The Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair
Act - Myth vs. Reality

Myth 1:

Car companies are making all information available to the independent aftermarket.

The Reality:

Despite claims by car companies that they are making everything available to independent aftermarket repair shops, these small businesses are facing serious issues due to the highly-computerized nature of today's vehicles. A survey of 1,000 aftermarket repair shops performed by Opinion Research found that over $5.8 billion in service and parts sales is being lost annually because independent repair shops are unable to readily access the necessary repair information and tools from car manufacturers to properly diagnose and repair vehicles. The survey also found that independent shops turn away 1.8 million consumers each year because they do not have the information and tools to get the job done.

While the problems experienced by independent technicians are wide ranging, the following are three major issues now faced by independent repair shops in attempting to obtain the information and tools needed to work on today's and tomorrow's vehicles:
  • Codes needed to reinitialize vehicle computer systems are not made available. Independent shops often are able to perform many repairs only to be stymied at the end when they cannot obtain the code to reinitialize the vehicle's computers and thus complete the repair. Absent entering the code, in many cases the car owner would not be able to restart the car following the repairs.
  • Information provided to new dealers is more effective than what is provided to independents. A great deal of diagnostic and repair data is provided to car company franchised dealerships over "hotlines" that are not accessible to independent repair shops or consumers. Information available through these dealer-only networks provide valuable diagnostic assistance for hard to solve problem and might also have information regarding safety related repairs that need to be completed, but which an independent shop and car owner might not be aware of until a technical service bulletin or recall is released, a process that can take months if not years.
  • The growing use of telematic systems by car companies will permit critical marketing and repair information to flow wirelessly using cell phone technology to the dealer, leaving the independents out of the loop. While telematics will provide extensive benefits to car owners, it also will be used by car companies and their dealers to tie the customer to the dealer long after the new car warranty has expired.
Myth 2:

Right to repair is really intended to make it easier for aftermarket companies to reproduce original equipment parts and then manufacture them overseas.

The Reality:
  • The right to repair legislation only applies to information necessary to repair a vehicle. The information needed to produce replacement parts is very different from the information used to repair a vehicle. Unlike a parts producer, a repair technician does not need to know the internal software codes or specifications of a part. They only need to know the information that comes off the diagnostic systems in order to understand where a failure has occurred and how to repair that malfunction.
  • Replacement parts sold in the aftermarket are often produced by the same company that produced the original equipment component. The only difference is the name on the box.
  • Section 3(d) of the legislation permits car companies to withhold any information that is a trade secret and is not made available to the new car dealer for purposes of repairs. Therefore any information that is not necessary for repairs and is not provided to the franchised dealer would not need to be made available. The Clean Air Act, which requires the provision of the same information for emissions related repairs has similar protections and has been effective in protecting car company trade secrets. In fact, since implementation in 1995, there has never been an intellectual property dispute involving service information or tools.
  • The car companies have yet to produce a single shred of evidence that would back up their assertion that this legislation will make it any easier to design and produce replacement parts. Its interesting that the manufacturers claim that all of the information necessary to repair vehicle is already available to shops, but then claim that release of this information will cause the exposure of trade secrets that will help parts manufacturers better copy their parts.
Myth 3:

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) opposes right to repair legislation and has not received any complaints from shops or consumers regarding car companies not making information available.

  • In fact, the FTC is officially neutral on right to repair and has not opposed passage of the legislation.
  • While the FTC has received some complaints, it is very unlikely that an independent repair shop would complain to the FTC over service information issues. Further, consumers normally do not always know that a repair problem or delay is due to issues regarding access to information and tools. In fact, in most cases the independent repair shop will bring the vehicle to the dealership for the customer so as to not inconvenience them or to alert them to the fact that the independent could not complete the repair.
  • Finally, the FTC Chairman testified at hearings held in late September by the House Small Business Committee that the reason they are not supporting right to repair is that if a consumer is unhappy about the repair service by the dealership, that consumer will simply buy another vehicle. This of course negates the fact that it could be 10 years before a consumer could purchase another vehicle; and in fact in today's economy, it is unlikely that they will be purchasing any new car for quite some time.
Myth 4:

The car companies and the aftermarket already have a cooperative agreement to provide information through the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) that is ensuring all information is provided to independent shops.

The Reality:

The car companies have attempted to derail Right to Repair efforts in Congress by pointing to the work of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). NASTF was established in 2000 to resolve service information issues raised by the independent service industry. In reality, NASTF has acted as a clearinghouse by taking specific information complaints brought by independent vehicle repair shops and funneling them to the appropriate vehicle manufacturer. Unfortunately, this effort has fallen far short of what is needed and has not been used to any great extent by the independent service industry for the following reasons:
  • In many cases, information resolution by NASTF can take weeks and even months. An independent repair shop with a car in a service bay needs that information the same day that the vehicle is in the shop or will lose that customer to the dealer competition.
  • While NASTF is a noble effort for the service industry and the car companies to cooperatively resolve information issues, car companies are not subject to any fines for failure to make information or tools available.
  • NASTF has no anti-trust exemption and therefore cannot address issues where car companies are charging too much for needed information or tools. This is a major problem for independent shops that could be unfairly priced out of the market for many types of tools and information.
  • A cooperative approach works only if both sides have something to gain and there is third-party enforcement. However, many manufacturers and their franchised dealer networks feel that they have much to gain from retaining control of the parts and service market. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), even though dealership parts and service department sales comprise just 11.8 percent of typical dealer's total sales, it contributes 48 percent of the total operating profit. New car sales make up 60 percent of total sales, but only contribute 35 percent of total profit. The dramatic drop in new car sales over the past several months has only placed more pressure on dealerships to make up the difference through their repair shop business. History has shown that the marketing and competitive interests of the manufacturers will override their current promise to make all information available once the legislation has disappeared from their radar screen.
  • The truth is that NASTF will become a much more effective organization if Right to Repair legislation is enacted. Once car companies know that they could be subject to federal and state action if they do not fully comply with information requests, the incentive for cooperation will be much greater.
  • The aftermarket entered into the negotiations with the vehicle manufacturers back in 2005 under the auspices of the Better Business Bureau in an attempt to improve the effectiveness of NASTF. However, after weeks of difficult negotiations, the talks fell apart when manufacturers were unwilling to provide NASTF with a balanced governing board and sufficient enforcement powers should the car companies fail to make the needed information available.

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