Automotive service technicians with independent repair shops have long complained that auto makers haven't made needed diagnostic information readily accessible, but they're not putting those complaints in writing.
John Cabaniss, chairman of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), said the group is rethinking one tool in its search for lapses in information availability. In the two years since the task force was created to make sure independent repairers had the information, tools and training to repair all vehicles, it has received only about 50 written complaints.
The issue is ``just really not bringing much feedback,'' said Mr. Cabaniss, who also is director of environment and energy for the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers in Arlington.
In November the task force met for the fifth time since it was established in 2000 to assure all shops had access to the same information as the car manufacturers' dealerships. The next meeting will be scheduled for March. The group also is working with auto makers in their promise to make information accessible by Aug. 31.
But Mr. Cabaniss said that's a tall order if the task force never even hears of shortcomings through its online complaint forms, which are available on the group's Web site, www.nastf.org.
He said the NASTF is working with industry associations to launch a campaign to spread the word about the forms and may even take the ``edge'' off the questionnaires, calling them ``feedback forms'' instead of ``complaint forms.''
Ken Roberts, vice president of communications for the Automotive Service Association, said the Bedford, Texas-based ASA also hopes technicians use the form, though the task force's success is not necessarily hinged on it.
``The main thing is to ensure the repair information is available,'' he said. ``That's the primary function. The complaint form is just a tool to make sure that function can be attained.''
The task force is making progress with Web sites designed to provide extensive information about vehicles, Mr. Cabaniss said. Auto makers plan to launch the sites in the first quarter, he said, though some are already up and running.
Mr. Cabaniss said the information would cover vehicles at least to the 1996 model year, with some manufacturers offering data even farther back.
``The content will largely be comparable and pretty complete, but the look and feel is bound to be different,'' he said.
But the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) isn't waiting until the Web sites are launched. Executive Director Sandy Bass-Cors said the group continues to seek legislation to make sure auto makers stick to their pledges to make information available.
She said she expects the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act will be reintroduced in Congress in January, with potential hearings in the spring.
Last year the act was passed after 20 auto makers signed memoranda of understanding (MOU) to provide service information to independents. But six months later only three had taken steps to implement the MOUs and four auto makers had reneged on them, according to ASA Vice president Bill Haas at a July 30 hearing.
``Our concern is that with the agreement ASA got, there is no enforcement,'' Ms. Bass-Cors said. ``There is nothing to keep manufacturers' feet to the fire.''
Mr. Roberts of the ASA said he expects the task force to remain in business to police the process even after the August deadline set by manufacturers.