Automakers and some independent repairers say a July agreement reaffirms their commitment to right to repair, potentially shelving federal legislation. Right-to-repair advocates aren’t convinced.
September 02, 2023 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON — Automakers and a segment of independent repairers say a new pact signed in July reaffirms their commitment to right to repair, potentially shelving the need for federal legislation. But some right-to-repair advocates and aftermarket industry groups aren’t convinced.
The agreement — backed by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the Automotive Service Association and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists — largely reiterates the commitments made in a 2014 national memorandum of understanding between automakers and independent repair shops and parts retailers. It is opposed by MEMA Aftermarket Suppliers and the CAR Coalition, a group whose members include AutoZone and Allstate. It also lacks support from the Auto Care Association, a major trade group that represents companies throughout the aftermarket supply chain and one of the original signatories of the 2014 deal.
Critics of the agreement — released a week before a congressional hearing on right to repair — argue the pact “falls short” because it lacks enforcement measures and does not give vehicle owners or aftermarket companies direct access to wirelessly generated repair and maintenance data.
“Large manufacturers and industry groups like to flaunt these MOUs as a way of saying, ‘No need to regulate us. No need for new laws. We’re on this,’ ” said Paul Roberts, founder of Secure Repair, an organization of IT and cybersecurity professionals who support the right to repair. “They are purely public relations gestures, almost always intended to head off regulation that the industry in question would rather not see passed.”
The allied repair and automaker groups oppose some proposed legislation but say they would support a law that mirrors their agreement, which they see as extending nearly a decade of cooperation.
The 2014 deal, which came about after Massachusetts passed its own automotive right-to-repair law in 2013, gave shops in all states the same access to diagnostic and repair information that automakers make available to their authorized dealership networks.
Under the new agreement, that access is upheld even as technology evolves, the groups said. It also applies to telematics data needed to diagnose and repair a vehicle and covers all vehicle technologies and powertrains, including battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell.
Additionally, the agreement establishes a forum to resolve issues repairers might have related to the availability of diagnostic and repair information, and a working group to consider any technological advancements that could affect the vehicle repair marketplace.
“There are a number of groups out there and organizations that are delivering a narrative that automakers and repairers aren’t working together to ensure the consumer receives a proper repair,” said Aaron Schulenburg, executive director of the Society of Collision Repair Specialists. “Our three groups … to the contrary, we just experience a different reality.”
Critics suggest that legislation is the most effective remedy.
Roberts said 70 percent of post-warranty vehicle repairs happen at independent repair shops — a statistic often cited by the alliance — because of the legislative efforts in Massachusetts to ensure those shops still have access to the data they need for those repairs.
Absent that law, he said, “it’s unclear whether that would still be the case.”
The Auto Care Association said in an email that it was not consulted about the new agreement and does not support it. Rather, the association claimed the motivation behind it was to “create confusion with drivers and lawmakers that right to repair has been resolved.”
The Auto Care Association, CAR Coalition and other right-to-repair stakeholders are backing efforts by Congress to pass federal legislation that they say addresses their concerns, specifically the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair and Save Money on Auto Repair Transportation acts.
The REPAIR Act, reintroduced by Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., would require automakers to provide vehicle owners with direct, real-time, in-vehicle data related to diagnostics, repair and service that is available through a standardized access platform. It also would require NHTSA to develop standards for how that data can be accessed securely.
The SMART Act, reintroduced by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., would amend U.S. patent law by reducing the time automakers can enforce design patents on collision repair parts against aftermarket parts suppliers.
The alliance opposes both bills and has called the REPAIR Act a “data grab … masquerading as consumer protection and small business support” by the automotive aftermarket and repair industry.
At the state level, the alliance is representing automakers to block a voter-approved measure that revised and expanded Massachusetts’ existing right-to-repair law.
“We think this process — an industry agreement — should be exhausted,” said Bob Redding Jr., the Automotive Service Association’s Washington representative. “Let’s determine if this works before we move forward with the legislation.”