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Supporters of Right to Repair legislation need to keep up the pressure

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It’s time to start over, and to push harder this time for the Right to Repair Act. Our industry needs to wholeheartedly support it when it is reintroduced after the 111th Congress convenes this month.

When Congress called it a year last October, the bill, officially known as the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act (HR 2649), became a footnote in Congressional history, despite 55 sponsors. On the plus side, that was the most support it had received since the legislation was first introduced in 2001.

Proponents of the bill include the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) and the Tire Industry Association. According to AAIA, the legislation is necessary “to ensure that car owners and their trusted repair shops have the same access to safety alerts and repair information as the franchised new car dealer network.”

Who among us wouldn’t want that to pass, other than the vehicle manufacturers themselves, of course? Unfortunately, the Automobile Service Association (ASA) also is against it.

ASA (www.asashop.org) undermined the proposed legislation in 2002 when it “reached an understanding” (its words)  with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers to provide independent repair shops with the same service and training information they made available to their franchised car dealerships.

Such a pledge is unenforceable (my word), which is why we need government intervention. ASA has insisted for six years that the vehicle manufacturers have been true to their word. Not all tire dealers agree.

“We don’t get the information,” says Rich Hoffman, owner of Hoffman Tire & Alignment in Fayetteville, Ga. “It’s going to be more of a problem once their tire pressure monitoring systems go dead.”

Hoffman was scheduled to testify before the United States House of Representatives Committee on Small Business last September, but was censored by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), an opponent of the bill.

Ironically, ASA thought highly of the original bill, and touted it in the September 2001 issue of its magazine, AutoInc. “Consumers and small businesspersons are at a disadvantage under the current information system,” wrote Robert Redding Jr., ASA’s Washington, D.C., representative.

If enacted, the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair Act of 2001 “will ensure repairers the service information necessary to take our industry into the future,” he continued. “Rather than determining whether you have to specialize because of the price or limited access to information and training... (the act) allows the largest automotive repair sector in this country — the independent — to not only survive, but to plan for the future.”

The National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), established in 2000 to help make automotive service information and training more accessible to “all repairers on an equal basis,” developed its own service information standards in 2008. (As a non-profit organization, NASTF has taken no position on any Right to Repair legislation.)

To date, 13 vehicle manufacturers have agreed to follow the NASTF standards, among them Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Nissan North America Inc. NASTF (www.nastf.org), like the ASA, has no power to force these manufacturers to follow its guidelines, however.

I’m not knocking either group, especially NASTF, for trying to facilitate a working relationship between vehicle manufacturers and tire dealers. And I respect their opinions. I just believe their utopian view of the situation will not pan out.

General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC, to name two, are not worried about supplying repair information to the competition of their franchised dealers at the moment. They have other concerns.

There is greater hope that a Right to Repair bill will pass at the state level. The efforts by independent tire dealers in New Jersey and Massachusetts have been exemplary and unrelenting.

The passage of even one state law could go a long way toward getting it passed by Congress.

Let your state and national legislators know how you feel. For more information on the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act past and present, visit www.righttorepair.org.    ■

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