Aaron Lowe, vice president of government affairs for the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) testified before the House Small Business Committee in to brief legislators on the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act (H.R. 2694) on Sept. 25. H.R. 2694 (Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-NY), introduced last year, would require car companies to make the same service information and tools capabilities available to independent repair shops that they provide their to their franchised dealer networks. The legislation further provides car companies with protections for trade secrets unless that information is provided to the franchised new car dealers.
Lowe claimed that changes in market dynamics are placing independent shops at a competitive disadvantage because they don’t have equal access to information about increasingly complex new vehicles and the technology on board that dealer network shops do.
The Automotive Service Association (ASA) and the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) oppose the legislation and similar legislation proposed in several states. The two groups contend that independent repairers do have equal access to vehicle information.
In a letter to Congress sent last year, ASA said, “The service information, diagnostic tools and training needed are already available in the marketplace. Therefore, legislation forcing the disclosure of proprietary data would be unnecessary and counterproductive. NADA and ASA assert that the information necessary to diagnose, service and repair vehicles is already being made available to all parties in the automobile repair industry through third-party private sector companies and automobile manufacturers.”
Lowe pointed out that the U.S. Congress has already acknowledged the role technology would play in the repair market when they passed the Clean Air Act. The Act requires that car companies equip their vehicles with on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems that monitor emissions systems. In 1990, provisions were added to ensure that on-board computers be accessible without the need for proprietary tools and that any information needed to repair the emissions system be made available to the independent aftermarket. The legislation protects the trade secrets of the car companies but specifies that no information may be withheld if that information had been provided directly or indirectly to the new car dealer.
“The gains made by the Clean Air Act have been tempered in the last several years by the fact that the computers, now being installed on vehicles, go well beyond emissions monitoring and controlling nearly every function of the vehicle from safety to entertainment. New technologies are coming quickly down the pike that could provide vehicle manufacturers with even more of a competitive advantage when it comes to repairing a customer’s vehicle,” Lowe said.
Lowe contended that the aftermarket is not attempting to stop the use of any technology that improves the car owner’s experience, safety or reduces harmful emissions, but rather that once a car owner purchases a vehicle, they should have the right to decide where it is serviced and where any information that is transmitted from the car regarding vehicle diagnosis or repair is sent, whether it is a dealership or independent shop.