When something around the house breaks, the first question is whether it can be fixed or if it has to be scrapped. Most of the time it can be fixed but the process may be tough depending on how it was designed. There’s a lot of talk around fixing cell phones, laptop computers, even 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 their chosen 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 which mandated the now common OBD-II system used to diagnose vehicle emissions troubles. OBD-II uses a standard set of diagnostic trouble codes that are used 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 Introduced
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 their chosen 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 3rd, 2022. The bill is aimed at giving small independent repair shops the same kind of data access that licensed vehicle dealerships already receive.
“Americans should not be forced to bring their cars to more costly and inconvenient dealerships for repairs when independent auto repair shops are often cheaper and far more accessible,” said Rep. Rush. “But as cars become more advanced, manufacturers are getting sole access to important vehicle data while independent repair shops are increasingly locked out. The status quo for auto repair is not tenable, and it is getting worse. If the monopoly on vehicle repair data continues, it would affect nearly 860,000 blue-collar workers and 274,000 service facilities.”
Rep. Rush’s office stated in a press release how the bill will work. Specifically, 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.
“The lack of meaningful consumer choice in the repair market harms low-income Americans and those in underserved communities most,” Rush continued. “A single mother who relies on her vehicle to go to work and get her kids to school can’t afford to wait days or weeks to have her car repaired at a dealership that is hours away and more expensive than the auto shop around the corner. That is why I am proud to be introducing the first federal Right to Repair legislation for the auto sector. The REPAIR Act is common sense, necessary legislation that will end manufacturers’ monopoly on vehicle repair and maintenance and allow Americans the freedom to choose where to repair their vehicles.”
The act has support among some of the industry’s largest players like the Auto Care Association, Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), 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. The NAPA AutoCare 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 address and automatically identify your representatives while also drafting a letter to them. 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 and a slant-6 powered 1975 Plymouth Duster.