Support Marketplace

Mass. carmakers could lift up hood for mechanics

Mechanics look under the hood of a Pontiac.

TEXT OF STORY

Bill Radke: Lift up the hood on your car these days and it's hard to find the spark plugs. Even mechanics have a hard time knowing what to do unless they have the specs from the automaker. And unless those mechanics work for dealerships, they might not be able to get them. Well today, the Massachusetts legislature could vote on a bill to force carmakers to share repair information with independent mechanics. From Boston and WBUR, Curt Nickisch has our story.


Curt Nickisch: Jeff McLeod is vacationing with his family on a remote New England lake. The 2004 Kia Sedona they drove to get there is working now, but before the trip, its Check Engine light lit up. McLeod's trusty mechanic, Tom's Service Station, plugged into the car's computer for the error code. But Tom wasn't allowed to look up what it meant. McLeod had to take the minivan to the dealer for that.

Jeff McLeod: It made me uncomfortable that somebody that had done that amount of work for me over the years was not able to do this.

Cars have gotten so complicated, repair shops are clueless unless they have a flowchart to troubleshoot these error codes and software glitches.

Barry Steinberg: It's a puzzle. All we want is the directions to put the puzzle back together.

Barry Steinberg runs a Boston-area repair shop. He says he needs the Right to Repair Act to force automakers to give out diagnostic information, or he'll go out of business. He points to an older Pontiac that one of his workers is fixing.

Steinberg: There's just so many of those Grand Prix's left. And when they're wear out, they'll be replaced by 2005, 2006, 2010, 2015 cars, and there's going to be fewer cars that we can fix.

Ernie Boch Jr.: I think it's like knocking on Coca Cola's door and saying, "Hey, I am a little cola place down the street, my cola isn't selling that well, what's the formula to Coca Cola, give it to me."

Ernie Boch, Jr. runs the top performing Honda dealership in the world. Dealers, he says, have to invest in costly equipment and sophisticated training.

Boch: We don't call them mechanics. They're technicians. They're like surgeons, I mean, this is extremely complicated stuff, this is not about willy-nilly giving out information and having any Tom, Dick and Harry work on it.

Dealerships make more of their money nowadays from follow-up service than from car sales. So Boch, Jr. says if the bill becomes law, expect both sides to rev up for a court fight.

In Boston, I'm Curt Nickisch for Marketplace.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...