AAA Asks Congress Yet Again to Pass “Right to Repair Act”

One recent survey put costs on average at 34% more at authorized dealerships compared with independent shops.

The nation’s largest automobile club, AAA, has come out in support of the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act (H.R. 1449).

The right to repair bill claims to prevent vehicle manufacturers from unfairly restricting access to the information and tools necessary to accurately diagnose, repair, re-program computers or install automotive replacement parts. In addition, it would permit the Federal Trade Commission, car owners or independent repair facilities to take legal action to get auto repair information and tools at affordable prices.

At issue is your right to shop around for auto repair services and where you can go to have auto repairs performed.

Dealerships used to thrive on automaker-paid warranty repairs, paid for by the factory at reduced labor rates. In order to compensate technicians for this factory-dictated lower rate, dealers charged higher rates for non-warranty auto parts and repairs. In effect, car owners were subsidizing the cost of poor quality at automakers if they went to a factory store for auto repairs, a condition not unnoticed by vehicle owners. One recent survey put costs on average at 34% more at dealerships compared with independent shops.

This created a huge – and still thriving – independent auto aftermarket comprised of accessory, repair, collision, and oil change shops that often charge lower labor rates and install independently produced parts, which also can be less expensive.

Now that authorized auto dealerships have seen the warranty work all but evaporate as quality continues to improve, a battle is on for your repair dollars. It’s worth the fight from a business perspective – the auto aftermarket is a huge part of the U.S. economy with about $295 billion spent annually in products and services. The aftermarket also employs about 4.5 million people. (See Fight for Auto Repair Dollars Heats up at Ford and GM)

“The purchase of a motor vehicle is now a greater investment than ever before,” said Jill Ingrassia, managing director, government relations and traffic safety advocacy for AAA.

Various forms of the act have been tied up in successive Congresses since 2002. It is not surprising that the National Association of Automobile Dealers opposes the legislation. NADA says that automakers provide emissions service and some other data available to any technician who needs it already.

“New technology has made the cars we drive smarter, more efficient and safer. However, some vehicles are being manufactured with systems that do not allow independent repair shops and auto technicians to interpret information necessary to diagnose and repair problems. Motorists faced with no alternative but to have their vehicles serviced at a dealership may be limited in their ability to get competitive prices, convenient locations, or the option of getting a second opinion,” said Ingrassia.

About Right to Repair

The Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act (H.R. 1449), which was introduced by Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Todd Platts (R-PA), would require car companies to make the same service information and tools capabilities available to independent repair shops that they provide to their franchised dealer networks. The legislation is also said to provide car companies with protections for their trade secrets unless that information is provided to the franchised new car dealers.

AAA has some helpful tips about repair work:

  • Determine what type of repair facility is needed. Most vehicles can be repaired and maintained by a full-service repair facility, but if there is a major problem with a specific vehicle system, a shop specializing in that area might be the best choice. Vehicles still under warranty typically must be repaired by the dealer.
  • Select a repair facility you trust. Friends, relatives and co-workers are a good source of recommendations.
  • Make an appointment. If the manager knows a motorist is coming and has a rough idea of the problem, the right technician can be assigned to the job.
  • Describe the problem. Don’t tell the technician what needs to be repaired or replaced unless it’s obvious. Instead, describe the problem and its symptoms, and let the technician determine the appropriate solution.
  • Read the repair order. Be wary of blanket statements such as “check and correct transmission noise” or “fix engine;” Never sign a blank repair order or tell the shop to “just fix it” or “do what’s necessary” unless the problem is covered under warranty.
  • Get a written estimate.

Consumers can also look for one of the more than 8,000 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities in the U.S. and Canada. AAA regularly surveys shops’ repair customers to ensure ongoing high customer satisfaction.

About Ken Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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