NASTF: Serving a PurposePosted 9/18/2005
By John Cabaniss
The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments adopted requirements for vehicle onboard diagnostic systems and charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt regulations to ensure a level playing field for all automotive service providers. The EPA adopted initial service information regulations in 1995 and made significant revisions in 2003. The purpose of these regulations is for automakers to make the same information and tools they provide for dealers available to independent technicians.
Despite the EPA's regulations, allegations of information gaps continued after 1995. Automakers met with other stakeholders to correct misperceptions and to discuss and address any real issues. Because non-dealers perform 70 percent to 80 percent of non-warranty vehicle service, automakers consider the aftermarket service industry to be partners in ensuring the satisfaction of their common customer - the driving public.
In 1999, a state legislative measure was considered in Arizona, resulting in a two-year stakeholder process to look at the information access issue. During a series of meetings among a broad contingent of aftermarket and automaker representatives, it became clear that the real issue was "accessibility;" i.e., the ability of technicians to know how to access service information from automakers. This accessibility issue can affect both dealerships and independent shops. The success of the Arizona project was in starting a constructive dialogue among stakeholders to identify and resolve issues voluntarily and cooperatively.
The Arizona project ended in mid-2000. Many participants believed that further progress could be made by continuing to have a national dialogue among stakeholders. In November 2000, the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) - open to all parties - was established to identify and resolve issues related to service information, training and tools. Within months, NASTF published an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) service information matrix on the Internet, which provides contacts for all automakers for service information, tools and training information.
From the beginning, NASTF established a complaint/inquiry process for technicians to report problems, errors in NASTF documents or other issues in accessing information, training or tools. This is widely publicized through NASTF participants, including the International Automotive Technicians' Network (iATN), and through trade publications.
At a Senate hearing in 2002, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D.-N.D., and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D.-Minn., challenged automakers and the service industry to work together to find a non-legislative solution to any remaining service information issues. In September 2002, automakers and the Automotive Service Association (ASA) announced an agreement whereby automakers agreed that the same service information, tools and training information available to dealers would be available to all parties. Wellstone issued a press release in 2002 saying the agreement "fulfills the intent of the Right to Repair Act and makes it unnecessary."
In late 2002 and early 2003, all automakers launched service Web sites on the Internet to meet their commitments. These sites cover all vehicle systems. All automaker service Web sites have "help" functions for users if they are having difficulty locating the information they need or are having other Web site user problems.
Allegations of information gaps continue today but usually no specifics are provided. The allegations are characterized as general, anecdotal, categorical or outdated examples. Automakers remain unconvinced that there are real problems that cannot be addressed through the current voluntary process. There is open access to all parties today. Few NASTF complaints are received and most are resolved quickly.
Of course, automakers can and do continue to improve their service Web sites and documents, partly based on user feedback. With tens of thousands of pages of new service documents published each year, some errors are inevitable. Such problems are rapidly fixed once identified.
Automakers believe that a voluntary, cooperative process, supported by all parties working in good faith, can identify and address issues in a more effective, efficient and expeditious manner than a time-consuming, contentious and divisive governmental regulatory process.
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