'Right To Repair' Protects Small Businesses, Consumers

NJBIZ — Monday, September 28, 2009

Corner Office
By Sal Risalvato

I would like to clear the air in response to a recent Corner Office opinion piece published in NJBIZ by Steve Kalafer ("Repair legislation is a solution in search of a problem," Aug. 24). Kalafer, who is a car dealer, claims there is no need for the enactment of S-1334, the New Jersey Automobile Owners Right to Repair Act. He is wrong.

S-1334 enjoys bipartisan support in the New Jersey Legislature because it is desperately needed to protect consumers and small businesses. That's why such a diverse coalition supports the Right to Repair initiative, including the New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association, Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey, National Federation of Independent Business/New Jersey, AAA New Jersey, New Jersey Citizen Action, New Jersey Retail Merchants Association and the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

The bill protects both consumers and small businesses. The proponents are small repair shops that are creating jobs. New Jersey's automotive aftermarket employs 43,119 people in more than 6,507 independent repair shops.

Opponents of Right to Repair have created a red herring, by calling S-1334 a "parts bill," claiming that the bill's real intent is to steal the specifications needed to build parts that are manufactured by the big car companies. S-1334 specifically states, "A manufacturer shall not be required to publicly disclose information that, if made public, would divulge methods or processes entitled to protection as trade secrets of that manufacturer." Independent shops don't want to make parts — they simply want the ability to install the parts that they have purchased from the car dealers to repair their customers' cars.

The information needed to produce replacement parts is very different from the information used to repair a vehicle. That's why the authors of the legislation have included strong protections for the car companies' intellectual property.

Currently, the big auto companies do not allow their car dealers to share critical codes needed to complete repairs performed at independent shops. Because computers now control every system in a vehicle, replacement parts require codes or PINs that must be entered each time a new part is installed. Car manufacturers are refusing to share these codes.

Manufacturers point to the National Automotive Service Task Force as their resolution. NASTF is a lame effort created by the car companies to feign cooperation in resolving information issues. Because car companies are not subject to any fines for failure to make information available, they don't.

In many cases, it takes NASTF weeks to resolve an information request. An independent repair shop needs information the same day that the vehicle is in the shop. What customer wants to wait a week for their mechanic to obtain a code needed to be punched in to the car's computer, just because a brake part needed to be replaced?

Manufacturers make the codes available immediately for their dealers, and should do the same for independent repair shops. Certainly the vehicle owner is entitled to the code.

Independent shops turn away 1.8 million consumers each year because they cannot obtain the necessary codes from car manufacturers in order to properly repair vehicles.

In one breath, manufacturers claim that all of the information already is available to independent shops. In the next breath, they claim the release of these codes will enable their parts to be reproduced. They can't have it both ways — either the information is available or it is not. If it is available, then why do they object to a law that compels them to make it available?

Unless S-1334 is passed, motorists will continue to lose the ability to have their car repaired by their local mechanic. Mechanics will be unable to fix their car — not because they don't know how, but because manufacturers refuse to share the codes needed to be entered in to the car's computer. Customers will continue to hear their local mechanic say, "I'm sorry; you will have to bring your car to the dealer." Won't the manufacturers and car dealers just love that.

Sal Risalvato is the executive director of the Springfield-based New Jersey Gasoline-Convenience-Automotive Association, a trade association representing 1,500 small businesses.

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