State Rep. Ted Speliotis arrived at Thursday morning at eight o’clock, not just for his regular stop to fill his gas tank, but also to meet with about a dozen local auto repair shop owners and employees and a few spokespeople petitioning for a new bill from the State House.
Right to Repair Coalition spokesman Art Kinsman said he felt it was testament to how much importance shop owners place in the bill that they would leave their shops at one of the busiest times of the day. The shop owners said this bill would be key in helping them stay in business for years to come if it does pass into law.
Essentially, the proposed Right to Repair Act would require automakers to sell the same technical specs and tools to independent repair shops and maintenance services – and consumers – that the corporations sell to their dealership service centers. The Federal Trade Commission would be charged with enforcing the bill.
One of the arguments automakers make, however, is that they would have to disclose their trade secrets under the proposed bill. The coalition says intellectual property would be protected and still remains private under the bill.
Kinsman and those gathered on Thursday told Speliotis it’s not about divulging trade secrets for free, but rather leveling the playing field so they have a chance to fairly compete for business, allowing customers to get the best price for the same service.
“The bill says you must sell to us the tools and information to repair the car,” said Brian Hickey. “We don’t want [trade secrets].”
The problem of access also naturally affects other areas of the aftermarket auto industry, such as parts stores, warehouse distributors and tire dealerships, who were also represented on Thursday. The coalition says all told, that industry totals 32,000 jobs in Massachusetts and affects many small business owners.
For John Sambatakos, like many other owners of small car repair shops, it’s about staying in business, supporting his family and paying the mortgage on his home.
“It’s the right to support my family,” said Sambatakos, a Greek immigrant. Before he opened his garage and gas station at 8 Bridge St., Sambatakos operated a shop in Salem.
In Danvers, Sambatakos employs five workers. He said that automakers can squeeze independent shops out of business eventually, but it’s also hurting the consumer’s pocketbook.
“The check engine light goes on and some times it’s the gas cap,” he said – hardly any reason to run to the dealership for service.
Eric Gaudette, owner of on Wadsworth Street, said it would cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and keep up with all the latest tools and specs on each new make and model on the market. He’d rather invest his money into his business.
Gaudette said he already spends several thousand each year for access to industry standard databases, which are used to provide the technical specs needed to perform most repairs or maintenance on vehicles, except for most newer vehicles. He said he can even buy all the tools, but the software updates needed to effectively utilize them are closely guarded by automakers.
Speliotis, who is backing the bill, noted that its passage in Massachusetts could provide the impetus for other states to take action.
“If you’re going to be the first state in the country, you have to do it right,” he said. And that’s what he repeatedly stressed to his audience, asking them to give him as many concrete examples and arguments as they could, which he could then take back to deliberations on Beacon Hill.
“Every part, every line of this bill needs to be justified,” he said.
Speliotis, who chairs the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, has scheduled a hearing for June 28 at the State House.
Bob Almeida, who also attended Thursday’s meeting and is the service manager at Directtire and Auto Service in Peabody, submitted a statement in support of the proposed bill to Danvers Patch. You can read his statement .