- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

Auto manufacturers and small-repair-shop owners announced an agreement yesterday that would end a decade-long battle over fixing increasingly high-tech cars.
The deal stipulates that manufacturers provide service information, diagnostic tools and training to the nation's estimated 178,000 independent mechanics.
Independent technicians and the Automotive Service Association, an advocacy organization for mechanics, told Congress last summer that manufacturers were giving their dealerships better information and tools.
Ron Pyle, president of the association, said yesterday that the lack of information had kept many technicians from properly diagnosing and repairing critical safety systems, including anti-lock brakes and air bags, on newer vehicles.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, and the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, advised the associations during the hearing to find a nonregulatory solution by the end of 2002.
The agreement, a nonbinding contract, was made in "good faith," Mr. Pyle said, adding that the association will seek legislative action if manufacturers fail to deliver the necessary information and tools.
Most manufacturers plan to provide information through their Web sites, said Josephine Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers Inc., a trade organization for 10 automakers including DaimlerChrysler, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.
So far, seven automakers, including American Honda Motor Inc. Co., BMW Group and Ford, have started sites for technicians, relaying repair and tool information for all of their models. Most of the starter sites, initiated during the negotiations, cost mechanics $50 for a month's use.
Under the agreement, manufacturers have until the end of March to start such a site. They also have until Aug. 30 to make available the same diagnostic tool for repairs that a franchised dealer would use, said Timothy MacCarthy, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, a trade organization representing makers like Honda, Kia, Subaru and Toyota.
"We'll be working with the tool manufacturers to get more generic versions to the auto aftermarket of these high-priced, specialized tools being used more and more in auto repair," Mr. MacCarthy said.
Ms. Cooper said 75 percent of vehicle-service repairs on the 209 million cars and light trucks in the nation are performed by small-business mechanics.
Dale Feste said the agreement already has allowed his auto-repair shop in Hopkins, Minn., to service six Honda cars in the past month. "It's a huge relief to have the information available so that I'm not turning away customers to their dealers."
Mr. Feste said customers will likely see an increase on bills in the information-services section, which will range depending on the year and make of the vehicle.
"It's going to vary based on the number of same type of vehicles we service in a month," he said.

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