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"Opinion ‘Car Talk’ host:

Independent auto shops deserve the right to repair your car

September 28, 2022 at 7:00 a.m. EDT

(Washington Post staff illustration; images by iStock)
(Washington Post staff illustration; images by iStock)

Ray Magliozzi is one half of NPR’s show “Car Talk,” a longtime independent repair-shop owner, a Dear Car Talk columnist and a car reviewer on CarTalk.com.

When your car breaks, what do you do? Okay, after you utter a certain word? You have to decide where to take the car to get it fixed, right?

You really have two choices. You can go to the dealership or an independent repair shop. However, some car manufacturers don’t want to share key information for diagnosing and fixing cars with independent shops — and that’s something that’s not only bad for repair shops but also bad for you.

As a radio host who has advised thousands on their car problems and as an independent shop owner myself, I know all too well that car owners benefit when they have more choices. Congress is considering a national “right-to-repair” law, and lawmakers need to pass it to protect your rights as a consumer.

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Back in the old days, when people were still switching over from traveling by mastodon, you repaired cars with your eyes, ears, nose and hands — and, if you were desperate, a Chilton repair manual. Now, you often repair a car by first plugging a computer into the on-board-diagnostics port and seeing what the computer tells you is broken.

So, what’s the problem? Carmakers and their dealerships want to maintain control of modern diagnostic tools, which forces customers to come to them for repairs. Even though independents are willing to pay to license these tools, dealers see an advantage in exclusivity.

Dealerships have always had certain advantages. They have better coffee in their waiting rooms. Heck, they have waiting rooms. They have clean restrooms that don’t double as auxiliary air-filter storage. They also work on your particular make of car all day, every day. So they might be familiar with an oddball problem because they’ve worked on 4,000 Camrys.

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Independent shops are small businesses, run by individuals — some of whom are terrific people and mechanics and some of whom will blame your car troubles on demonic possession and give you essential oils to fix it.

But independent shops have their own advantage: price. Their labor and parts costs are usually much lower — hey, who do you think is ultimately paying for the dealerships’ coffee and fancy couches? Some research has found that dealers, on average, charged as much as 20 percent more than independent shops for the same repairs.

There’s also the matter of distance. Not every town in the United States has a stop light, let alone a dealership for every car brand. There are 16,752 franchised car dealers in the United States, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, but there are nearly 240,000 repair shops — meaning that for a lot of people, an independent shop is the only nearby option.

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At Car Talk, there are times we’ll strongly recommend an independent shop for standard work like brakes, shocks, the engine and regular service. And there are times we’ll recommend going to the dealership, like when you have a particularly rare problem that might be unique to your make and model. But at the end of the day, you should take your car to the dealer to be fixed because you want to not because dealers have hoarded all the key information.

Beyond the information needed to diagnose and fix your car, dealerships also want to maintain control of your car’s telematics. What are telematics? Well, now that everything is connected to the internet, your car can notify your dealer when your car needs an oil change or has a blown sensor. Using the software they’re denying to independent shops, the dealer can then diagnose the trouble code, call you and schedule a repair. Most modern cars already have this ability.

Car manufacturers point to the importance of keeping your car’s data safe — including your location, say — as a reason to deny independent shops access to these tools and codes. They are right about the need for data security, but part of privacy is that you should be the one to decide who has access to your data.

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At least 17 states have laws on the books stating that your vehicle’s data belongs to you. Many independent repair shops will need to invest in tools to keep customer data secure, but just because they’ll need to invest doesn’t mean they can’t compete with dealers. Lack of choice — and competition — is never good for the consumer.

So consumer groups and independent shops are promoting what they call right-to-repair legislation, guaranteeing consumers more choice by requiring automakers to license their data with independent repair shops. The voters in my fair state of Massachusetts approved just such a law in 2020. In 2021, 27 states introduced or passed similar legislation. Beyond those state laws, there’s a national push to protect consumers and independent shops. H.R. 6570, a national right-to-repair bill, has been sitting with the House Energy and Commerce Committee for months.

My Car Talk colleagues and I know not everyone will support right-to-repair laws. Dealerships won’t like the level playing field. Mechanics might not like how much work they’ll actually have to do. Still, this is an issue everyone else can get behind. If you own something, you should be able to choose where to repair it. "

 

 
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I lived in my town for over 40 years. I had more  than enough time to have knowledge about business around me. I use to be a Ford buyer trucks and cars. Most of my vehicles during that time were under warranty and were serviced at the dealership. Problems with their service sent me across the street to a GMC-Hyundai dealer. Chevy was just down the road. I’m a creature of habit and tend to stay with a brand. Unless they piss me off. I will pay more for good service. Out of warranty vehicles went to my independent exhaust and service garage. I would be cautious about independent shops on some engine related problems. I would shop brake jobs and the more common repairs. Even brake jobs on later models communicate with the computer. Problems can arise if not properly done. A quote way cheaper than a dealer would be concerning to me. I recently had a multitude of service done to a 12 year old car my wife drives. A first other than normal maintenance. A 2900$ bill a the dealer. Using genuine parts by a professional gave us piece of mind. Well worth the extra money over a independent shop that works on many different brands. All this makes buying extended warranty while buying a new vehicle worth considering. 

