WASHINGTON -- The long fight over "right to repair" seems to be nearing an end.
For more than a decade, independent car repair chains such as Jiffy Lube and parts retailers such as AutoZone have been lobbying for laws that would give them standardized access to the diagnostic tools that automakers give their franchised dealers.
Automakers have resisted, citing the cost of software changes required to make the information more accessible. But when Massachusetts legislators passed a law last year that automakers saw as a decent compromise, they decided to cut their losses.
Last week, two trade groups representing automakers -- the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers -- announced an agreement with independent garages and retailers to make Massachusetts' law a national standard.
"A patchwork of 50 differing state bills, each with its own interpretations and compliance parameters, doesn't make sense," says Mike Stanton, president of the Association of Global Automakers. "This agreement provides the uniform clarity our industry needs."
Under the deal, all auto companies would make their diagnostic codes and repair data available in a common format by the 2018 model year, as the Massachusetts law requires. In return, lobbying groups for repair shops and parts retailers would refrain from pursuing state-by-state legislation.
Supporters of right-to-repair legislation say it will give owners more choices and lower repair costs by fostering competition.
"This agreement will ensure vehicle owners will have competitive and quality choices in their repairs," says Ray Pohlman, the leader of the group Coalition for Auto Repair Equality.
But it may pose a risk to franchised dealers. Out-of-warranty service jobs have grown scarcer at many dealerships in recent years as the quality of cars has improved. Under the new pact, independent repair shops may have an easier time capturing dealers' service business.
Stanton said automakers are still getting feedback from dealers: "We're trying to make this is a living, cooperative document that addresses all the concerns from the aftermarket folks and the automakers and the dealers."
- Require automakers to make available to repair shops the same vehicle repair information they give to dealers
- Allow repair shops to purchase that data with an ordinary computer over a standardized, Internet-based service
- Require automakers to offer a nonproprietary interface for diagnosing problems with vehicles, starting in the 2018 model year
Source: Massachusetts state legislature