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  Legislative Feature

Right to Repair Talks Fall Short

Posted 11/16/2005
By Robert L. Redding, Jr.

Members of the U.S. Congress encouraged participants from both sides of the Right to Repair issue to sit down and hold negotiations this summer. Facilitated by the Better Business Bureau, the talks ended recently without an agreement reached. However, progress was made on the issue and a better understanding of both sides was gained.

In the fall of 2002, the Automotive Service Association signed an agreement with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers assuring independent repairers the same non-emission and emission service information, training information, and diagnostic tools available to franchised new car dealers.

ASA believes this agreement has been effective for independent repairers. Of the 451 million repairs performed by independent repairers, there were only 48 complaints to the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) - the voluntary automotive industry organization charged with resolving issues that arise related to service, tools and training information - last year. Every one of these complaints was satisfactorily resolved.

Some parts distributors have continued to pursue a legislative solution to the service information issue. This summer, members of Congress supporting Right to Repair legislation encouraged the parties involved in this issue to participate in a facilitation process arranged by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This facilitation was administered by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

The parties involved in the process were the Automotive Service Association, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the National Automobile Dealers Association, the CARE organization and the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association. ASA believes there was much progress made during the facilitation. Specifically, these items were positive additions to the NASTF process:

  • Improved hotline assistance for automotive Web sites.
  • Timelines for NASTF responses.
  • Full-time staff for NASTF.

Although there was much progress relative to these issues, the most divisive issue for the facilitation - at the end of the day - was governance for NASTF. Parts distributors asked that the NASTF board be comprised of members chosen in the following manner: 50 percent by parts distributors, 50 percent by the automakers. ASA could not support this structure.

ASA believes NASTF's primary reason for existence is to better the plight of the independent repairer. If independent repairers are excluded from the NASTF board, it would certainly have long-term negative implications for the industry. Second, those national leaders from many different segments of the automotive industry who have been involved with NASTF for several years would also be excluded from the governing body. These individuals and organizations have spent countless hours participating in meetings, conference calls, research, etc., at their own expense, to make NASTF succeed. They should not be excluded. One of the founding principles of NASTF was to be an "inclusive" organization, not "exclusive."

At the end of the FTC-BBB meetings, the BBB sent a letter providing closure to this chapter of the process (see the adjacent BBB letter). ASA is certainly hopeful that a non-legislative solution can still be reached. A legislative remedy reminds repairers of the process ASA went through with the original regulations for the service information language from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. The 1990 law requiring automakers to provide independent repairers the same emissions service information as franchised new car dealers did not see a federal regulation finalized until 1995. The first attempt used a system through the U.S. Department of Commerce's FedWorld. This became a dumping ground for all automotive information and proved to be useless to independent repairers searching for service information. It was not until 2003 that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provided a regulation with Web site criteria protecting the independent repairer, 13 years after the law.

ASA highlighted the regulatory dilemma in the early 1990s at a Colorado meeting with EPA officials. ASA outlined the lack of service information before a Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee in the summer of 2002. After the ASA-Automaker Agreement in the fall of 2002, ASA put all of its service information efforts into strengthening a credible NASTF. In 2004, before a House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee and in 2005 before a House Small Business Committee Subcommittee, ASA outlined that the industry solution - an agreement with the automakers to use NASTF "to provide a forum for industry and aftermarket to resolve service information issues" - was successful. This process should continue to improve as more organizations participate.

The service information debate is not limited to mechanical repairers. Collision repairers also have a lot at stake. Cars within the warranty period will hit the collision shop long before they become customers for the independent mechanical repairer. ASA's Collision Division has been active with the NASTF and will continue to provide information related to the special needs of collision repairers.

NASTF will meet during CARS 2005 in Las Vegas. Repairers and all other persons and organizations involved in the automotive industry are encouraged to participate.

Repairers interested in more information relative to service information can go to ASA's legislative Web site, www.TakingTheHill.com.

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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