WASHINGTON (Oct. 14, 2005) — The breakdown of negotiations between vehicle makers and aftermarket representatives on a non-legislative auto repair information agreement has the auto aftermarket vowing to fight for passage of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act, though the bill's prospects remain somewhat cloudy.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and chief sponsor of the Right to Repair Act, said during a subcommittee hearing June 28 he would put the bill on a fast track toward passage if industry negotiations failed. Pressure to pass budget bills for fiscal year 2006 and relief legislation for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may derail those plans, though, according to the bill's advocates.
A spokesman for the Energy and Commerce Committee said Rep. Barton and the committee staff were still being briefed on the negotiations and hadn't yet decided how to proceed on the Right to Repair Act.
Vehicle manufacturers and representatives of the automotive aftermarket missed a Sept. 30 deadline to reach an agreement on how to ensure that independent auto repairers receive full access to the same repair and diagnostic information and tools that auto makers' franchised dealers get, according to an Oct. 3 joint release from the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE).
AAIA and CARE, along with the Tire Industry Association (TIA) and other aftermarket groups, are two of the chief supporters of the Right to Repair Act, which would mandate criminal penalties against auto makers for not making repair information available in an easily accessible, inexpensive format.
One major aftermarket group that opposes the Right to Repair Act is the Automotive Service Association (ASA), which negotiated its own repair information agreement with the auto makers in September 2002. That agreement created the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), whose job is to oversee the free flow of repair information to independent garages as well as mediate all complaints.
The ASA and the auto makers insist the voluntary agreement and the NASTF are working exactly as they should. Advocates of the Right to Repair Act, however, claim the manufacturers' information Web sites are hard to navigate and prohibitively expensive. They also charge that the NASTF takes days or even weeks to resolve complaints, by which time customers have already moved on to franchised dealers.
Governance of the NASTF, and the proportion of aftermarket to auto maker representatives on its board of directors, were among the major stumbling blocks to a non-legislative agreement, according to the AAIA-CARE release. Provision of repair and diagnostic tools for vehicles equipped with anti-theft immobilizer systems was another unresolved issue, the groups said.
There were about 10 all day meetings between the two sides, according to CARE Executive Director Sandy Bass-Cors. During the negotiations, she added, both sides continued to lobby Congress on the issue. As of Oct. 5, there were 54 co-sponsors of the Right to Repair Act, including Mr. Barton.
“Consumers, do-it-yourselfers and the aftermarket still need the information to repair vehicles,” Ms. Bass-Cors said of the legislation.
A lot of positive things came out of the negotiations, particularly a consensus that the NASTF needs a full-time staff and a formal structure, according to Bob Redding, ASA Washington representative. “Currently the NASTF is an all-volunteer effort,” he said.
The biggest sticking point, he added, was that the parts distributors wanted 50-percent representation on the NASTF board. “If you have 50 percent parts distributors and 50 percent auto manufacturers, you're leaving out the one group the agreement was designed to help—the independent auto repairers.”