Shop Licensing: Where Do We Stand?Posted 2/2/2007
By Levy Joffrion
Shop licensing has been kicked around since the 1960s ... it certainly was a hot topic this past year ... and as 2007 gets under way, the question is: Where do we stand on shop licensing?
No doubt about it, it's one of the key issues facing the independent automotive repair industry. There are a lot of opinions on the subject. But in an Automotive Service Association (ASA) survey of mechanical and collision repairers, ASA members made it clear that they support repair shop licensing (see adjacent story).
So ASA is for it.
The pros and cons of shop licensing were addressed when the Congress of Automotive Repair and Service (CARS) hosted a shop licensing forum this past Nov. 1 in Las Vegas. Charlie Elder, AAM, chairman of ASA's board of directors, served as moderator of a six-person panel that gave its views on the pros and cons of shop licensing.
The panel included Mona Fandel, representing the Broward County (Florida) Consumer Affairs Division; Larry Hecker of the Motorists Assurance Program Standards for Automotive Repair; Kevin McCartney of Automotive Support Services; John Miller of Freedom Automotive Service Inc.; Tony Molla of the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) and Dennis Sterwerf, AAM, of Fairfield Auto & Truck Service in Fairfield, Ohio.
How ASA, Members View Shop Licensing
In an ASA survey of mechanical and collision repairers, members made it clear that they support repair shop licensing.
Members are for licensing programs containing tough regulations that are consistently enforced. But repairers believe any licensing program must be funded at a level sufficient enough to provide adequate enforcement of the law.
They are concerned that some state programs, due to their lack of important licensing criteria, are viewed as mere business taxes. Repairers have indicated their willingness to pay a licensing fee if the program is viewed in a way that protects their long-term investments in training, equipment and adherence to safety and environmental laws.
To see what has been said lately about shop licensing, visit ASA's President's Blog at blog.ASAshop.org and click on "Time for Licensing."
The association's official position on shop licensing is: "The Automotive Service Association supports shop licensing and technical certification regulations that include but are not limited to proper training; compliance with federal, state and local regulations; certifications of technicians; minimum level of insurance; and minimum level of equipment standards for automotive shops."
For brief descriptions of licensing programs and the positions of ASA's affiliates, visit ASA's legislative Web site - www.TakingTheHill.com. Go to the report titled "A Status of Shop Licensing."
All made excellent presentations. And they pointed out the good and the bad of shop licensing.
Shop Licensing: A Longtime Issue
Shop licensing has been discussed since the 1960s. In 1969, Connecticut was the only state with an effective statute regulating automobile repairers. But by 1977, at least 20 states had comparable laws on the books.
Much of the interest in shop licensing was because the quality of American-made cars had taken a nosedive. Consumer complaints had increased to the point that German and Japanese vehicles had seized a significant share of the new-car market. By 1985, the quality of American cars began to improve. At the same time, the quality of foreign products also showed marked improvement. So the push for licensing diminished by the late 1980s. But recently, the trend has again reversed.
Today, there is a groundswell of interest in shop licensing. All around the country, shop owners, state and county officials, and motorists are pursuing shop licensing as a way to regulate the industry, and thereby improve the quality of auto repairs.
Among states with some form of shop licensing laws are Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah.
A brief description of each state's licensing program can be found by going to ASA's legislative Web site - www.TakingTheHill.com - and finding the report, "A Status of Shop Licensing." For more information, contact each state or its attorney general's office.
Pointing up the importance of visiting the legislative Web site are some words of a former ASA president, G.W. "Bud" Merwin III, who in the mid-1990s said this about licensing:
"When it comes right down to it, the goals of ASA and the as-yet unreached goals of licensing are strikingly similar - the attainment of high standards, education for technicians, high professional ethics and improving consumer confidence in the industry. The means, of course, differ greatly. Since licensing and its underlying goals are so basic to our industry, it's crucial that ASA members continue to keep up-to-date on the licensing issue."
Interestingly, Merwin's words are just as appropriate today as they were then. And ASA's legislative Web site makes it easy for members to keep abreast of the latest on shop licensing.
It was pointed out that hairstylists must be licensed, as well as physicians, CPAs and many other professionals. During the forum someone asked, "Would you want to take your taxes to an uncertified public accountant?"
The same holds true for vehicle owners. The average cost of a new car is $27,958, according to Comerica Bank. And today's vehicles are sophisticated, computerized machines. Would you want an unqualified technician working on your family car?
Many people assume shops and their workers are licensed. But that's far from true.
In many states, anyone - whether they are qualified or not - can open an automotive repair shop. There is no minimum standard for opening or operating an automotive shop, and there is no minimum standard to qualify and work as an automobile technician.
At least 20 states have some form of automotive repair shop licensing.
Some licensing programs are working very well. A key point, said Elder, is that most successful licensing programs have been industry driven, while those not doing well have been government driven. Also, there must be a partnership between the industry and the licensing authority.
The panelists agreed that there must be strict enforcement for a licensing program to be successful.
The panelists made many more important points. Their presentations and podcast are available on ASA's legislative Web site, www.TakingTheHill.com.
Also available on the Web site is a report prepared by ASA: "A Status of Shop Licensing."
The more members know about shop licensing, the more they will realize the value licensing can bring to the industry, said Robert L. Redding Jr., ASA's representative in the nation's capital.
As indicated above, ASA supports shop licensing mainly by providing the information and guidelines members need to make good decisions in their respective states. On multiple occasions over the years, ASA has assembled repairers from around the country to review licensing statutes and proposals. The latest in that effort was the forum in November.
In 2002, a shop licensing subcommittee comprised of mechanical and collision members met to develop guidelines for considering shop licensing legislation. Today, ASA's Mechanical Division shop licensing subcommittee is continuing that effort. The guidelines are available for states with an interest in pursuing shop licensing legislation.
Also part of ASA's ongoing effort is the vast array of shop licensing information available on the legislative Web site. Members are urged to visit the legislative Web site and take advantage of all the information that is available.
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