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Bill would 'level playing field' for independent mechanics

Date: 7/22/2010

July 21, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Independent car mechanics say it is an all-too-often occurrence: they cannot undertake a repair to a car because the manufacturer won't make available necessary information and computer software.

The Right to Repair bill passed by the state senate -- and the first in the nation -- would allow this information to be shared with independent businesses, State Sen. Stephen Buoniconti explained at a press conference on Thursday.

Speaking in front of Springfield Tire and Auto Services on Dwight Street and flanked by owners and mechanics from several local businesses, Buoniconti said the bill would require car manufacturers to sell the information to mechanics at a "fair price."

He said that some manufacturers already make some of this information for sale, but others do not.

"The purpose of this bill is to drive down costs [to the consumer] in the long term," Buoniconti said.

"Consumers should have a choice on who fixes their car. The Right to Repair Act will allow local repair shops access to diagnostic information necessary to repair today's complex vehicles and save drivers money by creating real competition for their business," he said.

He did admit the bill is "very controversial" and that opponents believe it will force manufacturers to reveal trade secrets and a loss of jobs may also be a consequence.

The bill now faced passage in the House and the purpose of the press conference was to urge area legislators to support it.

The bill prohibits the reproduction of authorized auto parts, which still must be purchased by mechanics from dealerships, Buoniconti added.

Peter Kearing, the president of Holyoke Tire and Auto Services that operates in six locations, said the bill "levels the laying field as a repairer, which in turns drives down the cost for the consumer."

Kearing acknowledged that car manufacturers have been struggling financially and keeping people coming to dealerships for repairs and maintenance is important to them.

He said more than 85 percent of car repairs are completed by independent mechanics.

"We think we work harder and more reasonably," he said.

The costs of the software and information can range in the thousands of dollars for one year, he said. He noted American manufacturers charge less than foreign carmakers.

Kearing said today's cars with their advanced computerized monitoring "is not a bad thing" because they provide drivers and passengers with far greater safety. Computerized monitoring helps prevent tire blowouts and engine conditions, he noted.