Information on Demand

A look at both sides of the "Right to Repair" Act.


How much control over accessing OEM data and tools to repair vehicles do your operations currently enjoy? Is it enough to achieve 100 percent of your repair schedule or are there items that just can't be done without taking the vehicle to the dealer? These are the questions fueling The Motor Vehicle Right to Repair Act of 2005, H.R. 2048, which is being heavily lobbied for and against on the Hill in Washington, D.C. In short, this bill would require automakers to provide the same service information and tools to independent auto and maintenance shops, as well as to consumers, that the OEM dealership service centers receive.

HISTORY IN THE HOUSE

The Motor Vehicle Right to Repair Act of 2005, House Resolution 2048 was introduced in May 2005 by chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Energy and Commerce, Joe Barton, (R-TX), who is the sponsor of the bill; and representatives Edolphus Towns, (D-NY) and Darrell Issa (R-CA).

H.R. 2048 is a scaled down version of an earlier bill, H.R. 2735, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act of 2001, that was introduced by Mr. Barton and Mr. Towns in August 2001 and again in July 2003 and had as its goal that "if enacted, the legislation would require original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to provide access to service information, both emissions and non-emissions, to the independent repairer." This bill never became law.

HOT BUTTONS

In 1990, the Clean Air Act amendments required auto manufacturers to include more sophisticated equipment for emissions reduction, as well as a standardization of an On-Board Diagnostics system (OBD). Since that time, computer-controlled technology has expanded from emissions systems to other core auto components such as the engine, traction control, electrical systems, and comfort features.

Barton explains that while the EPA issued a rule in 1995 that requires manufacturers to provide the OBD information necessary to carry out emissions service and repair to anyone engaged in the process, including the independent shops, the rule is limited to emissions-related repairs. No such requirement exists for the other functions that have since been incorporated into OBD computer systems.

"My goal is and has always been to put vehicle owners in the driver's seat when it comes to choosing where to have their car repaired," Barton said during the November 2005 hearing. "It is not about gaining proprietary information, and my legislation explicitly preserves trade secrets."

Automakers contend that this bill is unnecessary as they feel service information is available to everyone either online or via tech help lines. Automakers are concerned about having to upload proprietary information. Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) spend a lot of time and money on design and development and do not wish to be mandated in distributing the intellectual property they worked hard to build.

"In our coalition, they've made it very clear that they want to protect intellectual property," says Bob Redding, Automotive Service Association (ASA) legislative representative in Washington, D.C. "They are serious about protecting their product, whether it is in the design, the computer systems, etc. However, OEMs do want the information out there and want the technician trained as best as possible so that the car owner will be happy with their purchase now and post-warranty."

"It is the intent of auto manufacturers to make information available," says John Cabaniss director, environment and energy with the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM) and current chair of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). "That said, the vehicle security issue is a serious item with respect to information distribution. Privacy and liability, insurance, and law enforcement issues surround this aspect in making information available and I think everyone recognizes that."

PROPONENT VIEW

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