On September 14th and September 21st, 2022, there were congressional hearings over right-to-repair legislation and its impact on consumers and businesses.
Throughout the initial discourse, lawmakers debated over the effects of right-to-repair laws for a wide range of complex electronic products, from handheld devices to agricultural technology. However, in the second hearing, the main discussion concerned automotive repair markets. One side argued that providing unlimited information and software access to consumers could have disastrous results, such as product failure, consumer injury, and dealerships not being able to keep a profit. The other side argued that OEM repair restrictions are unfair and hurt consumers financially, abuse patents to prevent competition, and severely limit repair markets.
"Nix the Fix"
As part of the first hearing, "U.S. Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas), who is a subcommittee member and owner of an auto dealership, cautioned that requiring manufacturers to provide certain types of information could eliminate their incentives to innovate and open the door to data hackers" (Repairer Driven News). Those on his side insist that the unique software each manufacturer uses is their competitive advantage and their intellectual property that they should not be required to share with others. If consumers need repairs, they should come back to the company that made it because they own it and that is the business model. Therefore, If consumers have free range, there are risks to their safety and risks to the OEM's ability to stay ahead of competitors.
"Unfair Restrictions on Repair"
During the second hearing, "Nathan Proctor, Senior Campaign Director, Right to Repair at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) underscored key issues—including patent abuse and data restrictions—impacting car repairs, highlighting two bipartisan solutions currently before Congress, the Save Money on Auto Repair Transportation (SMART) Act and the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act" (Car Repair Choice)." Those who share his opinion believe that consumers are held captive by OEMs and are forced to pay inflated prices. The SMART Act will address the design patents manufacturers over-use to prevent competition, and the REPAIR Act will expand access to digital diagnostics so the software can be better understood and repaired. When people buy a car, they expect that car to be their property and they expect to be able to do what they wish with it. These repair restrictions are restrictions placed on their rights of ownership and their freedom.
How this affects AER
AER aligns with MERA- The Association for Sustainable Manufacturing and AASA (Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association), who both implore consumers to reach out to officials and ask congress to protect consumers by passing the SMART Act and REPAIR Act. According to AASA, "Vehicle data access is the most important legislative issue impacting the aftermarket. As technology advances and vehicle systems become more automated, the vehicle manufacturers could lock out the aftermarket from access to vehicle diagnostic data critical for repair, maintenance, and services. This could result in an unnecessary monopoly for vehicle manufacturers on the service, maintenance, and repair of vehicles, increasing the costs to consumers, limiting interoperability and advancement, and impacting consumer safety" (AASA).