Bill eases way for independent mechanics

Legislation in the U.S. House and Senate seeks to make it easier for independent auto repair shops to access the information they need to repair vehicles.

The information — service information, computer codes and safety-related bulletins — and specialized tools are not available at a "reasonable" cost to repair shops, and in some cases they are difficult to obtain, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association said.

Howard Hancock, owner of Hancock Automotive, 145 N. Hillside, said it is needed legislation for repair shops like his to be able to compete for repair work.

"They make it so you can't work on their cars and ultimately the consumer suffers," Hancock said. "It's something that needs to pass."

John Pennella, owner of the Garage, 610 N. Maize Road, said it's not impossible to get such information for late-model cars and trucks. But the pricing on that information can vary greatly between manufacturers.

"It would be nice to see a specified price structure for the information," Pennella said.

And there are instances where his shop doesn't have the specialized tooling available to dealers and has to refer a repair elsewhere.

Bills in the House and Senate, titled "The Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act," purportedly would make it easier and less costly for shop owners like Pennella to obtain that information and tools.

Pennella said, for instance, that he pays General Motors a little more than $1,000 a year to be able to download computer codes that he can use to reprogram a GM car's computer.

But the legislation doesn't sit well with auto dealers, who said they spend a lot of money each year sending service technicians to training inside and outside of the dealership for the latest updates on repairing certain vehicles.

But dealers do have easier access to the manufacturers' service information, computer codes and tooling because they are franchisees.

"That's (the legislation) the craziest thing I ever heard of," said Dawson Grimsley, president of Davis-Moore Auto Group, who equates the legislation with compelling McDonald's to give out information about how exactly it makes a Big Mac.

Besides, Grimsley said, "just because you give an independent information doesn't mean they'll know how to use it."

There are two bills for Right to Repair. The one for the House was introduced in April 2009 and is in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The Senate version was introduced March 25 by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.

The AAIA said it has attempted this legislation before but has not been successful in getting it advanced through Congress. Aaron Lowe, AAIA vice president for government affairs, said powerful lobbies between the carmakers and auto dealers group have made it difficult to get the legislation through.

"We've been fighting this battle for years now," Lowe said.