- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002


Automakers agreed yesterday to give independent repair shops their closely guarded codes used to diagnose troubles with the current high-tech vehicles so the shops can make the same repairs as franchise dealerships.

The fault or diagnostic codes, which appear on a handheld computer that the mechanic attaches to the vehicle to designate the source of trouble, were long withheld from independent shops because automakers said they feared the information would be misused by unscrupulous mechanics.

For instance, the anti-theft system code could be used to break into similar vehicle models and the air-bag system code could be used to secretly install a fake air bag and sell the real one to another customer.

Some automakers felt more comfortable giving the information to their dealerships, which must keep the data confidential under franchise contracts. That often meant higher costs to consumers, because dealer labor rates tend to run $10 to $20 per hour higher than independent shops, according to AAA.

The Automotive Service Association, which represents 13,000 independent repair shops, said 15 percent of repairs could not be performed because of unavailable codes, resulting in an annual loss of $18 billion to the industry.

"This deal should eliminate that loss," said Bob Redding, the association's lobbyist.

He said repairs should be quicker and cheaper because independent mechanics will not have to send vehicles to the dealer for such services.

Under the accord signed by the Automotive Service Association, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, the automakers agree to make the service information available on the Internet by Aug. 31, 2003, at a "reasonable price."

It will be available to all professional mechanics as well as amateurs working out of their garage at home, said Charlie Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

The deal comes after Congress held a hearing on the issue this past summer and threatened to force automakers to share the codes with car owners and independent mechanics.

"This deal will protect the viability of independent service station and repair shops and ensure that consumers will continue to have a choice of automotive service providers," said Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, who introduced a bill in the Senate aimed at getting access to the codes.

Automakers were concerned the legislation would require them to turn over the calibration codes that could be used by the aftermarket parts industry to copy their vehicle parts, in addition to the fault codes.

Mr. Territo said the manufacturers were not trying to give dealers an unfair advantage.

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