Chicago auto repair shops seek equal access to information
Proposal aims to level playing field
The proposed federal Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act would require automakers to give vehicle owners and independent mechanics the same access to information and tools given to dealerships. Similar measures have been introduced in several states and are supported by multiple organizations, including the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association.
"Cars are becoming more computerized every year," says Aaron Lowe, AAIA's vice president for government affairs. "We're not asking for proprietary information from the automakers. We just need repair information and tools for today's and tomorrow's cars."
Other groups, such as the Automotive Service Association, say a law is unnecessary. "We're getting the service information, and for what we're not getting, we have a voluntary system that allows us to get it," says Bob Redding, the organization's Washington representative. He says information is available on each automaker's website or for a fee through third-party providers.
Automakers also do not support the legislation. More than a dozen point to their participation in the aforementioned voluntary information-sharing program.
by Liz Vernon
by Mason King
Syed Rizvi prefers to patronize independent auto mechanics. So he bristled when A-rated Joe's Expert Auto in Chicago referred him elsewhere for a headlight-switch programming glitch on his BMW X5.
The shop lacked the appropriate BMW programming tool, so owner Joe Betancourt sent Rizvi to a dealer.
"I was definitely disappointed," Rizvi says. "I was like, 'Hey, I took it here [to Joe's]. Why can't this job be completed here?'"
Betancourt says he loses as much as 5 percent of his business to dealers every year over technology issues like this one. He supports proposed federal legislation known as "Right to Repair" that would force automakers to provide equal access to high-tech information and tools necessary for repairs. After rejecting earlier versions, Congress is expected to give the bill another look this year.
Today's cars rely on complex computer systems to run everything from the engine to the airbags. Access to specs for these systems - and the equipment and software needed to diagnose and reprogram them - is vital for most fixes.
The question is whether federal action is necessary. Betancourt and another Chicago-area independent mechanic contacted by Angie's List support the legislation, while three others say they already get most of the technical information they need.
"There is a lot of information out there," said Greg Waite, co-owner of highly rated Naper Auto Works in Naperville. "I'm a little befuddled about the purpose of the legislation."
Dealers are required to guard data about antitheft systems, says Paul Seiden, service manager for A-rated Schaumburg Honda Automobiles. Some independents complain they have trouble getting info on the newest cars, but Seiden says such cars are usually covered under warranty anyway.
Carmakers' diagnostic tools typically are available to independents but often too expensive for small shops, says David Becker, owner of A-rated Wheeling Auto Center in Arlington Heights.
In the case of Rizvi's headlight switch, Betancourt says a Right to Repair law would force BMW to release specs for the tool, so aftermarket parts makers could create a more affordable version. It makes sense to Rizvi: "There should be some kind of opportunity for [qualified independents] to handle all kinds of business."