Independent auto repairers could go bust without guarantees from vehicle manufacturers that they can obtain all the information and equipment they need to repair newer-model vehicles, according to testimony given at a Senate subcommittee hearing.
Auto makers themselves, however, insisted they are doing everything they can to plug the holes in the information independent garages receive from them, and blamed aftermarket parts manufacturers for creating the controversy.
Hundreds of independent auto technicians from around the U.S. came to Washington July 30 in support of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism July 30. The bill would require vehicle manufacturers to provide all relevant service information, diagnostic tools and equipment to independent repairers in a readily accessible manner and at a reasonable cost.
``The only thing independent mechanics are asking for is a level playing field,'' said Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., Senate sponsor of the Right to Repair Act.
Representatives of the Automotive Service Association, the American Automobile Association and individual repair shops told stories of independent garages being forced to send customers to auto dealers for repairs because only the dealers had all the information and equipment necessary to make them.
Such turn-aways involve approximately 15 percent of the business independent repairers receive, said ASA Vice President Bill Haas. This amounts to $18.2 billion in lost revenue annually, he said.
If this doesn't stop, soon customers will start avoiding independent repairers altogether, according to Dale Feste, owner of Dale Feste Automotive in Hopkins, Minn.
``Automotive technology is being used today to successfully lock out motor vehicle owners from being able to repair and maintain their vehicles,'' Mr. Feste said. ``We are gradually losing the vehicle owners' right to select where they have their vehicles repaired.''
At one point, Subcommittee Chairman Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., asked for a show of hands from the auto technicians in the audience as to how many had had to turn down business because they didn't have the necessary repair information. Virtually all put up their hands.
Auto industry representatives insisted that all the technicians' concerns were being addressed through the National Automotive Service Task Force, which was set up for the purpose of expediting the flow of service information to independents.
``This is really a parts bill masquerading as a repair bill,'' said Greg Dana, vice president for environmental affairs at the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. ``Repair shops do not need proprietary computer codes to diagnose and repair vehicles. This proprietary code is useful only to aftermarket part manufacturers who would like to copy our parts.''
Mr. Haas, however, questioned Mr. Dana's assertion that auto makers are doing everything they can to help independent garages.
Of 20 auto makers that signed memoranda of understanding last year to provide service information to independents, Mr. Haas said, four-BMW, Volkswagen, Saab and DaimlerChrysler-have already reneged on them. Only three-General Motors Corp., Mazda and Hyundai-have taken substantial steps to implement them, he added.