(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Reed Gusciora and Paul Moriarty sponsored to protect consumers by requiring vehicle manufacturers to provide owners and independent repair shops with access to the repair information and tools given to automotive dealers was advanced Monday by an Assembly panel.
“This bill frees up car owners to choose between their auto dealer and independent service shops to repair their vehicles,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Not only does it foster competitive car repair pricing, but it gives consumers the choice where they will bring their cars for servicing. It’s a win-win for car owners and mom-and-pop service stations who want to stay in business.”
“As cars have become more technologically advanced, manufacturers have gained an unfair advantage by forcing owners to rely on dealerships for even the most routine maintenance,” said Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden). “Every motorist should have access to the array of diagnostic codes locked into a vehicle’s computer and decide for themselves who they want to service their vehicle.”
Under the bill (A-4336), for motor vehicles model year 2002 and newer, a manufacturer of motor vehicles sold in the state must make available for purchase the same diagnostic and repair information provided to its dealers. The information would be made available to owners and independent repair facilities.
A manufacturer that currently sells diagnostic, service or repair information to owners or independent repair facilities in a format that is standardized would not be allowed to require a dealer to purchase such information in a proprietary format, under terms and conditions that are less favorable to the dealer than to the other purchasers.
The bill also requires that manufacturers must provide diagnostic tools to owners and independent repair facilities in a similar fashion, including the provision that dealers may not be disadvantaged.
Commencing in model year 2018, under the bill, manufacturers must begin providing access to their onboard diagnostic and repair information systems using an off-the-shelf personal computer, and:
- A non-propriety vehicle interface device that complies with industry standards; or
- An on-board diagnostic and repair information system integrated and entirely self-contained within the vehicle including, but not limited to, service information systems integrated into an onboard display; or
- A system that provides direct access to on-board diagnostic and repair information available to their dealers, including technical updates to such on-board systems.
The bill provides an exception to this requirement for information related to immobilizer systems and security-related electronic modules as such information is accessible in other ways.
Under the bill, a violation would be an unlawful practice under the Consumer Fraud Act, punishable by a monetary penalty of not more than $10,000 for a first offense and not more than $20,000 for any subsequent offense.
In addition, a violation can result in cease and desist orders issued by the Attorney General, the assessment of punitive damages and the awarding of treble damages and costs to the injured.
However, the bill also provides that an owner or independent repair facility who believes that a manufacturer had failed to provide information or a tool required by this act must notify the manufacturer in writing through the National Automotive Service Task Force Service Information Request process.
Upon receiving the complaint, the manufacturer has 30 days to comply with the provisions of this act.
If the manufacturer complies within 30 days it shall be liable to the owner or independent repair facility only to the extent of the actual damages sustained.
The bill specifies that if the manufacturer fails to respond or the owner is not satisfied with the manufacturer’s compliance, the independent repair facility or owner may then file a complaint with the Division of Consumer Affairs.
“This is about promoting fairness and equality in the marketplace for both automotive service providers and consumers,” Gusciora said. “Enhancing competition in the auto repair industry will drive down prices and give car owners greater options in choosing who they want to work on their vehicles”
“At its most basic level, this is a consumer rights bill,” Moriarty said. “Consumer choice is crucial to reasonable prices and competitive services. This is step to promote that basic premise.”
The bill was released by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee chaired by Moriarty.