With Congress preoccupied by the Iraq war and hurricane relief, industry-specific legislation for tire dealers, retreaders and independent auto repairers wasn't exactly on the congressional front burner this year.
However, a number of bills held the industry's interest.
Right to Repair
Once again, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act sharply divided the industry. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Automotive Service Association (ASA) insist that the National Automotive Service Task Force-the group formed under the organizations' September 2002 agreement with auto manufacturers-does an effective job of ensuring that auto makers give independent garages the repair information they need.
However, almost all other auto aftermarket groups-including the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, the Tire Industry Association and the Specialty Equipment Market Association-claim a law that sanctions auto makers for not providing that information is the only way to ensure they provide the needed data. They also say auto makers' informational Web sites are overly expensive and hard to navigate.
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and chief sponsor of the Right to Repair Act, said he wants to move ahead on the legislation, particularly since September negotiations between the two sides failed.
Committee action on the bill, however, probably won't happen until early in 2006, while other committee members urge negotiators to resume talks.
Some of the most worrisome legislation for independent auto repairers, meanwhile, isn't even being considered in the federal Congress.
Nine states have passed rules to reduce greenhouse gases, based on a California law, and this rule mandates a 15-year, 150,000-mile ``super-warranty'' on vehicle emissions control equipment.
Many other states are considering such legislation. One law, in Washington state, will mandate the super-warranty on any problem that would cause a vehicle's malfunction indicator light to come on.
Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. vehicles could be covered by super-warranties by 2010, effectively tying them to auto dealers' service departments for 15 years, according to the ASA.
``A mandatory warranty program would kill us,'' said Bob Redding, ASA Washington representative, who added that the association is negotiating with state legislatures to make sure its members aren't locked out of servicing cars with super-warranties.
Also on the state side, the Massachusetts legislature considered but did not pass a replacement tire fuel efficiency standard.
Nearly identical to the bill the California legislature passed in 2003, the Massachusetts legislation would have required the state to ensure that replacement tires sold within its borders were at least as fuel efficient as those on original equipment vehicles.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced a tire fuel efficiency amendment to the Senate's larger energy bill, but that amendment was not in the version of the bill that passed Congress.
In Congress, several measures the tire industry supported failed to pass both houses this year, though all could still become law. The Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, which passed the House in October, would set strict limitations on where personal injury lawsuits can be filed and mandate court sanctions against attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits.
Also, in July the House passed a bill approving the permanent repeal of the estate tax, something tire dealers and other small businesses have sought for years. Small business also supports the extension of a small business tax credit, quadrupling the capital improvement expensing limit from $25,000 to $100,000. That law, passed in 2003, sunsets in 2008.
On the other hand, both the House and Senate unanimously passed the Stop Counterfeiting in Manufactured Goods Act.
The bill, which is about to go to House-Senate conference, strengthens existing anti-counterfeiting law by mandating the confiscation of machinery and equipment used to make counterfeit goods. The FBI estimates that the auto parts industry alone loses $12 billion annually in sales and jobs through product counterfeiting.
Also, overriding President Bush's veto threat, the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act.
The bill provides federal funding for high school and college vocational training programs, including training for young auto and tire technicians.
The House version contains an amendment, offered on the floor, to earmark funds to train auto technicians to service and repair hybrid, hydrogen and other alternative fuel cars. No House-Senate conference on the bill has yet been scheduled.