The Federal Trade Commission today told a congressional subcommittee that a “voluntary, self-regulatory approach is the best solution,” to resolve the difficulties independent car repair facilities may have accessing information and tools needed to diagnose, service, and repair vehicles.
James A. Kohm, Associate Director, Division of Enforcement, Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, that U.S. consumers spend more than $80 billion annually to repair and maintain the two hundred million cars currently on the road and consumers “have a significant interest in automobile repair and maintenance markets that operate properly and efficiently.” Consumers and independent car repair facilities must have access to tools needed to diagnose, service, and repair vehicles, but access to that information is not as easy or relatively inexpensive as it once was, the testimony says. “For example, the sophisticated technology used in most cars today can require expensive computerized diagnostic tools to diagnose problems, as well as knowledge of particular software access or computer codes. It can be difficult for one independent repair shop to acquire all of the equipment it may need to repair all makes of cars, or to easily access all of the information required to make timely repairs.”
In an attempt to assure that independent auto repair facilities are able to access service information from manufacturers in a timely manner, the Coalition of Auto Repair Equality, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the National Automobile Dealers Association and the Automotive Service Association held a series of meetings to attempt to resolve the differences. Steven J. Cole of the Council of Better Business Bureaus participated as a facilitator, and staff of the FTC attended the meetings – more than 60 hours of meetings over a two month period, “to try to reach an agreement on what information the auto manufacturers would provide to independent auto repair facilities and how they could provide that information in an efficient and affordable manner,” the testimony says.
“The Commission is disappointed that the facilitation process was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, the parties’ efforts to reach agreement were significant and should receive
consideration throughout the ongoing legislative process,” the testimony states.
According to the testimony, the Commission favors a voluntary, self-regulatory approach to resolve the issues. “ . . . any governmental intervention in this area requires great care to avoid unnecessary impact on existing markets.
The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 4-0.
Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish (bilingual counselors are available to take complaints), or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.