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Editor's Notebook

Fix It, Man

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Tony can fix anything. Stereos, VCRs, refrigerators ®€ƒ heck, Tony’s even sorted out

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my lawnmower a few times. Doesn’t matter what make or model, he finds the parts and gets things fixed.

So I asked his opinion of the whole Right to Repair issue, especially about the backroom deal struck last fall by the Automotive Service Association (ASA) and the trade groups representing North American auto companies – the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers.

"Glad I’m not fixing cars," he said. "Sounds like those guys are gonna put people out of business.

"What happens if the car companies decide they don’t want to play anymore?" he asked. "That agreement is just a piece of paper so they can walk away anytime they want."

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Then I told him how much independent repair shops would have to pay to get repair information from the car companies.

"Twenty-five hundred bucks a year to fix an Infiniti!?!?!? A hundred-fifty bucks a month for Isuzu? How many Isuzus do they see a day? Who’s gonna shell out that kind of money to fix a few cars? You can’t charge that back to customers."

My street-smart fix-it man has a better grasp of the issue than the shoot-first-aim-later ASA and all of Capitol Hill, which has put aside effective and enforceable Right to Repair bills that were being considered. See, Tony knows he couldn’t make money by having a conversation like this:

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"Yes, Mrs. Jones, $2,700 is an awful lot to fix your blender. But keep in mind that $2,500 of that was just to figure out what was wrong."

Not too long ago cars were pretty easy to repair. Then came a bunch of regulations and computer modules, onboard diagnostic systems and sensors for emissions, safety, fuel efficiency, traction, and so forth. Once unrelated components became integrated systems, and automakers kept independent shops in the dark about how to fix their high tech gems. Years of legal wrangling in California over emission control service data showed the need for a Right to Repair law.

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Consumer and trade groups lobbied Congress long and hard for a Right to Repair law. Last year, though, some in Congress told both sides sit down and hash out a non-legislative solution. TIA, AAIA, MEMA and others balked, insisting that firm regulation was better than unofficial agreement.

Then ASA went off and did its own thing, and now everyone – including tire dealers – has to live with it.

ASA’s negotiated "victory" says automakers must make "available at a reasonable price" service and training information and diagnostic tools for their vehicles, and place such on specific Web sites by Aug. 31.

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Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government affairs, says that deal hasn’t yielded everything promised. Not all information has been posted and not all tools are available yet. (A list of sites can be seen at www.nastf.org). And now some automakers say they can’t meet the deadline.

What a surprise.

Because no one – not Congress, not the automakers, not ASA ®€“ established a definition of "affordable," automakers set their own prices. One-year subscriptions run anywhere from $350 (Toyota/Lexus) to $5,200 (Porsche). Some offer daily or monthly options; many won’t list costs until you register on their sites.

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Don’t have Internet service in your shop? Good luck!

Worse, most tire dealers can’t afford to buy the specialized tools necessary to repair all the makes and models they see, a cost problem the car dealers don’t have. Do you think car dealers have to shell out big bucks for repair subscriptions and specialized tools? Heck no. They’d tell the car guys just where to stick their www.whatsit.coms.

And what about the tire pressure monitoring systems you’ll soon have to deal with? Need to mount/demount tires? Rest systems after tire rotations or changes? Write a check!

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Right now, TIA and other groups are standing firm against the ASA/automaker concocted placebo. But unless there is increased pressure – i.e. pissed off voters – effective Right to Repair legislation will never come to pass.

Go to www.tirereview.com. There are sample letters you can send to your Congresspeople, and more background info on this important issue. Educate your customers – they’re the ones losing their freedom of repair choice.

This something-is-better-than-nothing deal has to go. But the ball is in your court.

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