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You Gotta Fight For Your Right To…Repair?

Posted in auto industry, Car Tech, Cars, Concept Cars, Design, Emissions, Expensive Cars, Ford, Luxury Cars, Politics by Suzanne Denbow | July 12th, 2008 | 3 Responses |

There is a piece of legislation currently trying to push its way through Congress known as the Right to Repair Act. According to the explanation on the bill’s website, the Right to Repair Act “…would develop regulations requiring car companies to share the same information and tools that they make available to their franchised dealers with the independent service industry and car owners.”

To the everyday consumer, this sounds like a great idea. Finally, you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg to have your ten-year-old Benz serviced at the dealership just because your neighborhood mechanic is terrified to even attempt to fix the crankwalk. I myself understand this unique problem, as I own a 12-year-old Volvo. Although I perform most of the maintenance myself, when I’m in over my head I take it to a professional mechanic. Invariably, upon hearing the word “Volvo,” one of two expressions appears on the master-technician’s face, either:

1. Dollar signs as he begins tabulating the cost of each part he will be forced to order directly from the manufacturer since Volvo parts are not interchangeable


2. Sheer, unadulterated, grown-man, terror, at the prospect of having to stumble through a mass of intricately individualized, sophisticated electrical and mechanical codes (true fact: the Mobile Audio guy at Best Buy literally took one look at the after-market sound system I wanted installed, put it down gently on the car seat, and slowly backed away).

Over the years, I’ve come to anticipate these reactions and have become fairly adept at handling the “virgin” mechanic. It requires much the same patience one would demonstrate when attempting to coax a skittish deer out of the forest: no sudden movements or loud noises. It also helps if you lure them slowly to the car while uttering non-threatening, soothing messages like, “It’s just routine maintenance…don’t be afraid little guy…” and “…why don’t you come over, nice and easy like, and we’ll have a look under the hood? I promise it won’t bite…”

Despite the fact that I can empathize with difficult-to-repair European-model car owners though, I don’t support the Right to Repair Act. It’s a frivolous piece of legislation that neglects to take into consideration the fact that cars are not a right.  There is no constitutional statute that guarantees the inalienable right of every American citizen to own a really sick ride. That’s a luxury, and as such, it is ludicrous to hold an automobile manufacturer responsible for anything other than what is explicitly stated in the service agreement. Car companies are being portrayed as these huge conglomerates whose sole intention is to make money, and who don’t give a damn about whether you the consumer can afford to keep up with their standards of living – and you know what? That’s a dead-on-balls accurate assessment. They don’t give a damn about affordability, because they don’t have to. The automobile industry is exactly that – an industry, it’s a business. It’s not a philanthropic endeavor, nor should it be. Lamborghini does not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the brightest engineers in the business so you can go and stick a Ford Taurus intake filter in your Diablo. If you’re looking for a vehicle that can be routinely serviced with Bondo and some strategically placed duct tape, then bypass that 3-series BMW and take a look at a Geo Prism. Or take the bus.

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3 Responses

  1. tim says:

    You’re right about the car being a luxury, and even more to the point, it’s a liability. It’s not a right to own a car, it’s a privilege; and doing so comes with the fact that it’s a machine and it’s going to need troubleshooting and repair. But as a car owner, you’re also entitled to pimp your ride in whatever fashion you deem appropriate, whether that means upgrading your exhaust system or throwing a brand new Garmin on the dash.

    This law is aiming to make auto companies more transparent in their methods of incorporating new technology and computer code into their systems so that others may modify and repair these systems. Furthermore to the point of industry competition, “Nothing in this Act shall be deemed to require the disclosure of trade secrets, nor the public disclosure of any information related exclusively to the design and manufacture of motor vehicle parts. No information necessary to repair a vehicle shall be withheld by a manufacturer if such information is provided (directly or indirectly) to franchised dealerships or other repair facilities. [Section 3(b)]” This is similar to what happened in Microsoft’s antitrust case concerning Internet Explorer. Exercising your right modify your owned vehicle by taking a sledge hammer through the window to add another air vent is the same right as if you were to circumvent proprietary code to replace the operating system of your vehicle with something better suited to your tastes. While I also agree with Mr. Friedman, the fact remains that in this day and age, code determines control, and with things like the DMCA in effect, your rights are limited even more. Just ask these guys…

    Automotive makers should desire to share this information with their customers. If the buyers know more about what they’re purchasing and ways they can improve on it, that will lead to better development of the products and higher quality goods. And if you think affordability isn’t any concern, then try imagining a status meeting at GM surrounding the sales of Hummer H2s.

  2. lawrence says:

    While Tim and Suzanne disagree on the Right to Repair Act, they both acknowledge that having a car is not a right. That’s entirely wrong. I think that both of you are making the false assumption that rights are granted by the government- they aren’t.

    For example:
    If I choose not to speak my mind, for whatever reason, does this mean that I don’t have the right to? NO. If I choose not to vote, for whatever reason, does this mean that I don’t have the right to? NO. It does not mean that. It just means that I choose not to.

    If I don’t own any property, for whatever reason- Do I have the right to? The answer is YES! An automobile is property, is it not? Does anybody deny this? Ok, I didn’t think so. To say that I don’t have the right to own a car is to say I don’t have the right to own anything, which I do. In fact, I have the right to own everything that I can afford.

    This whole thing boils down to choice.

    I’ll quote Tim “Automotive makers should desire to share this information with their customers.” I agree with Tim but if this is mandated and monitored by the government, it is the consumers who will suffer. It is the consumers who will lose their freedom of choice.

    Passing this Act just obscures which is the obvious choice and no matter what the intention, it will only result in limiting the consumer’s right to choose for themselves what is the best buy.

    What about the auto makers that already share information with their customers? They deserve to prosper, they offer better service and they raise the bar for everyone else to follow. Companies that don’t comply should either sink or swim survival of the fittest if you will.

    If you think I’m wrong, why don’t you just provide one instance where government interference in the market place has had a positive affect. In fact, just give one example of any government, anywhere, doing anything more efficiently than in the private sector.

  3. Suzanne Denbow says:

    Tim – Entirely valid point. In theory, automakers should want to capitalize on consumer incentive/interest. For companies like GM, it is in their best interest to keep their products affordable – their success is based largely on enticing the average, everyday consumer. With companies like Maserati or Lamborghini, however, their target clientele is different and affordability isn’t really a factor.

    Lawrence – You are absolutely correct in stating that an automobile is personal property. However, an automobile is not “property” as defined by the Constitution I’m familiar with. Furthermore, your “right” to own an automobile exists only as far as your budget will allow it. The federal government is not obligated under any circumstances to ensure that you own the car of your dreams just because you don’t have the fiscal resources to acquire it yourself.


    The tail end of your argument (wherein you asked for a specific instance in which government market interference has yielded anything positive) actually only further goes to prove my original point: government interference is not the answer.