Should automakers share technical information about their vehicles with independent repair shops? That is the question regarding the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act that is back in the spotlight in Washington. If the bill is passes, it would require automakers to make the same technical service information available to consumers and independent auto shops as they do for their dealers. This would give consumers more freedom in choosing where they will have their vehicle serviced, and it could afford more protection as some manufacturers and brands struggle to survive.
There is much debate on both sides of this topic. Modern vehicles are very complex systems with an increased use of computers and electronics that control vital equipment such as air bags, brakes, emissions, transmissions, and many other vehicle systems. Currently, some services on these computerized systems needs to be handled through the dealership. Independent shops (and even consumers) can purchase a scan tool for about $35 that can read generic engine, transmission and ABS fault codes to diagnose vehicle faults. But there are many other systems and manufacturer-specific fault codes that these readers can not identify. We believe that scan tools should have the data available from the manufacturer to identify all vehicle faults and allow technicians to reset and adjust systems to the manufacturer’s specifications. These would include many simple service and maintenance tasks like adjusting the steering position sensors on ESC systems to allow technicians to perform a vehicle alignment and reset electronic parking brakes to change the brake pads. But keep in mind that all recalls need to be performed by the dealer at no cost to the owner.
The independent shops are hoping this bill breaks the hold that dealers have over these systems, so that any mechanic can diagnose and repair your car. Many independent shops have to turn away vehicles that need work on high-tech systems, such as hybrids and premium luxury cars.
Consumer Reports agrees, in principle, with the Right to Repair Act, as it restricts its scope to “repair” which would increase repair options for car owners. We want the bill to place appropriate restrictions on the ability to modify programming that can adversely affect vehicle emissions and safety systems.
This legislation comes at an interesting time for consumers and automakers. A “Cash for Clunkers” proposal currently being considered in Washington could cause the demand for servicing old cars to be reduced, thus further impacting the smaller shops. Also, many dealerships are closing, giving consumers have fewer choices as to where to get their vehicles serviced. This bill would allow more flexibility in choosing a place to service your car and could save you money.
A recent Consumer Reports survey found that people are more satisfied with service from an independent shop than those who went to a dealer. We also found it helps to shop around for car maintenance. Prices can vary greatly between dealerships and independent shops. No matter where you get your car serviced, it’s best to do your research and compare quotes.