WASHINGTON—Although impeachment proceedings have been ``a deterrent to progress on key issues,'' the Automotive Service Association still is reasonably optimistic about 1999. ``There has been some success in 1997 and 1998, and we hope to make some accomplishments in 1999,'' said Robert L. Redding, ASA Washington representative. ``If we don't, 2000 could be an extremely frustrating year for us, because of the elections.''
However, most of the priorities he mentioned for 1999 were regulatory rather than legislative in nature.
Mr. Redding pointed to several successful ASA initiatives in Washington in 1998, some of which will bear fruit this year.
The association supported the Drive for Teen Employment Act, passed by Congress last year. That initiative allows auto repair shops and other businesses to allow teenage employees to drive company cars and trucks on a limited basis.
Last fall, Mr. Redding wrote to Margo Oge, director of the Office of Mobile Sources within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to discuss the problems independent auto repairers have with the second phase of on-board diagnostic (OBD) equipment for vehicle emission systems.
Not only do independent shops find it difficult to get relevant OBD II information from automakers, Mr. Redding said, but they find it expensive to buy scan tools specific to every make and model and difficult to reprogram OBD computers.
Ms. Oge wrote back in November, saying the EPA ``is considering changes to the current (OBD II) regulations to not only address some of the concerns that you have raised, but also to address the rapid changes in information distribution such as CD-ROM technology and the ever-increasing use of the Internet.''
The agency will call on the ASA and other interested parties for input as rulemaking begins over the next several months, Ms. Oge said.
Auto repairers are unhappy, however, over what they perceive as inaction or obliviousness on the part of regulatory agencies.
The ASA, for instance, still is working with the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, trying to get the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to encourage the establishment of vehicle safety inspection programs in states that don't have them and to conduct a study of the effectiveness of existing programs.
``There could not be a more frustrating federal issue,'' Mr. Redding said. ``NHTSA has a congressional mandate to supervise and encourage state motor vehicle safety inspections. But in the last decade, they have not used any resources whatever to pursue this.''
Air bag deactivation
Simultaneously, NHTSA is allowing auto repair shops to deactivate air bags at drivers' requests, but the ASA is advising its members to refuse such work. The association has met with agency officials in an effort to get assurances that independent auto repairers will be shielded from liability from motorists who get their air bags deactivated and then have accidents.
NHTSA has promised limited liability protection to new-car dealers, Mr. Redding said. ``But we (independent repair shops) don't have any protection, and there are no deep pockets for us to go to,'' he said. ``Our insurers haven't told us, `If you deactivate an air bag, we're going to cover you.'''
The ASA also has concerns about extensions on both the federal and state level of service warranties on emissions control equipment for low-emission vehicles (LEV). The more such warranties are extended, the more business independent repairers lose.
The California Air Resources Board has proposed extending the LEV warranty from 7 years/70,000 miles to 8 years/80,000 miles, he noted, and the EPA and Justice Department are punishing automakers for missing LEV deadlines and goals by extending warranties.
``Whenever you're punishing them with extended warranties, you're punishing us—and we haven't done anything!'' Mr. Redding said. ``This violates a federal mandate, and we will ask Congress to take a harder look at this situation.''
Meanwhile, from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the ASA is concerned over a draft proposal to require safety management programs for small businesses.
``Through this regulation, OSHA is asserting itself into the management of small business,'' Mr. Redding said in a letter to Rep. Cass Ballinger, R-N.C., a major proponent of OSHA reform.
Most onerous to the association is the requirement to designate one employee in each workplace as the ``contact person'' to whom safety complaints can be brought.
``Complaints come mostly from disgruntled employees—the guy who has a beef with his supervisor or was just laid off—which is why we don't want this program to be mandatory,'' Mr. Redding said. ``What we're saying is this program would only escalate this sort of thing.''
One legislative—as opposed to regulatory—priority Mr. Redding mentioned for 1999 was a bill for uniform national standards on salvage titling of vehicles damaged in collisions. Different versions of the bill passed the House and Senate in 1998, but the issue died during debate on the omnibus budget package.
The ASA urged the Senate to define a salvage vehicle as one up to five years old or with a retail value of more than $10,000 whose repair costs exceed 80 percent of its value. Some senators and congressmen advanced unacceptably broad definitions, in the association's view.
A definition that is too broad encourages the scrappage of vehicles that otherwise could be repaired, he said. ``We'd like to see uniform titling passed, but not at the expense of our industry.''