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Pass right-to-repair bills targeting vehicles, Congress told

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general are urging Congress to pass “expansive” right-to-repair legislation that, in part, targets the auto industry.

In a letter sent last week to Democratic and Republican lawmakers, 28 attorneys general called on Congress to consider previously introduced legislation that focuses on repairing vehicles, agricultural equipment and consumer electronics.

“Manufacturing of automobiles, digital devices and agricultural equipment is increasingly becoming more technologically advanced and built with more embedded electronics,” the attorneys general, which represent states including California, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee as well as the District of Columbia and Guam, wrote in the letter.

“OEMs often control access to these electronics parts, creating unfair restraint of trade and a monopoly on repair. This can harm consumers directly by driving up prices and is antithetical to a free market,” they wrote.

More specifically, the attorneys general wanted Congress to pass two pieces of legislation that would directly affect the auto industry: the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair and Save Money on Auto Repair Transportation acts.

A third bill — the Fair Repair Act — that is supported by the group excludes vehicles and medical devices.

The REPAIR Act was reintroduced by Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., in February. It would mandate that vehicle owners and independent repair shops have the same access to repair and maintenance tools and data as automakers and their franchised dealerships.

It would also require all tools and equipment, wireless transmission of repair and diagnostic data and access to on-board diagnostics and telematics systems needed for vehicle repairs to be made available to the independent repair industry.

The SMART Act, which was reintroduced last week by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., would amend US patent law by reducing the time automakers can enforce design patents on collision repair parts to two and half years from 14 years against aftermarket parts suppliers.

The bipartisan bill would apply to automotive components, such as fenders, quarter panels and doors, and only affects aftermarket repair parts. It would not alter the 14-year period in which automakers can enforce design patents against other automakers.

To be sure, automakers, independent repair shops and aftermarket parts retailers signed on to a memorandum of understanding in 2014. That agreement, which came about after Massachusetts passed its own automotive right-to-repair law in 2013, gave shops in all states the same access to diagnostic and repair information.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which is representing US automakers in a legal battle over revisions to Massachusetts’ law, said it opposes the REPAIR Act.

“It’s entirely unnecessary,” John Bozzella, the group’s CEO, said in comments submitted to Automotive News last month. “Seventy percent of post-warranty vehicle repairs happen at independent repair businesses. Automotive right-to-repair already exists.”

Bozzella argues the effort is a “data grab … masquerading as consumer protection and small business support” by the automotive aftermarket and repair industry.

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