Its “Right to
Repair” Season Again
Editorial by Charlie Gorman
Several states are introducing or reintroducing so-called Right to
Repair (R2R) bills into their legislatures this year. The
proponents have flocked to each state to give testimony, hire lobbyists
and spend huge amounts of money in an attempt to persuade legislators
that their position on this volatile issue is the correct one.
The arguments are the same as they have been for some time now.
In essence, the debate has two sides:
R2R proponents claim
legislation is required that compels vehicle
manufacturers to provide the repair information and tools necessary for
them to repair vehicles to the same level franchised dealers can.
They say that not all information required to repair vehicles is
available to the aftermarket. They claim that vehicle
manufacturers will discontinue offering some of the information they
now provide if the constant threat of legislation goes away. They
claim that the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), an
industry effort designed to identify gaps in vehicle manufacturer
service information, is an ineffective tool, made up of one person and
organized by the vehicle manufacturers. They say that it takes
too long for requests to be answered and often, the answers are not
Opponents claim a law is
not required. All the information
is already available and the little bit that might not be, is
effectively managed by the NASTF process. The NASTF process
allows technicians to
file missing information requests (IRs) which are then acted on
by the vehicle manufacturers. They claim the proponents are not
interested in service information alone. They say that this is an
attempt by large parts companies to get intellectual property (trade
secrets) that would allow them to manufacture (copy) parts that will
then be made overseas.
Neither side of the R2R argument is all right or all wrong. Each
side's statements are biased toward whichever side of the R2R issue
they have taken. These are classic cases of limiting the truth to
fit one's side of the argument or bending the truth to bolster their
position. All perfectly legal and expected I suppose, but this
has been going on for too long. Let's analyze this in more detail.
Are the vehicle manufacturers right when they say this is about parts
companies robbing trade secrets and intellectual property? No.
proponents have said over and over that they are not interested in
trade secrets and the language in the proposed legislation clearly
exempts trade secrets from the information they are requesting.
So, why are the parts companies so involved in the R2R effort?
Could it be that they know that the more repair information the
aftermarket can get their hands on, the more likely aftermarket repair
shops will be able to perform complex repair jobs that otherwise would
go to the new car dealer? The more jobs the aftermarket can
perform, the more aftermarket parts will be sold. This is the
more likely scenario regarding parts company involvement in R2R.
Since most vehicle manufacturers have signed the NASTF agreement
stating that they will provide the necessary information for the
aftermarket to compete with their dealerships, they have effectively
allowed this process. There is no conspiracy here. This is
just the so-called “level playing field" everyone says they want.
Are the pro R2R folks right when they say that NASTF is
ineffective? No. NASTF has made significant progress.
IR process does work usually, but not in every
The committees under the board of directors are active and
have been successful in getting information previously unavailable to
the aftermarket, but there is still some missing information.
Significant gaps exist in the tool and equipment and vehicle security
areas. The Vehicle Security Committee has done outstanding work
in designing and carrying out the Secure Data Release Model (SDRM), a
method by which vehicle manufactures can offer key and module
initialization codes to the aftermarket in a secure fashion, but not
all vehicle manufactures use this system for all their initialization
While It is true that NASTF has only one full-time person
assigned to the organization's activities, that person is backed by the
staff of the management company that administers NASTF's day to day
activities and backed even further by hundreds of hard-working
volunteers that believe in what NASTF is doing.
Does NASTF take too long to resolve IRs? Yes and
no. NASTF is not a repair information source, nor is it a
clearinghouse. Yes, if a requester needs to be steered to
information that already exists, this can be done quickly through
NASTF, but the organization's real value is in its capability to
deliberate whether information requests are legitimate and if they are,
negotiate for access to that information. Although this process
takes time, it is light years faster than any form of litigation.
Current proposed R2R legislation states that if a shop or technician
thinks that he or she is not receiving information, they should file a
complaint with the their state's Attorney General who will in turn try
to get the vehicle manufacturer to comply. If the vehicle
manufacturer refuses, the case goes to court, not a fast or inexpensive
process at all.
Some delays are caused by the inability of some vehicle manufacturer
employees to persuade their senior management that compliance with some
information requests need to be acted on. It is a lot easier and
faster for a lower-level employee to persuade management that certain
information needs to be provided to the aftermarket if there is a legal
requirement to do so. The weaker the requirement, the more likely
the lower level employee will receive push-back from senior
mamangement. Again, this is much more prevelent in the tool and
security areas than it is in the service information area.
If it seems like NASTF is a political football in all this, it
is! NASTF is supposed to be neutral on the R2R issue and believe
me, I can tell you as a board member that the board of directors has
everything possible to try to maintain neutrality. But neither
side in the R2R debate is
willing to let that happen. Mischaracterizations of NASTF by both
sides beg for clarification but clarification requires involvement and
involvement inevitably will be misinterpreted as taking sides, as will
probably be the case with this editorial.
I testified before the U.S. Congress for NASTF in 2006. I think I
presented a neutral viewpoint that praised the work NASTF had done up
to that point while pointing out that both sides of the R2R debate were
overstating their case. I was never asked to testify again.
Why? I think it is because my testimony did not support one side
or the other enough. In a world where legislators are being asked
to choose one side of an argument over another, testimony that finds
fault with each side can be considered useless by both. Since it
is the 'sides' that choose the witnesses who will testify, neither side
wants to invite someone who cannot or will not bolster their position
on the issue.
It is interesting that although NASTF has made significant progress
toward its goals, the R2R antagonists have not moved one inch.
Both sides are exactly where they were five years ago. Both sides
have claimed outrage over what has been said about them by the other
side, but the outrage for me is not what each side says about the
other, it is the incredible bullheadedness demonstrated by both sides
that cause them to do the exact same thing year after year.
time and money spent on this issue is truly outrageous. The
industry should be angry with both sides for not coming to a compromise
long ago. Both sides should be embarrassed that although R2R was
initiated in the United States, Europe and Canada have beat us to a
In Canada's case they have formed a group called CASIS
(Canadian Automotive Service Information Standard) that enjoys the
participation of all service related segments of automotive
repair. There is no R2R law, but the Canadian federal government
was involved in its formation and participates in some of its
activities. In Europe there is legislation and again, full
participation by all automotive repair industry segments. In both
cases, the fight about whether an R2R law should be passed is over.
So what is the solution? I think clearly NASTF has proven itself
to be a very capable and valuable organization, but it would be even
stronger and more valuable if it were approved or sanctioned by
government as the place where information gaps are determined and
I am not calling for a law that allows just anyone to
file a lawsuit because they think they are missing some
information. I am asking for a plan where government empowers
NASTF to make these decisions, thus keeping the government out of the
Government is only needed to force all parties
into the NASTF process. I do not know exactly how this can be
done. I am not a politician, lawyer or lobbyist, but imagine what
kind of organization NASTF could be if everyone participated and
we could take some of the money now being used by R2R lobbyists on both
sides of the issue to fund it.
I am sure others can put more meat on the bone regarding my idea, but
we cannot continue to fight the same battle, year after year... and
after state. If nothing else, I hope this editorial causes the
debate to turn away from legislation vs. no legislatuion to how can we
strengthen NASTF and get on with the work of finding solutions to
information availability issues.
This could be a win-win for all
parties. R2R folks get their enforcement and the anti-R2R folks
get to continue the NASTF effort. And, of course, both sides have
to give up something. The pro-R2R people have to accept NASTF and
join the effort, while the anti-R2R people will have to accept some
government empowerment. isn't that what compromise is? You
give up something so that you achieve your most important goals.