The majority of bills never make it out of committee, but proponents of H.R. 2048, such as David Parde, president of CARE (Coalition of Auto Repair Equality) in Alexandria, VA, feels that this time, Right to Repair will pass.
"If you have a monopoly, who cares?" says Parde. "If the dealership is the only shop with the information and tools and software to repair vehicles, that's the only place you can go. More and more of the dealership's money comes from repairs than from selling the cars."
He continues, "Our feeling is ‘If the dealer gets it, we should get it.' If you're giving or selling to the dealership, then the proprietary information or intellectual property is not protected. We're not asking to have it given to us, we'll pay for it."
"This is our number one priority in trying to get it [H.R. 2048] passed," Parde explains. "Chairman Barton is determined to move this legislation. We're confident it will pass the floor of the House and move on to the Senate. We feel this is our best shot so far."
Texas-based ASA backed earlier bills, but is now against H.R. 2048, citing an agreement from July 2002 between the automakers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, and ASA as being adequate in lieu of legislation. The agreement also states that NASTF would continue to provide a forum for OEM and aftermarket industry issues.
"If it doesn't pass, maintenance organizations will have a continued increase in flow of service information, tools, etc. and continuing through NASTF will be a positive experience," says Redding. "If it does pass, there will be more regulation. What does the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) do with it? They're not interested. Our concern is passage of this bill would slow down flow of information. It may be harmful to those fleets that are narrow in scope."
Currently, NASTF is a volunteer task force that exists to fill any gaps with training, tools, and information. Plans are set for a general meeting in January 2006 to discuss formalizing NASTF.
"It's clear that there is value in having this kind of forum," says Cabaniss. "There will always be progress we can make in training, new tools, new technology, how to provide information, and in vehicle security. The next step is forming a full-time staff that focuses on this stuff every day."
Not everyone agrees. "We believe NASTF should be an advocate for the technician and consumer but it is not in its present form," says CARE's Parde. "There have been proposals to have FTC appoint an oversight board. They would probably like to see a non-legislative solution, but if Congress says, ‘This is what you're going to do,' then they'll have to find a way to make it work."
Redding says ASA's concern with regard to legislation is that if it isn't broken, don't fix it.
"We feel the process is working," offers Redding. "We estimate that our sector handles about a half a billion repairs a year and there were only 48 formal complaints last year with respect to not being able to get information and tools. We are concerned about the FTC's ability and willingness to provide oversight."
The Federal Trade Commission stated as much in a letter to the Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2004. The agency cited "unclear and unsettled issues" with The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act of 2003 and stated, "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 much greater familiarity with automobile technology as it evolves than the FTC's attorneys and economists. If a suitable resolution can be obtained through the Task Force or similar mechanism, it may be preferable to governmental intervention."
Still, NASTF has handled less than 50 complaints regarding technicians being unable to access OEM information or tools to repair vehicles. Is this because the current system is working? Or, is it more likely that technicians don't feel the need or desire to go through the process of filing a complaint with NASTF?
Massachusetts law recognizes NASTF as a resource of OEM information to the aftermarket.
The "Right to Repair" debate is still very much alive in the industry.