We've all been there. You start up your car and that dreaded engine light pops on! It drives us drivers nuts.
"It's maddening to people! They wish it wasn't there a lot of the times," Glenn Wilder says he feels your pain. Glenn owns Wilder Brothers Auto Repair shop in Scituate, and his shop will take on anything; Land Rovers, Hondas, Fords, Dodge, you name it.
But sadly Wilder Brothers, like the other 5,600 Independent Bay State Auto Shops, can't fix everything because they believe the manufacturers don't release 100% of the repair information, in some cases how to turn that engine light off itself, forcing owners back to the more expensive dealers. "Every week we run into something, we subscribe to two different online services for repair information we also go on dealer websites, we've got about $60,000 in diagnostic equipment, yet we still have issues where it's a dealer specific item or code where the info is not available to finish the repair on the car," Wilder says.
"You wouldn't want to go to a doctor that has only learned about half your body," says AAA's John Paul. He says blame it on technology! While mechanics are still wrenching on cars, there are as many as 50 onboard computers which need codes to either diagnose or fix the problem. Independent repair shops pay big bucks for that information, but believe the manufacturers & dealers withhold a small percentage in order to keep your business.
"There's no effort to deny that information to anyone, it's just a matter that its costly, and it needs to be controlled, and it needs to be a situation where its in the right people’s hands," says Tim Martino, Service Director for Mercedes Benz of Westwood. He says repair information is available at a price.
What's troubling for manufacturers is giving out too much information like trade design secrets, that could spawn an industry of "knock-off" parts, which Martino says would devastate the car industry. "If they can make a component in China that does what this component does and under cut the manufacturer who spent the millions developing the part and that's a real problem. And that's a real angle and a push behind this bill," Martino said.
"They present a very weak case, saying that we are going to steal proprietary information or we shouldn't have the right to engine codes because it's going to create problems. Its not going to create a problem, its going to make it easier for the customer to get their car fixed," Wilder says.
Beacon Hill apparently agrees. Just two weeks ago "The Right to Repair" bill raced through committee in the Senate. The bill would require the manufacturers to surrender all the codes and information to level the playing field in auto repair.
State Senator Robert Hedlund is a big supporter, and a former autos shop owner in Quincy. "So, you can understand why the manufacturers would be protective of that, but I think when you weigh everything we have to weigh in on the side of the consumer here, and the ability for these independent shops to stay open and make a living," Hedlund says.
A national "Right to Repair" law never got traction in Washington. If the bill passes here in Massachusetts, we would be the first state in the country to do so. The nation is watching, and so is Facebook, “The Right to Repair” page has over 3600 friends. For some consumers, it's about convenience and affordability, while others feel they should just plain have the right to get their car repaired where ever they want. "When you buy a car you should own the entire car, not just the wheels and tires and body of the car, you should own the technology that's in the car," Paul says.
A statement from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers on the Right to Repair Bill:
"The so-called "Right to Repair" bill is a solution in search of a problem. Its a parts bill disguised as a repair bill, largely funded by national auto parts retailers, who want to copy manufacturer parts. It is opposed by Massachusetts repairers, dealers, workers, and automakers and should be rejected by the Legislature. Even the New England Service Station and Auto Repair Association (NESSARA) the largest organization representing thousands of independent auto repairers in Massachusetts opposes the bill." -- Charles Territo, Senior Director of Communications, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers