It’s Time to Protect Your Right to Repair America’s Vehicles

Feb. 2, 2022

Car ownership has long been a symbol of independence and personal freedom in American society. Thanks to the work of the independent auto care industry, which employs 4.7 million people and includes independent manufacturers, distributors, repair shops, and parts stores, car owners can feel confident making repairs and investing in the longevity of their car. However, due to embargoed technology solutions and anti-competitive behaviors within the marketplace, local auto repair shops and some dealerships are feeling the pressure of high costs and unnecessary burdens as a result of car repair restrictions.

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly using a range of tactics, like patent thickets, controlling telematics data, position statements, repair procedures, and trademarks, to force repair shops and dealerships to use OEM parts and to steer more business to their preferred repair networks. These practices not only severely limit consumer choice but cause economic ripple effects for businesses nationwide.

Repair restrictions on cars and other items have been skyrocketing in recent years due to OEMs increasingly misusing design patents to crowd out competitors in the marketplace. On top of that, OEMs are tightening their grip on vehicle data. These restrictions make it harder for businesses to offer alternative parts during the car repair process.

While some states, like Massachusetts and Illinois, have made promising strides in the growing automotive right to repair movement recently, there’s still work to be done.

One national solution is the bipartisan Save Money on Auto Repair Transportation (SMART) Act (H.R. 3664), which would allow for greater choice of quality, safe, and affordable aftermarket car parts – putting business owners and consumers alike back in control. The SMART Act would:

  •  Reduce from 15 years to 2.5 years the time that car manufacturers can enforce design patents on collision repair parts, such as fenders, quarter panels and doors, against alternative parts manufacturers; and
  •  Maintain business owners and consumers’ right to choose from a multitude of brands, prices, and products when purchasing parts and making repairs.

Importantly, the SMART Act maintains appropriate intellectual property rights for automakers by upholding the existing patent period in which automakers can enforce design patents against other automakers.

“Local businesses and consumers lose when 15-year design patents keep independent manufacturers from offering safe, quality, and affordable automobile collision repair parts,” says Justin Rzepka, Executive Director of the CAR Coalition. “It’s time for Congress to get serious about solutions, including the SMART Act, to ensure businesses can offer the auto repairs their customers want.”

Reform is critical to restoring competition in the marketplace. Six automakers were among the top 20 U.S. design patent recipients in 2020. These automakers have drastically increased the number of design patents they’ve applied for and been granted over the past 20 years – roughly 250% in at least one case!

The good news is that an overwhelming majority (78%) of vehicle-owning voters support federal right to repair legislation that protects against design patent abuse in the automotive industry, such as the SMART Act. And only 25% of voters believe that design patents should be used for common car items, like side mirrors and bumpers.

The SMART Act is currently sitting before the House Committee on the Judiciary, as local businesses cope with stress due to the pandemic and while inflation continues to drive up vehicle maintenance costs. Alternative parts are 26-50% less expensive than OEM parts, while also helping to decrease the cost of OEM parts by 8% through competition. These are reasons why the SMART Act will not only increase choice, but will also translate to lower prices for car repair parts

In addition to the CAR Coalition, which includes American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA), Automotive Body Parts Association (ABPA), AutoZone, and LKQ, the SMART Act is supported by the Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety Coalition, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), Auto Care Association, RetireSafe, AARP, and more. 

Last year was one of the biggest years for right to repair, thanks to hard work from businesses, advocacy groups, consumers, and government officials alike. In 2022, it’s time to build on the momentum to protect your right to repair America’s vehicles. Learn more about the SMART Act and get involved today:

 Sponsored by the CAR Coalition. Learn more here.

See related content:
Vermont legislation seeking to regulate aftermarket parts | Vehicle Service Pros

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