When an appliance or equipment around the house or in your garage breaks, the first question is whether it can be fixed or if it has to be scrapped. Most of the time a broken part can be fixed, but the process may be tough depending on how the product was designed. There’s a lot of talk in consumer reports and family kitchens about fixing mobile phones, laptop computers, even smart appliances that all seem designed to be as difficult to repair as possible, especially without certain key tools or information from the manufacturer. Vehicle repairs are no different, and the struggle for vehicle owners and independent repair facilities has reached into the digital age.
What Is Right To Repair?
“Right to Repair” is the generic term given to include several different initiatives over the years. The idea is that vehicle owners and independent vehicle repair businesses should have the same access to repair information as the automotive manufacturer dealership service departments. If this fight sounds familiar, that’s because it has been going on for decades. Going back to 1975 the Magnuson–Moss Warranty Act guaranteed the ability to service a vehicle outside the dealership network without voiding the warranty. But that was just the start.
As vehicles became more and more dependent on technology, the needs to analyze and repair those vehicles also became more technologically advanced. One stepping stone was the 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act that mandated the OBD-II system now commonly used to diagnose vehicle emissions troubles. OBD-II uses a standard set of diagnostic trouble codes across all automotive manufactures to identify specific problems. This information was also freely available to the public.
If the check engine light came on, now anyone with an OBD-II code reader could find out what was wrong with their car and choose their preferred repair method. But a new frontier has opened up in the fight over data access. Where previously the onboard diagnostics systems only saved information locally on the vehicle’s internal computers, advances in communications technology now allow for automakers to collect vehicle data remotely. This data is warehoused in data centers owned by the automakers. Now vehicle owners are presented with a problem that requires an advanced solution.
REPAIR Act Reintroduced
The amount of data collected by modern vehicle on-board systems is staggering. But who owns that data; the vehicle owner or the manufacturer? When it comes to vehicle repair, the fight to secure data access for vehicle owners and independent repair facilities continues. U.S. Representative Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) introduced the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act to the U.S. House on February 3, 2022. Unfortunately the bill was not successful in the 2022 Congressional session, but the bill has been reintroduced as H.R. 906 for the 2023 session by a group of bipartisan United States representatives: Brendan Boyle (D-PA-2), Warren Davidson (R-OH-8), Neal Dunn (R-FL-2), and Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D-WA-3).
Co-sponsor Rep. Dunn says, “When it comes to repairing their automobiles, consumers deserve options. The REPAIR Act would give owners, including the rural communities in my district, secure access to critical data so the service center of their choosing can replace parts and repair their vehicles. I am proud to support competition in the vehicle repair industry and this important legislation.”
Co-sponsor Rep. Boyle says, “There are hundreds of neighborhood mechanics in Philadelphia. The last thing those small business owners need is to be boxed out of making a living. This legislation would not only protect the business relationships between automobile owners and their mechanics, but it also ensures consumers continue to have more options on where to go for repairs.”
The bill is still aimed at giving small independent repair shops the same kind of data access that licensed vehicle dealerships already receive. The REPAIR Act will:
- Preserve consumer access to high quality and affordable vehicle repair by ensuring that vehicle owners and their repairers of choice have access to necessary repair and maintenance tools and data as vehicles continue to become more advanced.
- Ensure access to critical repair tools and information. All tools and equipment, wireless transmission of repair and diagnostic data, and access to on-board diagnostic and telematic systems needed to repair a vehicle must be made available to the independent repair industry.
- Ensure cybersecurity by allowing vehicle manufacturers to secure vehicle-generated data and requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop standards for how vehicle generated data necessary for repair can be accessed securely.
- Provide Transparency for consumers by requiring vehicle owners be informed that they can choose where and how to get their vehicle repaired.
- Create a stakeholder advisory committee, and provide them with the statutory authority to provide recommendations to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on how to address emerging barriers to vehicle repair and maintenance.
- Provide ongoing enforcement by establishing a process for consumers and independent repair facilities to file complaints with the FTC regarding alleged violations of the requirements in the bill and a requirement that the FTC act within five months of a claim.
Co-sponsor Rep. Davidson says, “By prohibiting vehicle owners from accessing and sharing data they generate, manufacturers stop consumers from accessing third-party repair shops. American vehicle owners have a right to control their data, and a right to access third-party repair shops, tools and parts.”
Co-sponsor Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez says, “Working families in rural America can’t afford to take a day off to drive their car to the dealership for a costly repair. The REPAIR Act is a bipartisan solution to improve vehicle data access laws to give working families more choices for repair when their car breaks down. I appreciate Representatives Dunn, Boyle, and Davidson for their leadership on this issue, and look forward to working in a bipartisan fashion to improve repair laws for families who work for a living.”
The REPAIR Act has support among some of the industry’s largest players like the Auto Care Association, MEMA Aftermarket Suppliers (MEMA), CAR (Consumer Access to Repair) Coalition, and Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). These groups are focused on protecting not only the rights of individual vehicle owners, but also the repair industry itself.” Ensuring consumer choice, while retaining a free and competitive market across the vehicle lifecycle, is at the heart of this legislation,” said Bill Hanvey, president and CEO of the Auto Care Association. “As personal transportation has become more essential than ever, we need to make sure that 288 million American motorists have access to affordable, safe and secure repairs for their vehicles. The tenets of this bill are principles-based, balanced, and address concerns shared across the automotive industry. Passage of this bill will keep consumers at the wheel, while preserving an industry that contributes 4.4 million U.S. jobs and 2% GDP.”
What You Can Do
So what can you do as a vehicle owner to help the “Right to Repair” movement? Demand that the lawmakers that represent you also represent the need for fair and equitable access to all parts of the vehicle care equation. NAPA Auto Care makes it easy to contact your Senator and Congressperson via their website form found at https://member.napaautocare.com/OwnersRightToRepair so you can let them know your concerns. The form will ask for your home address to automatically identify your representatives and contact them with a pre-drafted letter. It’s just that easy.
Photos courtesy of Pexels.
With an automotive writing career spanning over two decades, Brian has a passion for sharing the automotive lifestyle. An avid DIYer he can usually be found working on one of his many project cars. His current collection includes a 1969 Olds Delta 88 convertible, BMW E46 sedan, and a slant-6 powered 1975 Plymouth Duster.