In an unprecedented move, the executives representing 35 different makes of automobile and two vehicle industry associations have agreed to make all necessary repair and diagnostic information readily available to independent auto repairers.
All the auto makers have committed to making this information accessible at a reasonable price to independent garages by Aug. 31, 2003, according to a Sept. 20 letter signed by the heads of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers and the Automotive Service Association, and sent to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
But the Tire Industry Association (TIA), though not opposed to the agreement, feels passage of a congressional bill, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, is necessary to ensure auto makers live up to their promise.
The Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) blasted the agreement as inadequate. The group and other aftermarket associations were never consulted about the pact, said CARE President David Parde, adding that his group still supports federal legislation for information access.
``The recent offer to make repair information public by the automobile manufacturers doesn't come close to the requirements in the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act,'' Mr. Parde said in a Sept. 27 press release.
The agreement covers emission- and non-emission-related service information, training information and diagnostic tools, according to AAM President and CEO Josephine S. Cooper; AIAM President and CEO Timothy C. MacCarthy; and ASA Chairman Dan Frohlich.
It is modeled on California Air Resources Board regulations governing emissions-related systems and components, the letter stated. This means that independent repairers will have access to the same information as franchised car dealers, either via the Internet or in the same manner and extent that it is available to dealers. Also, independent garages will have the same diagnostic tools available to them that are available to car dealers.
``This commitment will continue the viability of the automotive service industry and preclude the need for current legislation while we work on implementation,'' the letter said. ``Moreover, successful implementation will eliminate the need for future state and federal legislation.''
Sen. Dorgan is chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism within the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The subcommittee held a hearing July 30 on the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act-a bill designed to guarantee independent auto technicians' access to repair and diagnostic information for late-model vehicles.
During that hearing, representatives of the auto industry pledged they would work with the independent repair industry to resolve all issues surrounding information access. The new agreement is the fruit of those discussions, according to a joint press release by the ASA, AAM and AIAM.
Lack of access to repair and diagnostic information has been a sore point for years with independent auto technicians. That lack not only threatens their livelihoods, they say, but also reduces consumer choice by forcing motorists to go back to auto dealers for repairs.
``We're not opposed to the ASA agreement, but TIA is not backing off on the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act,'' said Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government affairs.
``The agreement is a good step in the right direction,'' Ms. MacDicken said. ``But there's no enforcement mechanism in that agreement; therefore, we still need legislation. If manufacturers are willing to fund that agreement, they should have no trouble with passage of the legislation, which has mechanisms to back it up.''
Last year, 20 auto makers signed memoranda of understanding to provide service information to independents. However, six months later only three had taken steps to implement these MOUs, while four had reneged on them, said ASA Vice President Bill Haas at the July 30 hearing. This was what led the association to push for passage of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, he added.
Mr. Parde noted that Aug. 31, 2003, is six months later than the date promised in the MOUs. But at least, he added, the auto makers admitted in the new agreement that they haven't been forthcoming with repair and diagnostic information.
``Our intention is to continue with legislation,'' he said. ``We're coming up to the end of this congressional session, but we intend to reintroduce the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act and fight for its passage.''
If Sen. Dorgan doesn't support the bill in the face of the new agreement, CARE has contacts with other senators who are likely to introduce it, according to Mr. Parde. When asked why the ASA didn't consult CARE about the agreement, he said, ``You'd have to ask them about that.''
The ASA is confident the new agreement is the solution its members have sought, ASA Washington representative Robert L. Redding said. Now, if an independent technician is refused access to repair information, all he has to do is contact the Auto Service Task Force, he said. And if he doesn't get satisfaction there, he can contact Sen. Dorgan and his subcommittee.
``Sen. Dorgan made it very plain that if the industry can't resolve the issue of information access, Congress will,'' Mr. Redding said. He declined comment on objections to the pact.
Auto industry associations will police their members to make sure they comply with the terms of the agreement, and Sen. Dorgan's subcommittee also has free rein to monitor industry compliance, said a spokesman for the AAM.
``We've had a long relationship with the independent repair industry,'' the spokesman said. ``We've made a commitment to something that hasn't been attempted in our industry before, for all our members to provide this information.''