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  Legislative Feature

House Committee Holds Hearing on Right to Repair

Posted 8/11/2005
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.

Congressmen question necessity of federal regulation.

The U.S. House Small Business Committee's Subcommittee on Workforce, Empowerment and Government Programs recently held a hearing on H.R. 2048, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act of 2005. The bill was numbered H.R. 2735 in previous congresses.

The new legislation has changed considerably. The role of parts has been diminished. The private right of action has been deleted. Finally, the role of the Federal Trade Commission in the legislation has been more clearly defined.

Unfortunately, the bill still highlights more federal government regulation. This piece of the legislation was the focal point of discussion in the recent Right to Repair subcommittee hearing. The hearing, initiated by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, R-Colo., heard from seven witnesses:

  • Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas
  • Fred Bordoff, Service Station Dealers Association
  • Aaron Lowe, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association
  • Dennis Houska, Coalition for Auto Repair Equality
  • Kathleen Marvaso, American Automobile Association
  • John Cabaniss, Association of International Automobile Manufacturers
  • Eddie Ehlert, Automotive Service Association

Ehlert and Cabaniss testified in opposition to the Right to Repair legislation. Barton, Bordoff, Lowe, Houska and Marvaso testified in support of the bill.

Reps. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., members of the subcommittee, raised important issues relative to the Right to Repair legislation. Some of these questions focused on why a big government solution was necessary. In light of the success of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), a broad-based industry effort, why would an intrusion of a federal agency improve the delivery of service information?

Despite the limited number of complaints received by NASTF and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts with an audit of all the automaker Web sites, some automotive industry interests still advocate federal legislation.

Ehlert's testimony emphasized three key points:

  • There is a viable industry solution, already in place, for the service information issue.
  • Service information opportunities have expanded under the ASA-Automaker Agreement.
  • Independent repairers want less federal government bureaucracy in their businesses, not more.

Ehlert correctly pointed out the frustration repairers would face in going to the Federal Trade Commission to obtain service information versus directly to the entity that manufactured the automobile in the first place. Ehlert cited earlier comments by the FTC in a letter sent to the House Commerce Committee:

"Apparently, the bill would require the FTC to review potentially massive quantities of documents and software and attempt to resolve highly technical and complex disputes that are beyond the agency's expertise. The breath and complexity of this task and the potential for costly litigation arising out of disputes on these subjects pose significant difficulties for implementing this bill and risk substantial diversion of resources from other consumer protection and competition priorities."

At this time, there are no scheduled hearings or markups for the legislation. ASA is hopeful a non-legislative, non-regulatory solution can be found to address concerns by those who have advocated legislation.

ASA believes the current third party, NASTF, is the right mechanism for the long-term viability of the ASA-Automaker Agreement on service information, tools, tool information and training. A third party industry solution ensures accurate repair information in a timely manner for independent repairers. A new federal government service information bureaucracy would not provide this same assurance.

A solution that involves legislation or federal regulation could invoke additional burdens on independent repairers as far as obtaining the information necessary to repair our customers' vehicles. Of particular concern for ASA is the increasing number of hybrid vehicles moving into the marketplace and the necessity of additional training to repair these vehicles. The automakers have pledged to assist in providing training information to the independents.

ASA will continue to work with the automakers to ensure independent repairers have the training necessary for the future.

Bob Redding Bob Redding is the Automotive Service Association's Washington, D.C., representative. He is a member of several federal and state advisory committees involved in the automotive industry.

For more information about the legislative activities of ASA, visit www.TakingTheHill.com.

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