Andrew Marsh, FIMI, Engineering at Ezi-Methods, based in the UK, discusses how there is more to the ‘right to repair’ than meets the eye.
Over the past few weeks, there has been quite a stir caused by the Australian Act to enable ‘right to repair’, which seems to have caused quite an effect in the USA.
While most automotive aftermarket economists concentrate on regular service or repair, it is the body shop that is one of the biggest consumers of components and virtually all of the automotive refinishing products.
Suppose a company spends a small fortune on parts. In that case, there could be an expectation on the part of repairers and motor insurance companies that the associated supporting information should be included in the purchase price. This expectation will be for parts that are new, as well as parts carefully rescued as part of the end-of-life process.
Just remember – this is an expectation, and Right to Repair is not about ‘free’ information unless the Australia Act manages to define a fixed price mechanism. Should this occur, there might be an expectation that components supplied by an Authorised Treatment Facility (ATF) need to come with associated documents – which is an on-cost for the ATF in terms of administration, even if the materials are eventually free. Europe and the UK are not discussing ‘free’ documents at all.
Where does the information come from?
Regardless of the service – I-CAR, Thatcham, Mitchells and more, vehicle manufacturers are the source of the repair information. The development of repair processes, documents, software patches and parts are all completed internally as part of the engineering process of a new vehicle programme.
There is a very important aspect here:
The body panels are primarily made for the manufacture of the vehicle, so, for example, the outer side panel (A pillar, B pillar, C pillar / rear quarter, outer rocker and outer roof rail) is usually pressed as a single part.
For the aftermarket, the manufacturer can cut those panels to aid transportation and reduce waste at the repairer – but not always. Occasionally a manufacturer can decide it may not be economically sensible to supply a small pressing, so instead, the aftermarket supply is taken as the next level manufacturing sub-assembly.
Similarly, other special solutions may be developed to solve what happens in collision repair – a front or rear rail section (‘chassis leg section’ for Europe), for example – which are not needed during the original vehicle build.
I know of only one vehicle manufacturer who supplied panel information with panels – Ford, for the 2014 F-150 aluminium-intensive cab and load bed structures. It was an absolute nightmare for the company since they supplied printed documents that might not stay attached to the part. Adding a QR code to the panel part number sticker might have been a smarter way to solve this issue, even in 2014.
One other consideration. Documents are developed to cover major panels, parts and sub-assemblies. It is not possible to have a procedure for every single part – the production of the documents reflects the complexity of supplying service level parts to the aftermarket. So, particularly with panels, it is possible to buy something and not have a supporting document.
What happened in Europe?
Right to Repair.
We have had – the UK, and outside of the European Union still has – the right to purchase information for more than two decades. If a vehicle manufacturer elects not to make supply possible, they are breaking the law.
The arrangement started with concerns in the early 1990s over engine management after-market support, but almost from the start expanded to cover the whole vehicle. Some manufacturers ‘tiered’ the information to allow their own shops to access more information, but this was not common and has mostly disappeared.
I know most of the major brands in the USA, Canada and Australia – if not all – also provide access to repair information for a fee. In a sense, there is access to information at a price, which is a similar situation to the European Union. As an aside, Europe is under pressure from vehicle manufacturers to withdraw this ‘right’ by 2022……
So, those fees
The vehicle manufacturer prices information access to reflect the worth of their vehicle and to encourage use. For example, in the USA, when Right to Repair surfaced more than a decade ago, Ford, GM and Daimler-Chrysler (which became Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) simply reduced the charge for their systems to $1 per hour. Right to Repair lost a lot of momentum in the process.
It’s not to say there have been difficulties. At the same time, the USA situation was unfolding, Europe was trying to decide how to continue Right to Repair. This was eventually achieved through legislation associated with Euro V engine emission legislation. During the debate, ACEA (representing the biggest automotive retailers in Europe) has 30 full-time lobbyists patrolling the EU Commission offices and the European Parliament. In contrast, the aftermarket trade associations funded three full-time lobbyists. However, the EU Commission and the European Parliament wanted to be on the consumer’s side and decided against dropping the Right to Repair ‘block exemption’ clause.
No free lunch
Production of parts, software and documents to instruct the best way to repair a given make/model/body shape is not free. Development of solutions to assist the repair process – for example – by sectioning a larger panel requires engineering input, so cost is not associated with manufacturing. Hence the development of ‘allowable repair’.
The business model used by most vehicle manufacturers is to ‘capture’ customers when a new or young second-hand vehicle is sold, encourage them to return to the manufacturer-approved retail/service outlet, and stay with the manufacturer for the life of the vehicle, followed by… another vehicle from the same brand.
Study after study over the past three decades shows this is not the case. Once they are free from new vehicle manufacturer warranty conditions, most users freely get their vehicle serviced by independent repairers. There is a huge variety of alternative supply sources for fast-moving service parts, apart from the vehicle manufacturer, and occasionally they too do the same thing.
However, collision repair parts are often bulky, not ‘fast moving’, and more often than not, all or a section of the required parts order will end up at the vehicle manufacturer approved retailer. Access to repair information – documents and software – is seen as another business transaction and not integral to the sale of parts. So effectively, there is currently no commercial link between a part purchase and the supporting information from the vehicle manufacturer, or indeed other outlets.
Occasionally, where a manufacturer is concerned about the nature of the technology released to the market, they will only sell parts to repairers who have undertaken training and bought the associated equipment for the repair of that specific model. This restrictive practise is rare, and hard to justify under Block Exemption rules.
Normally a manufacturer can impose rules but ensure anyone who wants to comply has access to the required training and tools.
For the manufacturer and the independent part retailers, marrying the part numbers to associated documents or software is not easy – but not impossible. Consider, then, ordering a group of parts all covered by a single document and ensuring that only a single copy is sent out with the order. The obvious way is the method used by Ford for the previous generation F-150 where each part physically had the panel instruction attached to it – including rivet types, rivet numbers, rivet part number and bonding agents. This is not really the future, although Ford should be praised for doing what it did.
Back to the cost
The purchase price of the information could be included in the parts or itemised separately, but in any event, the supply of information is not free. Vehicle manufacturer profitability is under pressure from all directions, and pressuring the supply of ‘free’ information has to be recovered from other places such as parts prices.