For the nation's independent auto service providers, the main part of dealing with the federal government is simply getting their voices heard.
Making auto technicians' voices heard was the goal of the Automotive Service Association's annual convention in Arlington April 8-13, and ASA Washington Representative Robert L. Redding was pleased with the result.
One of the highlights of the meeting was Wednesday, April 11, when convention attendees spent the day visiting their elected officials on Capitol Hill. A day later Mr. Redding praised their efforts in a speech.
``Your work on Wednesday cannot be taken lightly,'' he said, adding that by noon April 11 the ASA had won three new sponsors for the Motor Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair Act. This bill would guarantee that the auto aftermarket has access to diagnostic equipment and repair information from original equipment manufacturers.
The legislation gained a total of seven new sponsors before the conference ended. But, as Mr. Redding noted, passage of legislation is not the ASA's highest goal.
``You shouldn't always have to have a bill,'' he said. ``A lot of things would change if we only had the sort of representation that the OE manufacturers have.... What can you say to a legislator who thinks car dealers do all the service and repairs?''
The goal of ``one group, one voice, with everybody on the same team,'' in Mr. Redding's words, is closer to achievement than ever, according to the April 9 speech of outgoing ASA President Walter Trapp. The association now boasts more than 12,000 members, including the 1,700-plus members of ASA-California, which became affiliated with the national association in January, Mr. Trapp noted.
As the ASA's size has grown, so has the complexity of its mission, said ASA Chairman Jim Keller in an April 9 speech.
``Today our association is as cutting-edge as the industry it represents,'' Mr. Keller said. ``This is rocket science. Whether it's a mechanical shop or a collision shop, the way we do business now hardly resembles the way we did it 10 years ago.
``There is no pointing to a single shop and saying it represents our industry,'' he added. ``Automotive service is so much more diverse than that. Because the automobile has saturated our society, I believe our industry, more than any other, reflects who we are as a nation.''
The week of April 9, a diverse group of garage owners and technicians from across the U.S. came to share ideas and tell their legislators about their concerns-particularly access to OE repair information and promotion of state safety inspection programs.
Keeping the Motor Vehicle Owner's Right to Repair Act alive is a major goal of the ASA, largely to continue pressure on the OE manufacturers, according to board and staff members of the ASA Mechanical Division.
Last fall, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and all but two of its members signed letters of intent to make available to independent repair shops all the same diagnostic equipment and repair information they give to their dealers. While this is important, availability is only one part of the issue, said Bill Haas, manager of the Mechanical Division.
``We must now be responsible in researching how the information is accessible and whether it's affordable,'' Mr. Haas said, adding that there's likely to be major differences between auto makers on those points. He noted that Volvo made its repair information available to the aftermarket in 1999, but charged for the information for each model for each model year. The cost was a $1,750 start-up fee for each model, he said, plus $450 for each model year and a $450 annual renewal fee for each.
``And these don't include wiring diagrams, which Volvo sells for $40 to $65 apiece,'' he said.
The ASA would much rather have a deal in place with the OE manufacturers than a bill passed, according to Mr. Redding, because ``once we have a law, we still have to have it enforced.''
As for inspection/maintenance (I/M) programs, the board members admitted they could be accused of an ulterior motive, but all of them see dangerously unroadworthy cars every day, yet only in 18 states and the District of Columbia do they have a mandate to fix them.
``There are cars that go into my shop that shouldn't be on the road, and there's nothing I can do about it if the owner doesn't want the repairs,'' said Rick Allison, general manager of AAMCO Transmissions in Eugene, Ore., and current president of the 2002 Automotive Trades Association. ``I see cars with no wipers, bald tires and leaking gas tanks.''