Who has the right to repair?
As newer model cars come off manufacturers' lines, independent service, repair and car-care centers have been faced with some confusing situations resulting from a lack of information that would enable car-care facilities to provide service and perform preventative maintenance on these vehicles.
However, this problem does have a solution: The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act (HR 2048), which, as of print time, is a bill that many car-care facility owners and associations are hoping will be approved by Congress.Why should you care?
As more car-care facilities expand with multi-profit centers, including quick lubes and light maintenance and repair, the number of owners and operators affected by this impending decision increases.
According to Steve Christie, executive director of the Automotive Oil Change Association (AOCA), this act will affect independent lube shops as well as repair shops because it deals directly with information needed for oil changes, technicalities of filters and how often transmission fluid should be changed.
Also, as vehicle manufacturing and technology advance, cars are becoming more computerized and technical.
As these advances are accomplished, independent shops are being left behind because they are not privy to the specialized information required to service these modern vehicles.
In January of this year, CBS Evening News presented a consumer alert segment on these difficulties and found that almost 60 percent of independent mechanics couldn't access the information they needed to perform a particular service, and 50 percent turned customers away.
Without the proper knowledge and information to service these new cars, quick lube owners may essentially have their hands tied when a customer driving a new vehicle enters his or her shop.Losing confidence
Although a quick lube or service technician could attend to the new vehicle given the correct information, when a customer visits a facility and learns that the independent shop doesn't have the capabilities just quite yet, the customer loses confidence in that shop.
Quick lube shops that can provide, quick, affordable and competent service to older vehicles will begin to lose newer vehicle customers to dealerships.
According to Aaron Lowe, vice president of governmental affairs for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), car owners will begin to think they have to go back to the dealer to have their vehicle serviced properly.
If they begin to think that they can't go to an independent repair shop to have their car fixed, they will also think that perhaps even an oil change should be done by the dealer.
In some cases there is information and special tools needed for the newer vehicles. Lowe noted that in some new cars, even for just an oil change, a special tool is needed to reach the filter; a tool that only the manufacturer has access to.What's going on?
During the summer of 2001, The Right to Repair Act was first introduced to Congress by Rep. Joe Barton. (R-TX) and backed by 118 co-sponsors.
During that session issues arose associated with the vehicle manufacturers' fears that their proprietary information and trade secrets would be shared if the bill was passed.
Although the act was not passed in that session, the proponents reconvened and, according to Joanna Johnson, policy advisor for the AOCA, incorporated a protective clause into the act to safeguard manufacturer proprietary information.
According to Christie, this time around the bill is being very well-received in Washington, DC. He said that most congressmen seemed appreciative of the problem and realized there is an issue.Opposition
Although Congress has been very open-minded about the act so far, there are strong opponents of the act that are aggressively lobbying against it.
Lowe explained that vehicle manufacturers are very well-connected on Capitol Hill and it will take some compelling support from various sectors to get it passed.
Also, according to Lowe, dealerships are another foe the act is up against.
They have a very big stake in the aftermarket service side of the automotive industry and the passage of the act would not be beneficial to their business.
According to both Lowe and Johnson, the passage of this act will depend a great deal on the grass roots support it receives from interested parties.
As vehicles become more advanced and continue to utilize new electronics and technology, the independent service sector may be left behind without the right tools and information to service these vehicles.Getting involved
Independent car-care facilities can't just leave it up to the associations backing this act to get it passed.
The passage of the Right to Repair Act will only happen if Congress sees that it's supported by business owners and citizens, both of whom are voters.
Independent shop owners can start by educating their customers about the Right to Repair Act and how it will benefit them. Independent shops have one on one contact with the public, which is extremely beneficial for educational purposes.
Citizens, customers, shop owners and employees should also send a letter to their congressman supporting the act. This can be done through various association websites including the AOCA and AAIA.
According to Lowe, the amount of time to rally around and support this act is limited.
Congress will adjourn in October, so before that time supporters need to work their hardest to impress upon Congress members the importance of this bill.