Accessing Service Information TodayPosted 6/25/2004
By Levy Joffrion
Do shop owners have access to the information they need to repair newer model vehicles? Do they have access to the tools? Do they have access to the training?
The answer: a resounding "Yes!"
Next step: educating shop owners and technicians on using this information. And for that purpose, a course is available (see Special Feature, "You Have the Right to Repair").
Fly in the ointment: Even though shop owners and technicians have access to all the information they need to repair newer model vehicles, some segments of the industry seem determined to pursue legislation aimed at achieving that goal. The Automotive Service Association (ASA) opposes such legislation because it is not necessary and because it would seriously jeopardize all that has already been achieved.
What has been accomplished is due largely to the efforts of a lot of ASA members who worked diligently for years to make it happen.
A Look Back
There was a time when that information was not available to independent repairers. Nor were the diagnostic tools and training.
It goes back to the 1990 Clean Air Act, which required that all vehicles built after 1994 include a computer system to measure vehicle emissions. As technology improved, computer systems took on more and more vehicle functions - including brakes, air bags, steering mechanisms, ignition systems and fuel systems.
As a result, auto manufacturers were able to control the computer codes necessary to run diagnostic tests and repair newer-model vehicles. That meant independent repairers often did not have access to the codes they needed to fix vehicles. And it meant consumers had to take their vehicles to dealers to have them repaired.
Independent repair shops were falling further and further behind in their ability to repair vehicles. It was as if they did not have the right to repair and certainly, consumers did not have the right to take their vehicles wherever they wanted for repairs.
ASA's board of directors decided the association's members must have this information if they were to survive, and it enlisted the aid of senators and representatives.
In response to the problem, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., in June 2002 introduced in the Senate the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act to require manufacturers to share the codes necessary to run diagnostic tests and perform repairs.
However, Wellstone urged the manufacturers and independent repairers to sit down and work out a solution or Congress would, through legislation.
At a hearing in July 2002, the manufacturers agreed that independent repairers should be able to work on and repair all cars.
And in September 2002, a historic agreement between auto manufacturers and independent service repairers was announced in which the automakers said they would give independent repairers access to the information and diagnostic tools necessary to service increasingly high-tech cars and trucks. It would be the same information they made available to technicians at new car dealers. Manufacturers also said the information, tools and training would be available at a reasonable price.
The historic agreement came in the form of a letter to Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism. The letter was signed by Josephine S. Cooper, the president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Inc.; Timothy C. MacCarthy, president and CEO of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers Inc.; and by Dan Frolich, chairman of ASA at the time.
The senators were pleased. "This was about getting results. Sometimes you have to pass legislation to do that. Other times, you can use the legislative process to raise the profile of an issue and bring people to the table to negotiate. That's what happened here," said Wellstone.
This deal is a win for independent businesses, a win for the auto industry and a win for consumers" he said. "The last thing America needs is another industry where all the little guys, the small, independent businesses, are driven out. It is terrible for our communities who lose businesses and jobs, and reduced competition means higher prices for consumers.
"Independent repairers do not mind competition, but they cannot stay in business if they do not have access to the information to repair newer cars. This deal will protect the viability of independent service station and repair shops and ensure that consumers will continue to have a choice of automotive service providers."
The manufacturers agreed to provide access to service information, tools and training by Aug. 31, 2003. But they fulfilled their commitment before the deadline. By April 2003, all OEM service information was available at Web sites.
What's Happening Today
Those Web sites can be found in the "Related Links" section of the ASA Web site (www.asashop.org).
Taking care of any problems or questions that come up is the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which was established as a cooperative oversight organization. NASTF has a service information matrix, which is updated quarterly. It includes a complaint form for technicians to report an error in the matrix or problem accessing information.
NASTF's role is to act as an intermediary to resolve disputes or questions about information access and cost.
All segments of the automobile industry are represented in NASTF. ASA - as a representative of its members and of the independent aftermarket service profession - is an active NASTF participant.
Bill Haas, ASA's vice president of service repair markets, says NASTF is working. He has visited every OEM Web site and says they're all easily accessible, which means independent repairers now have access to the service information, tools and training they must have to repair vehicles. That allows them to perform diagnosis and repairs that they could not do 18 months ago.
Representing 12,000 shop owners, ASA believes there is no further need for legislation at this time because information is not only available, it is being used every day by independent shops.
Parts suppliers are the primary proponents currently pursuing legislation today.
H.R. 2735's passage would not help independent repairers. Their goal has already been accomplished. It could, however, force the release of proprietary information that is unrelated to vehicle repair (despite claims to the contrary) and could result in irreparable harm to the computer systems that control motor vehicle emissions and safety. The bill could undermine the intellectual property rights governing that computer software.
In addition, with access to automaker proprietary information, aftermarket parts manufacturers could short circuit the historical and customary practice of reverse engineering replacement parts for aftermarket use. This "reverse engineering" requirement helps level the playing field between automakers - who invest enormous resources in the design, testing and certification of parts - and aftermarket parts makers, who would gain a significant competitive advantage by not having to invest in the "reverse engineering." Moreover, because of the "Private Right of Action" clause in Section 5, H.R. 2735 could result in a flood of litigation.
H.R. 2735 is unnecessary to provide and preserve consumer choice, and it would give an unfair advantage to aftermarket parts manufacturers, infringe upon automakers' intellectual property, and result in extensive litigation.
Litigation could tie things up for years. Repairers would again experience a time that information would not be available.
The historic industry agreement has accomplished far more, in far less time, than legislation would have done.
ASA's position is that legislation is not necessary unless the Agreement fails. And it's not apt to fail because manufacturers know independent repair shops perform more than 70 percent of all repairs after a vehicle's warranty expires.
Automakers want their customers to have a positive ownership experience, which clearly includes the ability to obtain proper service wherever they choose to have their vehicles repaired. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the auto manufacturers to make service information, training information and tools available to all technicians.
Moreover, Congress is monitoring the situation. And should the manufacturers fail to live up to their agreement, ASA would be the first one to step up to the plate and protect the rights of its members and consumers.
For all these reasons, ASA urges members to oppose H.R. 2735.
How to Oppose H.R. 2735
The Automotive Service Association urges you to take action to oppose further H.R. 2735 legislative efforts. You can do so by visiting www.TakingTheHill.com.
Information about how to take action against H.R. 2735 is located at the top of the home page. Once on the Action Alert page, read how the agreement forged by ASA and the automakers is working, and click where indicated to read a letter sent earlier this year to every member of Congress opposing passage of the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act. Then, simply enter your ZIP code in the box at the top of the page to contact your elected representatives and senators, asking that they oppose the legislation.
With just a few clicks, you can send an e-mail to each of your elected officials. As another option, you can also print the letter and mail it to your representatives. The convenience offered with this new program is unsurpassed. By entering your ZIP code, the e-mail or letter is preprinted with your representatives' name and contact information, alleviating research on your part.
You may also be asked to select a general topic. Selecting "Automotive" or "Commerce" will meet this requirement.
ASA has done everything it can to make it easy for you. Now, it's up to you!
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