I guess if repair information is proprietary, then yeah, we do want their repair information, because we want our guys to be able to repair those cars,” he says. “(But) if you define it as information necessary to build replacement parts, we’re not looking for that information and the bill prohibits that being made available to us. We really want information that the dealers have on how to repair cars. Maybe they consider their repair information proprietary and would like to give it to who they want, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to fight.”

MAKING PROGRESS

Charlie Gorman, executive manager of the Equipment and Tool Institute and volunteer chairman of NASTF, says the ASA agreement has gone a long way in clearing up information access issues.

“From the equipment and tools standpoint, this has been tremendous,” he says. “Starting in 2003, we started getting just a ton of information that we never got from the OEMs, and there are a couple import car companies that are still a little difficult for us, but for the most part, we’ve slowly but surely gotten the information we need to build those tools.”

Automotive Service Association Washington, D.C. representative Robert Redding, Jr. says the main reason Right to Repair has lost momentum in recent years is because the 2002 ASA agreement largely solved the problem.

“Out of a half a billion repairs in the independent marketplace—post-warranty repairs—far less than 1 percent of all the (vehicles) coming in our doors suffer complaints,” he says. “We have a system that works.”

Redding, Jr. says when problems arise, the NASTF is well-equipped to step in and solve them.

“There are going to be gaps, and frankly, there’s information that dealers can’t get and it’s not because somebody’s hiding it, it’s because we’re dealing with a universe of repairs that’s just huge,” he says. “This is about people saying, ‘OK, we’ve looked at this, it’s not on the site, it’s not available—how do we make this available?’ That is the point of the NASTF—to resolve any glitches. We haven’t had a situation where the OEMs are saying, ’We’re not going to give you that.’ We have seen no indication of anybody withholding anything.”

Gorman says the task force has resolved any legitimate Right to Repair complaints brought to them so far. He says most complaints regard a lack (or perceived lack) of access to repair information.

“(NASTF will investigate) if (an OEM) says that something doesn’t exist and we find out it does,” he says. “Or we find something doesn’t exist and the company decides to make it available—it might even be something they didn’t even make available to their dealers. Remember, with Right to Repair, no one is required to provide anything beyond what they provide to their dealers, so in some cases OEMs might be a little remiss in providing information, period.”

In the case of collision information, Gorman says some OEMs do not make it available to anyone.

“So when someone looks for that, you’re not going to get it because it doesn’t exist,” he says. “So you run into those kinds of situations, because there is no law requiring dealerships to have body shops, and in most cases, they don’t.”

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