The Center for Auto Safety has dismissed its 2016 lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation after the department posted online tens of thousands of automaker technical-service bulletins sent to dealerships.
The nonprofit consumer advocacy group filed the federal lawsuit nearly four years ago because it claimed the DOT had failed to adhere to a federal law requiring bulletins and an index of manufacturer communications be made available for the public to search online.
On Tuesday, it said it had voluntarily dismissed the case Jan. 13 in federal court in the District of Columbia. That followed a settlement the parties reached in December in which the center agreed to dismiss the case "once defendants perform certain agreed actions," according to court records.
The technical-service bulletins, which the government calls manufacturer communications, include warranty and policy memos, product improvement notices and repair instructions for dealership service departments. The bulletins also provide insight into problems consumers may have with certain vehicles.
In some cases, the bulletins may be issued ahead of a vehicle recall.
But finding them hasn't always been easy.
The Center for Auto Safety said that before its lawsuit, the notices were often hard for the public to locate and the DOT wasn't "consistently" posting them on the Internet. The notices are posted at nhtsa.gov/recalls.
"For years, car companies kept consumers in the dark about the existence of vital repairs for defects that often were available for free," Jason Levine, the center's executive director, said in a statement.
"The center fought for decades against secret warranties and other dirty tricks of the auto manufacturers in order to bring technical service bulletins to light. Despite the law being updated in 2012 to require communications from manufacturers to their dealers to be posted online, the government failed to do so — which is why we took DOT to court."
Officials from NHTSA and DOT could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Center for Auto Safety said that following the filing of its lawsuit, DOT announced it intended to post the manufacturer communications and indexes, and the parties agreed to stay the lawsuit multiple times while the department upgraded its data collection and posting systems. Since 2016, the department has published more than 50,000 communications online.
Levine told Automotive News he doesn't know how many more notices need to be posted.
DOT also agreed to notify manufacturers that had submitted communications without an index to resubmit them with a compliant index, which would be posted, the center said.
The center said DOT also agreed to publish this message on its website: "Note: Certain manufacturers may have not yet provided all communications dating back to 2012, as required by law. NHTSA will continue to update its website with additional manufacturer communications as they are received."
"We think this is hopefully the end of the process of making sure there's a system in place" to smoothly collect and post technical-service bulletins, Levine said.