Right to Repair isn’t a buzzword — it’s a movement — and the new Congress can help provide a path forward, say industry advocates
Bethesda, Md.—As the wild and wonky ride of last week’s 2022 mid-term election results have just crystalized, leaving Democrats maintaining control of the Senate and Republicans taking the House, both with razor-thin majorities, one thing appears certain — efforts to keep Right to Repair legislation moving forward continues to gather momentum.
“Right to Repair is a very bipartisan issue, and it has elements that appeal to both Republicans and Democrats — and certainly broad industry support,” Lisa Foshee, SVP, Government Affairs and General Counsel for the Auto Care Association, told Aftermarket Matters Weekly.
“Right to Repair is our primary issue and we’re really focused on it for 2023 with the new Congress — we have the law in Massachusetts, we’re trying to get a ballot initiative in Maine, and there’s the federal bill that we’ll reintroduce to the new Congress.”
The Massachusetts law is presently stalled on appeal from the automakers, and is waiting for the presiding judge to rule on briefs from both parties in order to move forward on a decision. While that’s in process, Foshee said there’s excitement about the Maine initiative, stating that signatures began getting collected on election day to get it on the ballot in 2023.
“We anticipate we’re going to have as much consumer support in Maine as we did in Massachusetts and we’re looking at other states.” (Massachusetts voters approved Right to Repair legislation with 75 percent of the vote in 2020.)
Foshee noted, however, that the association would prefer to not have to bring individual initiatives to additional states, “but we want to continue our momentum and put pressure on the OEMs, because they have no incentive to come to the table, right now — and we’re really excited about the federal bill that we’ll reintroduce in the 2023 Congress.”
Presently, the bill has 22 co-sponsors and the association expects that number to grow. “The momentum is growing as a fundamental consumer rights issue,” she said.
Tom Tucker, Senior Director of State Affairs for the Auto Care Association, added, “Right to Repair isn’t a buzzword — it’s a movement that has been championed by the aftermarket and other industries are following our lead. We have a path forward.”
State Issues and Concerns
While they say Right to Repair is the highlight issue for the Auto Care Association, there are a number of other important concerns it has. Tucker laid out the top three issues for many states, including OEM repair procedures.
“If you ask most consumers if they should follow suggested repair procedures from a manufacturer, they would say, ‘Absolutely.’ From a safety perspective, we wholeheartedly concur — and we also fully understand that a repair procedure can also include parts. And if [OEMs] can change procedures at any time to also include parts, that’s a red line. And when it’s crossed? We bring the full force of the industry. We have to have consumer choice. OEM repair procedures are one of the biggest issues that we’ve dealt with over the past five years.”
The association has been very successful, having lost only one bill in five years, Tucker said. “But the OEMs come back every year. Expect bills to be in West Virginia, Connecticut, Vermont, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Illinois. They’re going to be all over — it’s one of the big issues.”
In addition, aftermarket parts prohibition issues surface every year. “[OEMs] try and introduce a bill alongside OEM repair legislation to prohibit the use of aftermarket parts, or a ban. Sometimes they get a little ‘slick,’ where they try and mandate that an aftermarket part can’t be used until after a vehicle’s manufacturer warranty is expired.”
A third concern involves chemical regulations, which association members have voiced “clear concern” about, Tucker said. “There’s legislation to ban or limit the use of the chemical PFAS — polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl, used in fuel lines, hoses, turbo chargers, hydraulic systems, ABS brake lines, o-rings, valve stem seals, etc. — in at least 14 states, as well as bans on R134a, a refrigerant for vehicle air conditioners. A lot of chemical issues are percolating across the country — they’re always understated and not something a lot of people think about, but the impact is significant. If a product is banned or use of it has been reduced, there must be an alternative. Washington State is banning the use of chemicals even though there are no alternatives in the market. That’s significant. As R134a is being phased out, all new vehicles won’t be using it, so how are shops going to service older vehicles if they can’t use it?”
He added that the legislation in Washington is now in the regulatory drafting process, for which the Auto Care Association and other stakeholders are providing comments in an effort to find a common ground for the regulations.
“We need to let them know what kind of impact it has — not only on the chemical side — but also on the practical side for consumers. How will they get their cars repaired as the average age of vehicles continues to climb? We’re trying to get a sell-through date until 2035. Our research shows that by that time, many vehicles will be aged out [that require R134a].
“There’s no shortage of issues or challenges.”