Survey: Independent mechanics worry as manufacturers frustrate repairs

According to the survey, 84% of independent mechanics identify data access as being “extremely important” or “very important” concerns for their business.

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A mechanic is collecting data with an electronic propellershaft and buckling angle device

According to Consumer Price Index (CPI) data from March, car insurance rates are up 21% over the last year. This significant cost increase contributes a half a percentage point to overall inflation

One major factor is the rising cost of car repair — up 6.7% according to CPI data. 

A recent survey of more than 400 car mechanics by the Auto Care Association shows how manufacturer repair restrictions contribute to these rising costs. Here are my top 3 takeaways from the survey: 

1) Repairs increasingly require high-cost specialty tools.

As cars become more reliant on software to operate, software tools are necessary to complete a wider range of repairs. PIRG has cataloged how similar software barriers frustrate farmers, who often are not allowed to purchase the full tools necessary to repair farm equipment. 

While Right to Repair rules require car makers to make their tools available, these tools are often too pricey for independent repair professionals. Surveyed mechanics reported these tools can cost $2,400 on average which 45% of those surveyed said was “too expensive” for their operations. 

Because independent repair mechanics deal with all makes and models, their costs rise dramatically if they are required to buy individual tools for each. 

2) Restrictions around repair data are a top concern for mechanics. 

According to the survey, 84% of independent mechanics identify data access as being “extremely important” or “very important” concerns for their business. This tops other major concerns such as technician shortages and turnover (73%) and inflation (68%). 

Increasingly, these restrictions make routine repairs difficult, according to the surveyed mechanics. Nearly two-thirds (63%) reported troubles with making routine repairs on a daily or weekly basis. 

3) Sending business out the door. 

Another concerning trend is that mechanics are increasingly unable to help their customers, so they have to send customers to the dealership to address repair issues. 

More than half (51%) of surveyed independent mechanics reported sending up to five vehicles per month to a dealer after experiencing vehicle data limitations.

How we can ensure a better market for car repair

To ensure we maintain a robust and competitive car repair market, lawmakers should consider the following steps: 

  • Remove barriers that prevent competition for repair tools. 

Under current copyright law, it is illegal to make any kind of repair tool if it involves bypassing a digital lock, even if the only purpose of that tool is to help you fix a car. Federal legislators should re-introduce and pass the “Freedom to Repair Act” from the last Congress, which removes this barrier to repair. This will ensure that manufacturers’ tools face market competition and manufacturers can’t price gouge for their exclusive repair tools.

  • Ensure mechanics can access all repair data. 

Existing Right to Repair rules for cars exempt access to repair data transmitted wirelessly. Congress should advance the bipartisan REPAIR Act which allows car owners to read all of the repair data, and provide it to the mechanic of their choosing.

  • Car owners should get a copy of the software repair tools with the car. 

If you sell someone a car which requires a $2,400 software tool to fix, that is inherently unfair. The farm equipment Right to Repair legislation we passed in Colorado included a requirement that sellers make repair software available to buyers for no charge. Any required tools should be included in the purchase price, otherwise it operates like a hidden charge. Similar rules could be added to Right to Repair rules covering automobiles.

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