Boston car mechanics seek equal access to information

Boston car mechanics seek equal access to information

Photo courtesy of the Automotive Career Development – Center Craig Van Batenburg, owner of the Automotive Career Development Center, explains how to assemble a 2001 Prius high-voltage battery pack.

by YaShekia King

When the check-engine light in his wife's 2001 Volvo S80 kept coming on, Stan Morin thought his near-40 years of experience as a mechanic would give him enough know-how to fix it.

But after paying $20 to read 26 pages of repair information online, the general manager of Attleboro's New England Tire says he came up short. He went to a Volvo dealership, where it cost him another $32 to get 46 pages with the information he needed — information for a $3 part.

"This information is being made available to dealers but not to the world," says Morin, who says he turns away three or four customers a day because he doesn't have the information to fix their cars.

It's a sentiment shared by several Boston-area mechanics, who agree that without a law forcing automakers to share diagnostic repair information, tools, software and codes, their businesses could die. "It's virtually impossible to make repairs today without information," says Frank Tuminelli, co-owner of Superior Auto Center in Arlington. "Manufacturers appear to be holding car buyers hostage."

The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition aims to stop that. The group, made up of the New England Service Station Automotive Repair Association, the Massachusetts Auto Body Association, the Massachusetts Independent Automobile Dealers Association and the New England Tire & Service Association, is pushing for a state law forcing automakers to share repair information. A similar effort failed in 2008.

But automakers and some mechanics argue the voluntary National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) — formed by the automaker and auto service industries in 2000 to improve information flow — is all that's needed.

NASTF member Craig Van Batenburg, who owns the hybrid-focused Automotive Career Development Center in Worcester after owning his own garage for almost 30 years, says information is available for purchase on the NASTF and manufacturers' websites, and he's never had to turn a customer away.

Patrick Lombard, owner of West Cork Auto in Jamaica Plain, agrees the legislation's unnecessary. He mostly works on European cars and uses Alldata, which sells repair information online or through DVDs. "We have no difficulty getting any of the repair information needed to run a successful repair shop," Lombard says.

Morin says he's willing to pay for information — he just wants it at a fair price and every detail that's available.

"I think the [struggling] economy right now is going to make this issue even more relevant than at any other time," Morin says.

Angie's List member Joshua Goldman says he saves money using independent mechanics, but the Somerville resident had no choice but to take his 2000 Nissan Maxima to the dealership when his check-engine light came on because only they could update the car's computer software.

"I find local repair shops to be more affordable than dealers," Goldman says. "The more information dealers keep for themselves, the more expensive it'll be for us."


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