Times are tough for the United States’ thousands of independent vehicle repair centers. If ever there were a time in history that automakers had the power to all but lock the nation’s independent mechanics out of being able to repair their vehicles, it’s now. From increasing mechanical complexity to specialty tools and procedures, to super-secure controller modules, and even blocking out the tuning aftermarket entirely, today’s cars and trucks are harder to wrench on than ever.
That’s why it’s such a big deal that earlier in the month, US Representative Bobby Rush of Illinois introduced the REPAIR Act, and has been endorsed by the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which we all know as SEMA.
Image copyright Manoli Katakis, Muscle Cars & Trucks.
Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair
“REPAIR” is an acronym that stands for “Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair” (legislators love their acronyms), and the legislation is very explicit with its intentions. The bill seeks to guarantee that the nation’s countless independent vehicle repair shops – that is, shops outside of the OEMs’ dealer networks – have access to all the repair and maintenance tools and data they’ll need to work on volume passenger cars. That includes access to wireless transmission of repair and diagnostic data, as well as on-board diagnostic and telematic systems. The jury’s still out on whether that means granting aftermarket access to your C8 Corvette‘s ECU, but it’s a start, anyway.
The REPAIR Act takes things a step further by stipulating that vehicle owners should be informed by vehicle repair centers that they have freedom of choice when it comes to where and how they get repairs. It even lays out a path to providing the necessary access to vehicle data without compromising cybersecurity, by directing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to come up with standards for how to ensure safe access to OEM-secured data.
And finally, the REPAIR Act calls for the formation of an advisory committee to make recommendations to the Federal Trade Commission on how to address new barriers to vehicle repair and maintenance, and sets forth a process for consumers and indie mechanics to file complaints with the FTC regarding alleged REPAIR Act violations.
Why Does It Matter?
According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which came out as a staunch supporter of the REPAIR Act legislation, some 70 percent of the US’s 288 million registered vehicles are maintained by independent repair shops. We’d wager it’s likely that the country’s dealer-run repair facilities aren’t even numerous enough to meet all that demand, making it essential to ensure the continued operation of independent repair facilities.
Moreover, there’s the question of competition. Independent repair facilities provide some much-needed competition to dealer-run shops, forcing them to keep pricing within reason. Imagine buying a brand new Ford Mustang Mach 1 and having to pay an arm and a leg for a simple service because, hey, where else are you going to go?
The REPAIR Act legislation still has a ways to go before it can become law, but SEMA is far from the bill’s only supporter. So far, it’s garnered praise from the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association, Auto Care Association, and the Consumer Access to Repair Coalition. Also worth noting is the FTC’s release of the “Nixing the Fix” report last year, laying out the barriers that OEMs have erected to independent vehicle repair, and President Joe Biden’s July, 2021 executive order “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” which urges the FTC to correct competitive repair restrictions.