Economy, Politics Causing States To Dismantle Vital Auto Repair Laws
It's more important than ever for shops to band together
The fiscal and political environment in several states is wreaking havoc with traditional automotive repair laws that have been in place for a number of years. Although higher profile national issues are dominating the media - such as the fiscal year 2011 budget agreement, the federal debt ceiling and the fiscal year 2012 appropriations cycle - important legislative initiatives are being considered at the state and federal levels that directly impact independent automotive repairers. For example, the fiscal year 2011 $1.35 billion cut in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency monies will impact federal air quality efforts. But for repairers in Florida, North Carolina and other states, there are issues that even more directly touch their businesses.
In Florida, the state's fiscal crisis has led to a budget package, House Bill 5005,that would repeal Florida's law requiring the registration of motor vehicle repair shops with the Motor Vehicle Repair Advisory Council.
Florida repair shop leaders fought long and hard for the regulation of motor vehicle repair in Florida. Charlie Elder, former chairman of the Automotive Service Association, was part of the team that started the process for registering repair shops in Florida. Elder went on to chair the advisory council and is part of a number of shop owners in Florida fighting to save the program.
The road to shop registration in Florida was not easy. After a series of media highlights of problems with some automotive repair facilities operating in south Florida, the industry began to try to improve the regulatory environment.
To assist consumers with matters relating to motor vehicle shops, the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act was created. And the Motor Vehicle Repair Advisory Council was created to advise and assist the state Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services in carrying out and reviewing the rules relating to the Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act.
There are more than 22,000 repair shops in Florida. Before the repair act, there were approximately 5,500 consumer complaints per year related to automotive repair.
Resolutions for these complaints went through the state court system, which was an expensive two- to three-year process. In the last fiscal year, 2009-2010, there were only 1,743 complaints, a 70 percent decrease since the start of the program. With the Florida population increasing 35 percent during that time, the effective decrease in complaints was actually closer to 80 percent.
How does the state save money by eliminating shop registration? Well, it doesn't. The Florida Motor Vehicle Repair Act is self-funded by the automotive service industry, and helps to offset much of the cost for the call center for all of the motor vehicle-related programs. The annual cost of the program for 90 percent of shops is $50.
ASA has organized a grassroots effort to engage shops with their Florida legislators to try and remove the shop registration provisions from the bill. Despite ASA having the largest number of members in Florida of all associations, the overwhelming majority of shops do not belong to any organization. Of 22,000 Florida shops, only a small percentage of repair facilities are members of any group. Without more shops working together, these kinds of harmful initiatives will continue to arise and, in many cases, do well.
North Carolina faces similar problems related to its longtime periodic motor vehicle safety inspection program. State Senate Bill 123 would exempt such a large number of vehicles from the program that it would do irreparable harm if enacted. The bill is titled "Eliminate Motor Vehicle Safety Inspections."
Both Pennsylvania and Missouri state governments have conducted professional studies of their vehicle safety programs and determined that safety inspection protects property, prevents injuries and saves lives. In addition to the safety aspect, the elimination of the program or dilution of the rules for the program will result in significant job losses in the state of North Carolina. Many consumers will not have critical safety components of their vehicle inspected at repair shops without a state law, thus putting at risk their passengers' lives and those of the motoring public.
With less than half the states requiring vehicle safety inspections, coupled with New Jersey and the District of Columbia recently eliminating their programs, the policy trend in states is not favorable.
It is vitally important for repairers to organize their resources and recruit as many shops as possible to ensure that we not only advance the independent repair agenda but also protect those policies already in place. These two examples of core policies being in jeopardy illustrate what happens when we are not as united and inclusive as we should be. Until we get a higher percentage of repair shops engaged and united, we will continue to see important policies threatened. The old saying, "United we stand; divided we fall" has never been more applicable.
To learn more about these bills and others, please go to ASA's legislative website, www.TakingTheHill.com.
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