Information Availability: An UpdatePosted 11/16/2005
By Levy Joffrion
It just won't go away. ASA believes it should, but there are those who think otherwise.
We're talking about information availability, of course.
ASA thought it had the problem fixed when it entered into an agreement with automakers back in September of 2002. Manufacturers vowed to make the same information, tools and training available to independent repairers that is available to dealers.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers and ASA all signed the historic agreement.
Nothing's perfect, of course. They knew problems would arise, so they worked closely with the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which would resolve any complaints about information availability and access to equipment and training.
And it has been working well. It is estimated that 451 million repair functions were completed in 2004. That same year, only 48 complaints were filed with NASTF. Every one of these complaints was satisfactorily resolved.
NASTF is an industry success story.
But some factions in the industry don't think that's good enough. They say there's no one to enforce the agreement. They want laws passed to make sure the manufacturers do what they're already doing.
So ... deja vu ... a new bill (H.R. 2048) was proposed. It's similar to the bill proposed in 2001 (H.R. 2735), only it has been "watered down."
The new measure, titled "Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act of 2005," drops several controversial provisions previously contained in H.R. 2735, including private right of action, parts information and vague Federal Trade Commission enforcement.
So around and around and around it goes ... How will it all end?
Well, for an update ... for answers to all our questions ... for the very latest information ... we went straight to the guy who knows more about it than any of us: Bob Redding, ASA's representative in the nation's capitol.
AutoInc.: Bob, we understand this congressional session will come to an end in November and that if H.R. 2048 doesn't come to a vote, it's dead. Is that correct?
AutoInc.: Do you look for it to come to a vote this year?
AutoInc.: As the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said, "It's better when both sides sit down and work out a solution
as an alternative to a Congressionally imposed settlement." Has any effort been made in that direction?
AutoInc.: What organizations have been represented in the meetings? Who have been the key players, and what is ASA's participation/role in the meetings? Who all is for the legislation and what organizations are opposing it?
AutoInc.: Do you think the meetings have stimulated better dialogue between all players, leading to a better understanding of the issues and positions held by various parties?
AutoInc.: What kinds of expectations did you have for the meetings? Are your expectations being met?
AutoInc.: Have the meetings benefited ASA and its position on Right to Repair legislation? If so, how?
AutoInc.: What are some areas we need to focus our efforts on to continue to reinforce our belief that no legislation is needed?
AutoInc.: Will NASTF's role change as a result of these meetings? How? And if so, how will its new role affect ASA?
AutoInc.: How can our readers, as members of ASA, help?
AutoInc.: Are there any other comments you would like to add?
If H.R. 2048 Were Necessary, ASA Would Be Supporting ItIf ASA believed H.R. 2048 was necessary, it'd be first in line to fight for it, says Denny Kahler, AAM, the association's chairman. ASA has in the past and would again if necessary.
"We led the way in getting H.R. 2735 proposed in 2001," says Kahler. "We did so because we knew something had to be done to ensure that independent repairers could continue to work on newer vehicles."
Since the mid-1990s, many vehicle systems have been integrated into a computer system within a car, making auto repair an increasingly high-tech business and making access to the computer and the information it contains vital to the ability to perform repairs. Unfortunately, there was a time when independent auto repairers were being barred access to the codes and diagnostic tools necessary to repair newer model cars.
It meant independent repairers could not repair and service newer model cars. It also meant that consumers had no other choice ... they had to take their vehicles back to new car dealers.
With conditions as they were, ASA went to bat for its members, the repair industry and consumers. The association's Mechanical and Collision Divisions worked diligently, trying to resolve the problem. Members conducted demonstrations in the nation's capitol in an effort to show congressmen and their staffers why service information was desperately needed. ASA lobbied congressmen and met repeatedly with auto manufacturers. ASA "marched" on Washington and members met with their congressmen to convince them that the issue needed to be resolved.
Finally, ASA got U.S. Reps. Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., to introduce H.R. 2735, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act. It would require manufacturers to share the codes and other information independent repairers needed.
The late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., introduced the bill in the Senate. At the same time, Wellstone urged both sides to sit down and work out a solution as an alternative to a congressionally imposed settlement. They were told that if they didn't settle it, then Congress would.
ASA and the automakers did meet, and from that came the historic agreement in 2002 in which manufacturers vowed to make the same information, tools and training available to independent repairers that is available to dealers. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers and ASA all signed the agreement.
Wellstone said the deal the parties reached fulfilled the intent of the Right to Repair Act and made the bill unnecessary. He praised the two sides for coming together.
"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.
Wellstone also said, "For as long as cars have been made, independent service repairers have been fixing them. That's a 100-year relationship of mutual respect and trust that has served auto manufacturers, consumers and repairers well ... This deal is a win for independent businesses, a win for the auto industry and a win for consumers."
The agreement meant independent repairers could access the same information on their computers as is available to technicians in new car dealerships.
But the parties involved knew that problems could arise. So they turned to the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), which was established to resolve any complaints about information availability and access to equipment and training.
And NASTF and the current agreement are working well, says Kahler.
"ASA knows that if the government gets involved, it could create far more problems," says Kahler. "That's why we have opposed H.R. 2048."
The Federal Trade Commission has stated that it does not believe its involvement in the service information availability issue is necessary. ASA is concerned that there might be extreme delays if repairers have to rely on the federal government to provide service information rather than a voluntary industry agreement monitored by the automobile manufacturers, independent repairers and aftermarket suppliers.
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