WASHINGTON (Aug. 1, 2005) — A recent House subcommittee hearing on the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act showed no softening of positions between its supporters and opponents.
On one side of the battleline is the Tire Industry Association (TIA), as well as a number of other industry groups.
It makes no sense for auto makers to oppose legislation that merely codifies into law a repair information agreement they swore to uphold anyway, Roy Littlefield, TIA executive vice president, said in written testimony at the June 28 hearing before the House Small Business Subcommittee on Workforce, Empowerment and Government.
“The fact that these manufacturers oppose this legislation causes TIA to question their commitment to the agreement and forces us to keep supporting the legislation,” Mr. Littlefield wrote.
On the other side is the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which oversees the repair information agreement. NASTF Chairman John Cabaniss told the subcommittee the agreement is working just fine and shouldn't be tampered with.
“The only thing that further federal regulation…would clearly do is slow down the process and delay further progress,” Mr. Cabaniss said. “This outcome benefits no one—not the service industry, not the auto makers, not consumers.”
Reintroduced in the House May 3 by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, the bill—designated H.R. 2048—requires vehicle manufacturers to make available to independent auto repairers the same service, training and diagnostic information they give to their franchised dealers.
The legislation would give the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the authority to cite auto makers for failure to provide this information as a violation of the Unfair or Deceptive Act or Practice section of the Federal Trade Commission Act. Rep. Barton and his staff rewrote the bill from last year's version to answer FTC questions and criticisms.
In July, six new congressmen signed on as co-sponsors of the Right to Repair Act, bringing the total to 31, supporters said.
The new co-sponsors are Reps. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Ray LaHood, R-Ill., William Lacy Clay, D-Mo.; Edward Markey, D-Mass.; George Radanovich, R-Calif.; and James McGovern, D-Mass.
The main point of debate is whether the September 2002 repair information agreement between auto makers and the Automotive Service Association (ASA) is operating as intended. According to Rep. Barton, it isn't.
“The manufacturers said the problem was solved, but the problem is that the problem is not solved,” he said. “It can take eight days to two weeks to get the information you need to repair a vehicle, which is too long for most people.”
Backing Rep. Barton was Dennis Houska, president of Houska Automotive Services Inc. in Fort Collins, Colo. Testifying for the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, Mr. Houska said the NASTF Web site is virtually useless to him.
“I have had technicians attempt to navigate that site, and it takes so long with no results, we end up having to turn away business,” he said.
Contradicting Mr. Houska was Eddie Ehlert, president of Mazdonly Ltd., an auto repair facility in Chamblee, Ga. Testifying for the ASA, Mr. Ehlert noted that the NASTF received only 48 complaints last year out of 451 million auto repairs and that all 48 were resolved.
“Why would independent repairers who have a service information problem want to go to the Federal Trade Commission to resolve that problem?” he asked. “Can you imagine how frustrating this will be for the small business man or woman trying to repair their customer's car?”
For TIA, the major issue remains whether tire dealerships will have access to service, repair and diagnostic information for the tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) now mandated by federal law, according to Mr. Littlefield.
“TIA members will need information from the OEMs to figure out each TPMS system, and that information is not always easily accessible or available,” he said. “The time for passage of the Right to Repair Act has never been more important to the tire industry.”
Third-party groups such as the American Automobile Association and the National Federation of Independent Business support the act. ASA President Ron Pyle claims he doesn't know why. “If they oppose federal intrusion into small business, why would they support something that would create a whole new layer of bureaucracy for independent auto repairers?” Mr. Pyle asked after the hearing.
Rep. Barton, meanwhile, said he expected the Right to Repair Act to be introduced soon in the Senate.