Ensuring a Level Playing Field

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Ensuring aftermarket technicians have access to vehicle repair data is essential for the future of the industry. Photo Identifix

Access to repair information for the aftermarket is essential for the industry and the economy.

It’s a common scenario. A loyal customer brings its vehicle to their local independent service provider. The shop offers to diagnose the vehicle but ultimately, must tell the customer they aren’t able to fix the problem because they can’t access the right repair information. The solution is either for the shop to outsource the work to an OEM dealer, or for the customer to be instructed to take the vehicle to a dealer so it can be properly repaired.

Frustrating experience

Alana Baker, Senior Director, Government Relations, AIA Canada. Photo AIA Canada

Although these kinds of situations vary depending on the vehicle and the OEM that manufactured it, the result is a frustrating experience, both for the service centre and the customer.

It’s one reason why proper access to repair information for the aftermarket is critical. Not only does it help ensure a level playing field and provide customers with a choice on who services their vehicle, it also promotes competition, resulting in better mobility, and ultimately better economic growth and prosperity.

At AIA Canada, the national trade association which represents the interests of the aftermarket auto care sector, access to vehicle repair information is a top priority. As Alana Baker, Senior Director, Government Relations notes, today, “Automakers control diagnostic data. New vehicles wirelessly transmit diagnostic data directly to OEMs, allowing them to control all access to it, including which auto repair shops can obtain it and under what terms.”

For aftermarket shops, if an OEM chooses to restrict data access, the result can be all kinds of headaches. From vehicles being rendered completely immobile, to denying shops simple and profitable repair work such as changing starters or alternators because the shop doesn’t have the required approval and data on the repair procedure from the OEM.

Zakari Krieger, Vice President at Prime Care (part of the Fix Network), which includes Speedy Auto Service locations across Canada, notes that even service jobs that were once considered outside the realm of onboard vehicle technology, such as replacing brake pads, are now governed by computer programming. “Access to the vehicle can be required even to release the brakes so you can change the pads and rotors,” he says.

Fair environment

It’s one reason why he says, there’s been a huge push, both here in Canada and the U.S., to ensure the aftermarket gets a fair shake in accessing repair data.

At the shop level, Jeff Rempel, who owns and operates George Rempel Auto Centre NAPA AUTOPRO in Winnipeg, says that for that to happen, aftermarket businesses need to stand up and be counted. “We need to ensure we support trade associations and advocacy groups like AIA Canada that work on our behalf. Our expertise is running our businesses and fixing cars. Organizations like AIA Canada and others are constantly battling for the interests of our industry, and they need our support.” Rempel says that if service centres across the country don’t offer that support through donations, campaigns, and advocacy efforts, it could very well result in the independent auto care sector simply fading away.

While there is a current voluntary agreement in place between OEMs and the aftermarket regarding repair information, it has become increasingly irrelevant as vehicle technology continues to advance at a rapid pace.” It simply hasn’t kept pace with advancements in wireless vehicle technology,” explains Alana Baker. “Furthermore, with no enforcement mechanism in place, the voluntary nature of the agreement means that some automakers are not required to sign on, undermining its effectiveness.”

Baker says it’s a big reason why AIA Canada is calling on the federal government to firstly, “protect Canadian vehicle owners by giving them access and control of the data generated from their own vehicle;” and secondly, “move quickly to pass legislation which acknowledges the right of consumers to own their data so they can continue to have their vehicle serviced and repaired at the auto shop of their choice.”

She also acknowledges that successful legal recognition of the right to repair for vehicles requires a strong dose of perseverance and commitment from the entire industry, including robust advocacy efforts at the local grassroots level.

At Fix Network/Prime Car Care, Zakari Krieger concurs. “The automotive aftermarket is a very integral part of the Canadian [and global] economy,” he says. “We need to ensure that [as an industry], we stand together to advocate for a legislative and regulatory framework that’s essential to the health and vitality of our industry.”