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Bill aimed at helping repair shops

Thu., Sept. 23, 2004

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee told automakers Wednesday that they must do a better job of providing information to independent auto repair shops if they want to avoid intervention from Congress.

“This is one last attempt to get the manufacturing community and the repair community to get this solved,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said during a subcommittee hearing.

Barton is sponsoring a bill that would require automakers to disclose any information necessary to diagnose and repair vehicles. The bill would put the Federal Trade Commission in charge of enforcing the law.

Automakers and the Automotive Service Association, which represents 13,000 repair shops, agreed in September 2002 to make all service information available at a reasonable price. But some repair shop owners said automakers are still putting up hurdles.

Dave Scaler of the New Jersey-based Mechanics Education Association said in one recent case, DaimlerChrysler AG refused to provide a code number necessary to repair a blinking light on a 2000 Dodge Neon even though the dealership had paid for a subscription that gave it access to the company’s tools and diagnostic equipment. The company said it would only give the code to a Chrysler dealer, Scaler said.

Lynne Cardwell, the owner of a large repair shop in Sacramento, Calif., questioned whether automakers are providing information at a reasonable price, since it costs her $37,000 per year to subscribe to all the major automakers’ Web sites. She also said independent repair shops lose credibility when they have to send customers to dealerships.

But the Automotive Service Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents 10 automakers, insist the agreement is working and that Congress shouldn’t get involved.

“The vast majority of repairs are performed with no problem,” said Greg Dana, vice president of the alliance. He added that automakers have legitimate reasons for controlling information that can be used to make inexpensive replacement parts.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., pointed out that the coalition backing the bill is made up of discount auto parts retailers, including Jiffy Lube, Advance Auto Parts, NAPA Auto Parts and AutoZone, and isn’t supported by the Automotive Service Association.


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