Right to Repair Legislation – What Does It Mean To Consumers?

by Don Elliott on October 13, 2011

As automobiles have become more complicated, an automotive technician’s ability to diagnose and complete auto repairs requires special tools, education, and access to computer codes. Automobile manufacturers control the dissemination of car repair information. Independent auto repair shops and parts sellers have argued that manufacturers are biased to their franchised dealerships. This forces consumers to pay unfair prices for certain types of car repairs.

Car manufacturers argue that aftermarket part providers want access to proprietary information that would make it possible for them to duplicate lesser quality parts for less money. They also argue that access to some diagnostic trouble codes and security features would lead to increased theft.

Supporters of the “Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act of 2011,” known more commonly as the “Right to Repair Act,” proposed that manufacturers provide the non-proprietary diagnostic information, tools, and safety information directly to consumers. Then consumers could have their cars repaired using independent automotive repair shops and their technicians.

Money is the issue here. Aftermarket parts are less expensive than original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM) parts. In some cases, they are less expensive because they may be produced to a lower specification or without the proper engineering. Diagnostic tools are expensive to program and maintain. In some cases, manufacturers have made diagnostic information available to independent car repair shops. However, the cost to buy the diagnostic tools is hard to justify. Special tools fall into the same category. It might cost five, ten, or twenty thousand dollars for a tool that might only be used for a few auto repair orders in an independent shop.

Security issues are a bit more difficult to resolve. For example, there is an industry problem regarding hand held tools used to program electronic dashboards. These tools require access to auto manufacturers’ security codes that reset the odometer. Hackers have figured out how to beat the security codes. This makes it possible for unscrupulous people to “rollback” the mileage setting to a lower number.

The federal bill died in committee. Similar legislation has been introduced at the state level. The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition is gathering signatures to get their initiative petition before the voters on the 2012 ballot. Other states have similar actions underway, which the Automobile Association of America (AAA), the states Independent Automobile Dealers Associations, and auto parts retail chains support.

No matter which side you take on this issue, it is clear that the consumer will incur the majority of the auto repair costs for certain problems in the newer, more complicated cars.

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