A lot of people grumble about how modern cars can only be repaired at dealerships, which charge more. It isn’t completely true, but there is a “sweetheart deal” between automakers and dealers, which is being challenged by “right to repair” laws.
Right to repair laws an old issue
Ever hear someone bemoan how complicated modern cars are and how it’s a scam to get owners to take their cars only to dealerships so they can rip people off? They aren’t completely exaggerating.
Car makers, according to the Wall Street Journal, supply proprietary tools, data and diagnostic codes to dealership service centers. Without that information, independent mechanics don’t know everything they need to repair a car. A common problem is “initializing,” where a car won’t start after a part has been changed. Car computers need a code to indicate the part has been changed, which mechanics aren’t supplied with by the manufacturer.
Numerous efforts have been made to pass a “right to repair” law at a national level, which would compel automakers to provide independent shops with all the information they need. The bill has been languishing in Congress for more than a decade.
Battle over intellectual property
According to the New York Times, a survey by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, the certification body for auto mechanics, revealed that 70 percent of respondents only took their cars to independent mechanics for service and repairs.
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There’s a reason for that; according to the Wall Street Journal, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association found dealerships charge an extra 34 percent for repairs on average, responsible for $11.3 billion lost to dealership service markups per year. AutoMD, according to CBS, found dealerships charge $1,209 for a year of regular service and maintenance on average. Independent shops charged $903.
Automakers, according to the Boston Globe, insist right to repair laws threaten their intellectual property rights. They assert, according to the Wall Street Journal, that if they allow independent operators to know proprietary information about computer diagnostics and parts, then aftermarket parts companies will get this information passed onto them and car makers will lose revenue.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the lobbying wing of the auto industry, also insists mechanics already get all the information they need.
Massachusetts on front line
Lobbying is, for better or worse, one of the more compelling forces in Washington, D.C., and the national right to repair law is still languishing in Congress. However, according to the Boston Globe, the state of Massachusetts is closer to passing a right to repair law. A right to repair law has been passed twice by the state Senate, once in 2010 and again in May, according to CBS Boston. It is still sitting in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.
Voters, however, have pledged to get the bill on the ballot if the House doesn’t act, according to the Boston Globe. The bill has gotten enough signatures to go directly to the people via referendum in November, if the House doesn’t act quickly enough.
Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/businessupdates/2012/07/02/supporters-submit-enough-signatures-place-right-repair-november-ballot/DYbwdcWczF6xI3tWvVS7HL/story.html?p1=Well_Local_Links
CBS Boston: http://boston.cbslocal.com/2012/05/18/mass-senate-passes-right-to-repair-bill/