Getting It Fixed

By Gary S. Vasilash

One aspect of contemporary vehicles is that there is plenty of tech on board, which not only provides an array of consumer benefits, from safety to entertainment, but which also makes them comparatively more complicated to diagnose what has gone wrong when something inevitably does, and it is just as tricky to fix it.

There is something else about today’s motor vehicles that may not be even known by the owners: many of them are transmitting information about their state of being to the OEMs. This information—say about a fault of some sort—can then be used to send a message to the owner saying, in effect, “Something is wrong with your vehicle; go to your dealer to get it taken care of.”

The information about the fault is then shared with said authorized dealer. “Authorized,” of course, means approved by the OEM in question.

Local repair shops?

Nope.

What’s more, as Gabrielle Hopkins, vice president of Federal Affairs, Auto Care Association, which represents the automotive aftermarket, including service, maintenance and repair shops, points out, not only are the independents kept out of the loop when it comes to this telematics information, but there are typically special tools that are necessary to access and repair vehicles that these outlets can’t get.

They are restricted to the “authorized” service centers, typically found within dealers’ organizations.

While there are all manner of arguments put forth as to why this is the case by the OEMs—e.g., they want to protect the intellectual property that is represented by the operating systems developed for their vehicles; cybersecurity issues might arise—this essentially means that there is a protected ecosystem that keeps the independent shops from being able to fix vehicles.

Hopkins and her colleagues are lobbying on behalf of the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act, which the Auto Care Association, CAR Coalition and Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association explain, in part:

“The legislation would prohibit impeding the vehicle owner or a repair shop from obtaining service information, tools, or parts, including the ability for a vehicle owner to choose aftermarket parts needed to fully maintain and repair a vehicle.”

Let’s face it: Vehicles aren’t going to get less complicated.

Limiting choice generally means that prices are higher.

And as has been seen during the pandemic, there are limited resources at a given dealership for repair, so should one need something fixed sooner rather than later, the availability of more repair options rather than fewer is a consumer advantage.

Of course, the OEMs and the dealerships may not care much about that.

Learn more from Hopkins on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” where “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Richard Truett of Automotive News and I talk with her.

You can see it here.

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