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Auto Repair Shop Owners Say Bill is Only Fair

Car repair shop owners say they’re pushing for the bill because it’s about a right to survive in business while providing consumers with the best deal.

State Rep. Ted Speliotis arrived at Thursday morning at eight o’clock, not just for his regular stop to fill his gas tank, but also to meet with about a dozen local auto repair shop owners and employees and a few spokespeople petitioning for a new bill from the State House.

Right to Repair Coalition spokesman Art Kinsman said he felt it was testament to how much importance shop owners place in the bill that they would leave their shops at one of the busiest times of the day. The shop owners said this bill would be key in helping them stay in business for years to come if it does pass into law.

Essentially, the proposed Right to Repair Act would require automakers to sell the same technical specs and tools to independent repair shops and maintenance services – and consumers – that the corporations sell to their dealership service centers. The Federal Trade Commission would be charged with enforcing the bill.

One of the arguments automakers make, however, is that they would have to disclose their trade secrets under the proposed bill. The coalition says intellectual property would be protected and still remains private under the bill.

Kinsman and those gathered on Thursday told Speliotis it’s not about divulging trade secrets for free, but rather leveling the playing field so they have a chance to fairly compete for business, allowing customers to get the best price for the same service.

“The bill says you must sell to us the tools and information to repair the car,” said Brian Hickey. “We don’t want [trade secrets].”

The problem of access also naturally affects other areas of the aftermarket auto industry, such as parts stores, warehouse distributors and tire dealerships, who were also represented on Thursday. The coalition says all told, that industry totals 32,000 jobs in Massachusetts and affects many small business owners.

For John Sambatakos, like many other owners of small car repair shops, it’s about staying in business, supporting his family and paying the mortgage on his home.

“It’s the right to support my family,” said Sambatakos, a Greek immigrant. Before he opened his garage and gas station at 8 Bridge St., Sambatakos operated a shop in Salem.

In Danvers, Sambatakos employs five workers. He said that automakers can squeeze independent shops out of business eventually, but it’s also hurting the consumer’s pocketbook.

“The check engine light goes on and some times it’s the gas cap,” he said – hardly any reason to run to the dealership for service.

Eric Gaudette, owner of on Wadsworth Street, said it would cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and keep up with all the latest tools and specs on each new make and model on the market. He’d rather invest his money into his business.

Gaudette said he already spends several thousand each year for access to industry standard databases, which are used to provide the technical specs needed to perform most repairs or maintenance on vehicles, except for most newer vehicles. He said he can even buy all the tools, but the software updates needed to effectively utilize them are closely guarded by automakers.

Speliotis, who is backing the bill, noted that its passage in Massachusetts could provide the impetus for other states to take action.

“If you’re going to be the first state in the country, you have to do it right,” he said. And that’s what he repeatedly stressed to his audience, asking them to give him as many concrete examples and arguments as they could, which he could then take back to deliberations on Beacon Hill.

“Every part, every line of this bill needs to be justified,” he said.

Speliotis, who chairs the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, has scheduled a hearing for June 28 at the State House.

Bob Almeida, who also attended Thursday’s meeting and is the service manager at Directtire and Auto Service in Peabody, submitted a statement in support of the proposed bill to Danvers Patch. You can read his statement .

Pete May 24, 2011 at 08:56 PM
Hogwash, independent shops already have access to all the tooling and information the dealer shops have. Independents are choosing to not buy the necessary tooling because they lack the ethics to do the job right. Modern cars require modern tooling, the days of fixing a car with a screwdriver and an adjustable wrench are over. As an independent repair shop and I have been buying the necessary tooling for years, quite frankly I could not look my customers in the eye if I knew I was inadequately prepared to work on their vehicles. How sad it is to see other auto shop owners complaining that they have to invest in tooling to sustain their business. Legislation like R2R will have only one affect on the independent repair shops: it will drive up the costs of tooling due to the extra hoops the manufacturers will have to go through to provide the stuff for us. The shops who buy the equipment and information currently will be punished because they will continue to buy the equipment regardless of cost; where as shops like the two listed in this article will continue to operate with out the proper tooling, which is a true slap in the face to their customers. Not having the proper tooling costs so much in mistakes and over fixed cars that there should be a law requiring shops to be properly tooled before they can even bring a car into their shop. Now there is legislation I could get behind! Choosing unpreparedness should not be rewarded. Pete @ Pete's Garage Inc./ Newark, DE
Diane Larson May 24, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Hi All, Happy Tuesday:) As a Shop Owner, in So.Peabody, who feels we already have the “Right to Repair”, I am opposed to this legislation and would like to express my gratitude to State Rep. Ted Speliotis for his time spent and efforts in finding the facts. I am happy to see that he is asking for concrete examples of what they, the people pushing for this legislation, are missing.... We were fortunate that Rep. Speliotis took the time to come to my shop last year, where we were able to show Ted and his Aides the difference in information availability when using the proper OEM tooling and information – Thank You Rep. Speliotis! I would also like to thank Dan Baer from the Peabody Patch, for the nice article and interview after calling and finding out we, the shop owners, were NOT all in support of R2R Legislation http://peabody.patch.com/articles/right-to-repair-divides-citys-auto-industry We already have the “Right to Repair”, all the information we need to fix your vehicle is available to anyone who wishes to purchase the proper tooling and information. Passing this Legislation will not help Shop Owners, Technicians or Consumers, will NOT give up the tools or information for free, we will still need to purchase the tools and information…actually it may cost all of us, shop and consumers, alot more! We already have the “Right to Repair” We Can Fix you Car! Diane Larson, Larson's Service, Inc. diane@larsonsservice.com www.larsonsservice.com
Dave Lanspeary May 25, 2011 at 12:01 AM
I am an independent repair shop owner in Arizona with 30 years invested in this industry. The harsh reality so many continue refusing to face is the modern automobile, due to increased demand for safety, emissions, fuel efficiency and consumer preference for accessories, has accelerated the technology curve for equipment, tooling and training at a faster pace that at any time in the past. Bob Almeida is quoted as saying aftermarket shops are "20 to 30 percent cheaper than dealers". Of course they are. The reason is the shops he references have not re-invented their business plan to modernize their facilities to embrace new technology. When was the last time anyone saw a typewriter repair shop? This is an effective analogy simply because we are all capable of typing and communicating, but are we doing this with the same tools and methods we used 10 or 20 years ago? Of course not. As the way we communicate has changed so have modern motor vehicles and the way we have to repair them. We can't go back to points, condensors and carburetors, or the simple tools we used. The cost of business has increased and will continue for both dealerships and the aftermarket. Again, the harsh reality in my experience is far too many shop owners have been mislead by the Right to Repair proponents to believe that passing this bill will lower their costs which is not true at all.

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