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I'm waiting for Manufactuers to dump the dealer completly, just send out a kid , with tech training and a minivan loaded with software and hardware to fix my truck, suck out the oil, get it done on my driveway, under 1 hr. done deal.

 

 

this right to repair law has no teeth in it.. ever try to reinstall os software on an old apple phone, ? lol good luck

Edited by pokismoki
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So let me get this right, both of you guys don’t want to be able to diagnose yourself or allow a third party to diagnose issues on your trucks because GM controls the programming of ECM as intellectual property?  

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7 minutes ago, customboss said:

So let me get this right, both of you guys don’t want to be able to diagnose yourself or allow a third party to diagnose issues on your trucks because GM controls the programming of ECM as intellectual property?  

Like usual you misread. I clearly stated I use both, dealer’s and independent. I even at 66 work some on my truck. Clearly stated being that I own newer and older vehicles.   They are getting technical enough some garages may not even be able to even do brake jobs on new vehicles. Never stated that I wanted everything to proprietor. I did clearly state sometimes it’s worth extra money paying for knowledge of repetitive repairs at a dealership. I wouldn’t take my Honda to Hyundai or vise versa . There’s not one repair Im afraid of except anything you have to plug into to diagnose. Unfortunately that’s the majority today. There’s few independents I’d trust with that. Actually it was one. If you have a misfire it will tell where not why. I don’t want new cam and lifters if it’s a plug wire. So that’s what I was pointing out. Nothing else.

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not at all

I'm just pointing out Right to Repair law is BS. it has no power against large corporations like Apple, GM tesla...  they been talking about this law for mandating used electronic recyclers to repair old phones, laptops etc. and the big manufactuers just drag thier feet on letting out software , hardware, various components to actually repair something.

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I almost exclusively do my own work, from pulling engines and transmissions to complete brake system replacement, so any opportunity to give myself more freedom to do my own work is welcomed.  I understand some people aren't comfortable with that and I get it.  Hell, I'm scared to open up my laptop but there are people on here who work on them daily like its nothing, and it wouldn't be right to tell that person he/she cant work on their own computer.

 

Like mentioned above, the Right to Repair law is welcomed but it will have no teeth since the OEMs will either be slow to release the software or make it so freaking expensive it isn't feasible to purchase the software just to fix a couple minor issues. 

 

I'm less worried about independent shops and more worried about independent owners who have the capability to save their household thousands of dollars by doing the work themselves, but cant because they cant afford the $20k software required to program a new $500 shock. 

 

 

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On 9/29/2022 at 9:43 AM, customboss said:

At least 17 states have laws on the books stating that your vehicle’s data belongs to you.

 

How many times have I made that point on this forum? 

The problem with common sense is it's not commonly used. 

 

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Not that this topic needs another fly in the ointment, but if I lived in one of the states that has moved to prohibit the sale of new ICE vehicles after 2035, I would be more concerned if I could get my ICE vehicle repaired rather than who could do it. I could see back door legislation prohibiting the sale of for example crate engines or any other parts needed to keep an ICE vehicle on the road to force people into an EV.

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33 minutes ago, garagerog said:

I could see back door legislation prohibiting the sale of for example crate engines or any other parts needed to keep an ICE vehicle on the road to force people into an EV.

 

Ya can't ride a horse anywhere you please anymore. :crackup:

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36 minutes ago, Gangly said:

I almost exclusively do my own work, from pulling engines and transmissions to complete brake system replacement, so any opportunity to give myself more freedom to do my own work is welcomed.  I understand some people aren't comfortable with that and I get it.  Hell, I'm scared to open up my laptop but there are people on here who work on them daily like its nothing, and it wouldn't be right to tell that person he/she cant work on their own computer.

 

Like mentioned above, the Right to Repair law is welcomed but it will have no teeth since the OEMs will either be slow to release the software or make it so freaking expensive it isn't feasible to purchase the software just to fix a couple minor issues. 

 

I'm less worried about independent shops and more worried about independent owners who have the capability to save their household thousands of dollars by doing the work themselves, but cant because they cant afford the $20k software required to program a new $500 shock. 

 

 

Then there’s getting older. Working on stuff takes longer to recover. Being able to fix stuff is like a curse. Man I can save a ton doing it myself. I’m still recovering from a one wheel caliber repair a week ago. My hands are like don’t ever do that again. I had one toe like cramping. Really? I think my body had a meeting and decided on the toe to pitch a fit. And of course my hands. Last time my body had a meeting. It was decided I could wax my truck over a week, one fender at a time. It’s ok to work on your vehicle over 60. But there’s rules. A large shop, a extra vehicle, the right tools, a proper time frame to space out the work. I learned it wasn’t fun anymore. I didn’t need to do it. I’ll leave it to the experts. 

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