"I think it's some of both," says Cabaniss. "Every day, shops face problems with vehicles they haven't seen before. You need some help. Think about how most people get information: independent shops go to an AllData or a Mitchell1 or Identifix; explain the problem and ask, ‘Can you help me?' The situation for the AllDatas is, where do they get their information? Answer: They get it from the OEM and probably from OEM websites. The reason these companies exist is that they have a ‘one-stop shop' feel to them. Independent shops are familiar with them and that format for solving problems. There's a value to them and I think there will always be that value."
Cabaniss feels that most information is available, but it's a question of knowing how to get it and what form this data is in. He cites an "un-awareness" problem with NASTF. "Even though, we get hundreds, maybe thousands, of hits on the NASTF website, there are a lot of people in the automotive industry that don't know who we are or what we can provide."
With respect to enforcement, NASTF feels the market for cars is very competitive and that it's no longer the playground of the Big Three.
"There are probably six or seven that make up 90 percent of the market. You cannot afford to have unhappy customers with as much competitiveness going on," says Cabaniss, adding, "Self-policing is best and there appears to be no need for penalties and fines. Besides, what would those penalties be? Who would say what was a fair penalty or punishment?"
OEM WEBSITES- A TANGLED WEB?
Cabaniss explains that over the past few years, all of the automakers have launched websites.
"It's simply a matter of having a username and PIN, choosing a subscription and essentially, all are set up for 365-day access. Most independent shops are using short-term access (24-72 hrs.) that range from around $25 for the information. Our website, nastf.org, tries to stay up to date on this and we have a page that lists the OEM websites and charges for information."
"Repairers and technicians are still using Chilton's, Mitchell1, and AllData," says ASA's Redding, "and these OEM websites have not altered that." Redding says that ASA has funded a program involving ASA staff who go out on the road to help technicians navigate the OEM sites.
CARE's Parde offers that their staff and members monitor the OEM sites. "We hear from our members who send us reports on how they are not getting information. It's time consuming but we're getting there."
"I think we hear a lot of outdated and anecdotal incidents that they can't do this or this information is not available," says Cabaniss. "Dealers are required to fix anything on the vehicle but an independent shop can pick and choose what they do. Not all shops work on front ends or brakes or transmissions or whatever, but the dealer has to. Sometimes, it can be convenient for the shop to say, ‘We don't have the training or the tools,' but it is really because the shop has made the choice as a business not to be trained on that component or system--not because training or information wasn't available."
MAKE OR BREAK SITUATION
This bill is alive until the end of 2006. If it does not pass by then, proponents will have to start over with a new Congress in 2007.
"It's going to be the lobbying that will make or break this proposal," says Aaron Lowe, vice president, Regulatory & Government Affairs, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association of Bethesda, MD. "It's the grassroots efforts and the car owners that will make this thing go. We can't compete on a dollar per dollar basis with OEMs. Energy and Commerce committee will be voting on the not too distant future. The sooner the better to get letters in to your federal congressmen.
Lowe adds, "They keep carping on the Intellectual Property but we don't think it's an issue because they can't point to anything in the bill that says we get their trade secrets. We don't want to know how their computers work, we just want the same repair information and diagnostic tools that are available to the dealerships, available to the aftermarket operators as well."
CARE's Parde feels the biggest selling point of this bill is that when you buy a car you should have the right to have all information available to protect your investment. "You also should be able to choose who takes care of it—whether it's the dealer, the aftermarket, or yourself—you should be able to get it fixed by your choice. It's obvious after the warranty is over and done with, that most customers take their vehicles to the aftermarket."
The "Right to Repair" debate is still very much alive in the industry.
Massachusetts law recognizes NASTF as a resource of OEM information to the aftermarket.