U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush

Rush wants fair shake for independent auto repair shops

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From staff reports

A proposed law designed to preserve consumer access to high quality, affordable vehicle repair was introduced recently by U.S. Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-1st).

The Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act (HR 6570) would ensure that vehicle owners and independent repair shops have equal access to repair and maintenance tools and data as car companies and licensed dealerships.

BobbyRush

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush

Rush said consumers prefer independent auto repair shops over licensed dealerships by a wide margin: 70% of the 288 million registered vehicles in the U.S. are maintained by independent repair facilities. However, he claimed, inadequate and outdated laws and regulations have made it increasingly difficult for independent repair shops to access critical vehicle data needed for repairs, benefiting car companies and licensed dealerships at the expense of consumers and mom-and-pop repair shops.

“Americans should not be forced to bring their cars to more costly and inconvenient dealerships for repairs when independent auto repair shops are often cheaper and far more accessible,” Rush said. “But as cars become more advanced, manufacturers are getting sole access to important vehicle data while independent repair shops are increasingly locked out. The status quo for auto repair is not tenable, and it is getting worse. If the monopoly on vehicle repair data continues, it would affect nearly 860,000 blue-collar workers and 274,000 service facilities.”

The congressman said the “lack of meaningful consumer choice in the repair market harms low-income Americans and those in underserved communities most. A single mother who relies on her vehicle to go to work and get her kids to school can’t afford to wait days or weeks to have her car repaired at a dealership that is hours away and more expensive than the auto shop around the corner.”

By way of a 2014 Memorandum of Understanding, vehicle owners and technicians are supposed to have the same access to information, tools, and software that car companies make available to their franchised dealers.  However, as cars become more technologically advanced, vehicle data is increasingly being transmitted wirelessly and sent only to vehicle manufacturers, who then have the ability to determine who can access the data and at what cost, Rush said. Independent repair shops — which are cheaper than dealerships and preferred by the vast majority of car owners — are effectively locked out, he added.

Rush said the resulting landscape has reduced choice and raised costs for consumers, who spend an average of 36 percent more on vehicle repair at dealerships than at independent repair shops. Limited access to data has already impacted repairs for 37% of vehicles in the U.S., and this number is set to increase dramatically in the coming years — by 2030, 95% of new vehicles sold around the world by 2030 will have wireless data transmission capabilities.

The REPAIR Act will update existing laws to reflect the modernization of automobiles and the importance of consumer choice in auto repair. The legislation is written to foster a competitive environment for vehicle repair while prioritizing cybersecurity and safety for vehicle systems.

Specifically, the REPAIR Act is designed to:

  • Preserve consumer access to high quality and affordable vehicle repair by ensuring that vehicle owners and their repairers of choice have access to necessary repair and maintenance tools and data as vehicles continue to become more advanced.
  • Ensure access to critical repair tools and information. All tools and equipment, wireless transmission of repair and diagnostic data, and access to on-board diagnostic and telematic systems needed to repair a vehicle must be made available to the independent repair industry.
  • Ensure cybersecurity by allowing vehicle manufacturers to secure vehicle-generated data and requiring the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to develop standards for how vehicle generated data necessary for repair can be accessed securely.
  • Provide transparency for consumers by requiring vehicle owners be informed that they can choose where and how to get their vehicle repaired.
  • Create a stakeholder advisory committee and provide them with the statutory authority to provide recommendations to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on how to address emerging barriers to vehicle repair and maintenance.
  • Provide ongoing enforcement by establishing a process for consumers and independent repair facilities to file complaints with the FTC regarding alleged violations of the requirements in the bill and a requirement that the FTC act within five months of a claim.

In May 2021, the FTC released a report highlighting the barriers auto manufacturers have instituted to block consumers’ Right to Repair. In the report, the FTC supported expanding consumer repair options and found “scant evidence” for the repair restrictions imposed by original equipment manufacturers. In a subsequent policy statement on the report, the FTC noted that these repair restrictions create hardships for families and businesses and that the Commission was “concerned that this burden is borne more heavily by underserved communitiesincluding communities of color and lower-income Americans.”

In July, President Biden issued an executive order encouraging the FTC to address anti-competitive repair restrictions.

The REPAIR Act is supported by the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA), Auto Care Association, CAR (Consumer Access to Repair) Coalition and Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA).

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