Boston area mechanics battle over 'right to repair'
by Nick McLain
When Angie's List member Laura Fitzhenry of Westwood needed the brakes replaced on her 2005 Nissan Altima, she sought a quote from a local dealership and compared it to an estimate offered by highly rated Jim's Automotive Center in Norwood.
Final tally? Dealer: $1,100. Independent shop: $500.
Fitzhenry says she prefers to patronize independent mechanics, who want the state legislature to pass the Massachusetts Right to Repair Act.
Supporters say the bill, which would require auto manufacturers to give independent mechanics the same diagnostic information offered to mechanics at dealerships, would increase competition and benefit consumers. Opponents say that information is proprietary.
"I shouldn't have to continue to give the dealership money just because they don't want to give out the information," Fitzhenry says.
The Senate approved the bill, but the House failed to vote on it this year. It's currently being reconsidered. If it passes, the law would be the first of its kind in the country.
The right to repair group says it costs $258 more per year for dealership repairs.
The Automotive Service Association says independents do 75 percent of post-warranty repairs.
"It's been tried in other states, but Massachusetts has a good record of consumer protection over the years and a progressive legislature, and that's why I believe it has a good chance to pass," says Art Kinsman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition.
Dealerships defend their role in making repairs. Ray Ciccolo, president of highly rated Boston Volvo Village in Brighton, says: "Without the repair business, we would be closed down and out of business. Then customers would be at the mercy of people who don't really know how to repair these cars."
Yet the majority of those dealership repairs are done under warranty, says Charles Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, adding that manufacturers depend on independents for repairs not under warranty.
"We rely on them to service the more than 245 million vehicles on the road," Territo says. "There aren't enough franchise dealers to fix those cars."
However, Barry Steinberg, president of highly rated Direct Tire & Auto Service, says he regularly turns away customers because he doesn't have the necessary information to fix their vehicles.
"Just today, we turned away a customer with an Audi that needed an O2 sensor. There are four in the car, and we couldn't determine which one [needed repair]," he says.
Territo says the information is available to any independent mechanic who's willing to invest in it. Mike Pedersen, owner of highly rated Mike's Automotive Services Inc. in Somerville, says he pays about $8,000 a year for Original Equipment Manufacturer information.
And dealerships have their own investments. Ciccolo says he spends up to $10,000 a year for tools, software and training. "It's the price of doing business," Territo says.