Will Right To Repair Become Law?

May 30, 2010

Everyone is used to copyright or proprietary information concerns in the arts, publishing and the sciences as creators attempt to protect breakthroughs and patents. But what about those same concerns in car repair? That’s what the car manufacturers are claiming when they oppose the Motor Vehicles Owners Right to Repair Act.

On one side are the independent auto repair shops and the aftermarket auto parts suppliers that support their effort to obtain access to repair information that enables them to fix cars. On the other side are the car manufacturers which claim that they already supply enough information to the industry and fear that trade secrets would be at risk if anymore of their information were made available.

There are two versions of the legislation working their ways around Washington. The House bill has been around for a year and has 64 primary co-sponsors from both sides of the isle and is supported by AAA and 60Plus. The senate bill, like the house bill has bipartisan support, and was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer in March. Senator Sam Brownback is a co-sponsor.

The present situation is that car dealerships have a leg up on independent shops because there  is often a delay in the release of the latest information needed to fix a new car. Part of the House bill forces the new car companies to make available not only the data but also the tools (at a reasonable price) necessary to fix their cars. Currently, dealerships can have updates of their information downloaded to their computer networks as often as hourly.

The independent repairers claim that the car dealers reluctance to share the information takes the choice away from the car owner. In their opinion the manufacturers are forcing the car owner to repair their cars where they bought them. A similar battle in Canada ended with the independents abandoning their legislative effort and settling with the manufacturers. The European Commission implemented their version of Right to Repair some years ago.

Judging from the bipartisan nature of the bills and the fact that they are pro consumer and pro small business, you’d think that some version would be destined to become law. That’s probably what Edolphus Towns thought too. He’s the Rep from New York who introduced the House bill in April 2009.

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