All auto makers that signed an agreement last fall to provide service and repair information to independent auto repairers will have that information online by the end of March, according to the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and two automobile associations.
Other automotive aftermarket groups, however-such as the Tire Industry Association and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality-are dubious at best about the agreement's track record and insist that legislation is needed to force auto makers to hand over all relevant data. The ASA, for its part, insists that opposition to the agreement from other aftermarket associations is led by manufacturers and distributors of aftermarket parts, not by independent repair shops.
To date, seven auto makers, representing 19 different makes of vehicle, have launched their Web sites providing service and repair information to independent technicians on the same basis as franchised dealers, said executives of ASA, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.
The agreement-signed Sept. 20, 2002, by the three associations and representatives of 35 makes of automobile-called for making the information available by Aug. 31, 2003. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who chaired a Senate subcommittee meeting in July 2002 on the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, told the opposing sides on the legislation to try and work out an agreement in lieu of the bill.
``We believe this agreement protects the independent repairer and provides the components for a healthy aftermarket,'' said ASA President Ron Pyle. ``This includes considerations for third-party information providers of tools, service and training information.''
The National Automotive Task Force will continue as a ``sounding board'' for service and parts information questions and complaints, according to Mr. Pyle. In addition, the ASA provides a complaint form that repairers and others in the aftermarket can fill out on the Internet and forward to the auto makers, he said.
The president/CEOs of both auto associations-Timothy McCarthy of AIAM and Josephine S. Cooper of AAM-pledged their members' commitment to fulfilling all the agreement's requirements.
``Seventy to 80 percent of vehicle service and repairs are done in independent shops,'' Ms. Cooper said. `It's impossible for franchised dealers to make all repairs. We rely on independent repairers for quality service and view them as our partners.''
``If this doesn't work, we'll have a hell of a time forestalling any legislation in the future,'' Mr. McCarthy said.
Questioned about the cost of access to the information sites, the association executives insisted they were priced at fair value. ``We don't see this as a profit center,'' Ms. Cooper said. ``We want these sites to be used.''
Charges for accessing the sites vary widely, from Honda ($50 a month for a subscription), to BMW ($200 monthly subscription), to General Motors Corp. ($15 per day, including ac-cess to all GM makes and models).
Addressing complaints about the lack of enforcement mechanisms in the agreement, Ms. Cooper said it quickly will be apparent whether the pact is working. ``The proof (of the agreement) will be that the information is out there, the sites are well-maintained and people are accessing the sites,'' she said.
Bill Haas, ASA vice president of education and training, said the agreement contains everything that the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act contained, except a provision requiring auto makers to provide access to calibration codes for diagnostic tools. These have no importance to repairing cars, he said, but a great deal in making aftermarket parts.
``The guys pushing the most for legislation are those that represent parts manufacturers and distribution networks,'' Mr. Haas said. ``Yet they keep putting at the forefront the need for service and repair information, when they're really after something completely different.''
But CARE Executive Director Sandy Bass-Cors said locksmiths, electronics people and others in the auto aftermarket already have been refused access to information under the agreement.
``The agreement is not a legal document, and it has no enforcement mechanism,'' Ms. Bass-Cors said. ``There is no independent body to monitor its performance. The NASTF is collecting information, but it's not an unbiased body.''
``The only aftermarket organization that is with this agreement is the ASA,'' she added. ``They're sort of putting stuff together and throwing it to the wind.''
Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government affairs, also was skeptical of the agreement's results so far. Ms. MacDicken said she had accessed some of the auto makers' Web sites, ``and it seemed there was a lot of missing information.
``Therefore, TIA will continue to push for the Right to Repair Act, to make sure independent auto repair shops have access to the information they need,'' she added.
CARE and TIA are among 18 auto aftermarket associations-including the American Automobile Association, the Service Station Dealers Association and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association-that belong to the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, a coalition that supports passage of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act. The Alliance's press kit says it represents approximately 7,000 members of the automotive service industry that seek passage of the bill.