POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2007:
Under the Hood
Right to Repair legislation sounds good, but for whom?
Lamons filed legislation required auto manufacturers to provide vehicle owners or independent repair shops access to information needed to diagnose and repair vehicles or to replace parts.
If Tulsa's state Rep. Lucky Lamons has his way, Oklahomans will no longer be at the mercy of car dealerships to get repairs on their vehicles.
The Democrat from Tulsa is spearheading on the state level a movement already underway nationally, known as "Right to Repair."
"If left up to car manufacturers, consumers won't have a choice of where to bring their vehicles to be serviced or repaired," said Jim Quinten, president and CEO of the Automotive Parts and Service Association.
"The need for Right to Repair legislation has become apparent due to the increasing use of computers and electronics which control nearly every vehicle function from safety and emissions to entertainment.
"Although these computers provide many benefits to motorists through improved fuel efficiency, comfort and safety, they also provide increasing opportunities for car companies to lock out access by car owners and the independent repair shops where they choose to obtain service for their vehicles," he also said.
At Quinten's request, Lamons filed legislation last session that would have required auto manufacturers to provide vehicle owners or independent repair shops access to information needed to diagnose and repair vehicles or to replace parts, "thus leveling the competitive playing field between dealers and independent repair shops," Quinten said.
Lamons said he decided to carry the legislation because he'd already heard from constituents who would have benefited from it in the past.
He recounted an incident in which a couple from his district was traveling through the panhandle when they started experiencing difficulty with their vehicle.
"The car was having problems with its electric locks, going on/off, on/off," Lamons said.
"They weren't close enough to a major city to be able to take it in to a dealership, but the independent repair shops didn't have access to the tools, software and training they would have needed to fix it," he added.
Lamons' bill was assigned to the House Rules Committee, though, which lawmakers and Capitol watchers recognize as the "graveyard" where proposed legislation goes to die without a hearing.
The lawmaker said his bill wasn't sent to a premature death because of any significant political opposition against him or the provisions of his bill, though.
He said the issue just hasn't received enough attention yet to have been a priority for House leadership at the time.
"When new lobbyists are hired, they're told that it will usually be a good three years before they see anything done with their legislation," Lamons said, in explanation of newly introduced bills' typically sluggish beginnings.
Lamons' Right to Repair Act might be getting a head start, though.
While the bill wasn't granted a hearing last session, House leadership did approve, however, an interim study for the Economic Development Committee to explore the issue.
Lamons said Quinten and other Right to Repair advocates will speak at the interim study hearings, as well as opponents from the auto manufacturing industry.
Steve Kelly, a lobbyist for Toyota, is one such opponent.
He told UTW that the proposed legislation is a "solution in search of a problem."
"It sounds good and populist--'The big bad auto companies are keeping people from going where they want for repairs,' but that problem was dealt with in 2000," he said.
He said the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) was formed in 2000 in agreement with the Automotive Service Association (ASA) to create a program to address the concerns of independent repair shops and to make repair data available, and a website was created in 2002 through which they could access the information.
"By investing in proper equipment and subscribing to this service, legitimate repair shops can gain access to nearly everything they need to repair a motor vehicle of any make or model," said Ken Nance of the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures--an ally of Kelly in his opposition to Right to Repair.
Since then, as of 2005, Kelly said, out of 500 million repairs performed by independent facilities, there have only been 48 complaints reported to NASTF about lack of access.
While the legislation appears to help the "little guy"--the "mom and pop" mechanic shops, Kelly said, the big aftermarket parts companies, like NAPA, O'Reilly and AutoZone, are really the originators of proposed new law.
"They're trying to gain access to the automakers' intellectual property without having to spend any money on research and development themselves," he said.
Lamons said an interim study hearing was scheduled for Sept. 18, at which Kelly, Nance, Quinten and others would address lawmakers.
However, the hearing conflicted with a scheduled Democratic Caucus meeting and will be rescheduled, he said.
Also at Quinten's request, a Right to Repair Act has recently been proposed in Congress by Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), which would enact on the national level what Lamons' bill would have brought about in Oklahoma.
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