WASHINGTON-The Automotive Parts & Accessories Association strongly favors a draft proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency that would give independent auto repairers the means to use on-board vehicle computers to make general and emissions repairs. But some provisions in the draft have the APAA concerned that the final rule may be too weak to help independent technicians.
According to the EPA draft issued Aug. 22, all vehicle manufacturers that provide computer reprogramming capabilities to their dealers must also do so for independent garages.
``Independent service technicians would not need to go to a dealership to have reprogramming of a computer performed,'' the draft said. ``However, dealerships that have reprogramming capabilities would be required to offer this service for a reasonable fee to independent technicians who, for various reasons (e.g. not cost-effective), elect not to purchase the tools required to perform reprogramming.''
Automakers would have until December 1997 or 1998 to allow independent garages access to reprogramming, either directly or through the aftermarket. They would have to offer independents the capability to perform reprogramming retroactive to the 1994 model year, although they could petition the EPA for a waiver if this would require vehicle hardware modification.
In an Aug. 25 letter to the EPA, the APAA said it appreciated the agency's actions.
``...Advertising campaigns by Mazda and General Motors which attempt to portray the independent as technologically backward illustrate the need for independents to have access to on-board computers in order to compete with new-car dealers,'' said Aaron M. Lowe, APAA director of legislative and regulatory affairs.
The APAA is worried, however, that delaying the reprogramming access rule to as late as December 1998 could seriously harm independent technicians' ability to compete against auto dealers.
``A great many vehicles sold before 1997 or 1998...will not be fully serviceable by independents despite the fact that their emissions warranty will have expired,'' said Mr. Lowe, who urged the EPA to mandate reprogramming access ``as soon as practically possible.''
Equipment costs for reprogramming also could prove prohibitive, according to Mr. Lowe. ``The draft appears to leave it to the discretion of the car company as to the method and cost of providing reprogramming capabilities,'' he said. ``APAA urges the agency to provide for standardization of the reprogramming capability, as well as imposition of strict cost controls.''
Finally, the APAA wants the EPA to clarify under what circumstances it will provide waivers to automakers for the retroactive reprogramming access rule. ``The actual access to the computers is already provided to dealers, and therefore no changes should be necessary in order to provide that same access to independents,'' Mr. Lowe said.
The EPA has been working on the reprogramming issue for the last three years, and has received ``a vertical file drawer full'' of comments from all concerned parties, according to Cheryl Adelman, a senior policy adviser with the EPA. ``We will consider all positions,'' she said, adding that the rule's final draft should be completed by December. But the review process of the EPA and the Office of Management and Budget means the proposal may not be published in the Federal Register before next spring.