Giving Mechanics Tools

By Boston Herald Editorial Staff | Thursday, May 22, 2008 | | Editorials

If you buy a new car, a warranty comes with it. The manufacturer has every right to require you to get warranty work done at a dealer’s shop. But the industry shouldn’t be able to force car owners to use a dealer after the warranty runs out.

A bill before the Legislature’s Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee aims to require Massachusetts dealers to make the same repair information, especially codes for the numerous on-board automotive computers, available to independent repair shops that they provide dealers. It deserves a favorable recommendation - not just for the benefit of the independent shops but also for their customers.

There’s much credible evidence that automakers and importers are holding back data. The manufacturers say that independent shops may use the same Web sites that dealers use. They contend what is held back is usually proprietary information like design of parts.

But Stan Morin, general manager of New England Tire in Attleboro, told the Christian Science Monitor that downloads he gets (at a substantial cost in Web site subscriptions) can be 20 pages shorter than what a dealer gets - leading him sometimes to do favors for dealer mechanics in exchange for information they have. The same article reported that Bill Cahill of Randolph often has to send customers to dealers.

For a century manufacturers made available tons of (pre-computer) repair information for publishers like Motor’s Manuals, whose volumes lined the shelves of garages everywhere. No manufacturer wanted his products to get a reputation for being difficult to repair.

Manufacturers may be running just such a risk with today’s far more complicated cars. No company warns buyers that they might be forced to use dealers for some serious post-warranty repairs.

Surely Morin, Cahill and their colleagues and customers are not interested in manufacturing replacement parts. Independent shops deserve a level playing field for the benefit of their customers.

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