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When we last ran the Underhood Service Repair Market Industry Profile in October 2002, the issues surrounding the shop owners’ right to gain repair and service information headlined that feature. Now, for the second time in two years, lawmakers are again being asked to step in and address the dispute regarding accessing data for repairing vehicles through H.R. 2735, the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act.

So, to borrow a phrase from the distinguished American wordsmith (and National Baseball Hall of Famer) Yogi Berra, it’s “like déjà vu all over again.”

The dispute, which appears to have ballooned – becoming more vigorously argued by opponents and proponents this time around – has pitted many aftermarket players against each other.

Representatives from both sides of the issue testified Sept. 22 on Capitol Hill at a hearing held before the House Sub-committee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, part of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee. It was there that the house chairman of the committee told the automakers that they must do a better job of providing information to independent auto repair shops if they want to avoid Congress’ intervention. (A Senate companion bill to the House version – S. 2138 – also has been introduced with 10 co-sponsors.)

Some of those who favor H.R. 2735, created to provide motoring consumers and the aftermarket access to all repair information, include the Mechanics Education Association (MEA), the American Automobile Association (AAA), National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the Coalition for Automotive Repair Equality (CARE) and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). These proponents of the bill argue that the repair act will provide vehicle owners a better choice of where, how and by whom to have their vehicles repaired, as well as decisions on whose parts they wish to purchase, or to even work on their vehicles themselves. They also said costs for an independent shop accessing all of the information needed to service “all makes and all models” to be exorbitant and rising. In fact, one shop owner testified that it costs $37,000 to subscribe to all of the automotive manufacturers repair websites.

Opposition to the bill includes the Automotive Service Association (ASA), the 10-member Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) and the National Automotive Service Task Force. Representatives from opposing organizations testified that the current agreement between the OEMs and independent repairers is working well and that Congress shouldn’t get involved because the vast majority of repairs are performed without problem. Members of AAM contend that all of the OEMs have their repair information available online, and that it can be accessed and purchased for an hourly, monthly or annual “fair-market” fee by shops or consumers.

However, supporters of the bill argue that independent shops are continuing to have trouble getting the repair information. A new study released by the Tarrance Group, a research group used by organizations seeking passage of H.R. 2735, indicates that 59% of independent repair technicians surveyed had problems in obtaining accurate and timely repair information and tools.

A survey of our readers from Babcox Research found awareness of the OEM carmakers’ websites to be fairly limited. Earlier this year, when shop owners/managers and technicians were asked, “Did you know you can subscribe to Original Equipment websites for repair information?” only 51% responded “Yes” and 49% said “No.” Note: Underhood Service has tried to simplify access to all of the carmakers’ weblinks for independent shops by providing a link on the homepage of www.underhoodservice.com. Just click on the “OEM Service Repair Links” logo.

So how does all of this affect your shop’s business? Well, it’s obvious that you’ll need to have the money to purchase these repair codes and the tools. One way to recoup these costs is to consider charging diagnostic time to customers.

As this subject continues to unfold, Underhood Service will bring you updates on this significant issue that faces possible governmental legislation.

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