FTC Testifies on Auto Repair Options

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FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras today told a congressional subcommittee that an industry-driven 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.
Testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection notes that “Auto manufacturers have adopted sophisticated technology to enhance the performance, comfort, safety and security of their products.” The technology requires access to expensive computerized tools and knowledge of software access or computer codes to diagnose and repair problems. “Independent repair shops claim that it can be difficult to acquire all of the equipment they may need to repair all makes of cars, or to easily access all of the information required to make timely repairs.”

In an effort to resolve their differences, representatives of the manufacturers and the independent auto repair operators held discussions facilitated by the Council of Better Business Bureaus for more than 60 hours. “Although the parties’ negotiations resulted in some significant areas of agreement, the parties failed to develop fully a mutually agreeable solution.”

“To date, a comprehensive, voluntary solution to the issue of information provision has proven elusive,” the testimony states. “The Commission is disappointed that, despite efforts to bring those on each side of the issue together to reach a mutually agreeable solution, the parties have thus far been unwilling to make the compromises necessary to resolve the matter.”

“One key area of agreement between the parties was the creation of an independent board for the National Automotive Service Task Force board to oversee the information sharing process,” the testimony says. “While the parties still have not succeeded in resolving their disputes and developing a comprehensive solution to the issue, the Commission staff has been informed that NASTF recently elected a Board of Directors with a mission of providing automotive service information, training, and diagnostic tools and equipment to automobile repairers. Although this is a unilateral action, it may provide a first step toward a mutually acceptable agreement,” the testimony states.

“We understand that any ultimate solution that does not involve the consent and participation of all the parties is not a perfect solution,” according to the testimony. “We, therefore, continue to encourage the parties to initiate and take the lead on further discussions to try to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution that reflects the parties’ consensus.”

The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0.

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 thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

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