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'Access to Repair Parts Act' Protects Consumers' Right to Choose Quality Alternatives For Vehicle Repair

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Quality Parts Coalition Echoes Support of Legislation on Heels of U.S. House Judiciary Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2010; The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee yesterday heard from consumer advocates and industry experts on why the "Access to Repair Parts Act" (H.R. 3059/S.1368) - legislation that would create a narrow exception in the U.S. design patent law for purposes of repair - is the solution to guaranteeing motorists' access to affordable alternative replacement parts and curbing car companies' attempts to monopolize the marketplace. The Quality Parts Coalition (QPC), which represents consumers, seniors, insurers, parts manufacturers and distributors and repairers, urged Congress to swiftly enact the "Access to Repair Parts Act."

Americans are likely unaware of the looming threat that could send the costs of car repair and insurance premiums soaring: a car company parts monopoly. Every year, fender-benders around the country leave motorists in need of crash parts such as bumpers, fenders and hoods. For more than 60 years, Americans have been able to use cost-effective alternative parts to repair their vehicles instead of costly car company parts. Alternatives, while high in quality, are as much as 26 to 50 percent less than car company equivalents. This translates into an estimated $1.5 billion in savings for the millions of motorists on America's roads. But in recent years, the car companies have secured an increasing number of so-called design patents on crash parts for cars (bumpers, fenders, hoods). When enforced, the patents give car companies total control of the market. Insurers warn that this loss of competition will drive up the cost of insurance premiums by as much as $3 billion.

Jack Gillis, Director of Public Affairs for the Consumer Federation of America and author of The Car Book, in testimony on behalf of CFA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, warned legislators of the consumer cost of a car company parts monopoly: "The lack of competition for repair parts will result in high repair costs and more vehicles being 'totaled' because the price of repairing the damage exceeds the value of the vehicle. High repair costs will lead to higher insurance premiums. Furthermore, when faced with expensive repairs and a limited budget, consumers may simply not be able to replace their head light or a broken side mirror, items essential for safe driving."

Eileen A. Sottile, executive director of the Quality Parts Coalition added, "The Quality Parts Coalition thanks the House Judiciary Committee for hearing testimony on this vital piece of legislation and looks forward to its swift passage. Our members and supporters span the spectrum of motorist to aftermarket employee and from insurance agent to retired senior. At a time when our nation is just beginning to regain its economic footing, it is increasingly important that we put all safeguards in place to protect the cornerstones of competition and consumerism."

Bob Passmore, senior director of personal lines policy with the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), a member of QPC, testified before the Judiciary Committee. Passmore noted: "At its core, this is a consumer issue. PCI supports the 'Access to Repair Parts Act' because it will preserve competition in the market for replacement parts and benefit consumers. Without it, consumers will carry the burden of a monopoly by way of increased premiums and higher autobody repair costs."

The "Access to Repair Parts Act" provides a narrow exception to the U.S. design patent law, paving the way for consumers to continue to have access to affordable alternative replacement parts for their vehicles. Identical legislation is pending in the U.S. Senate (S. 1368), sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Rep. Lofgren is joined by cosponsors Reps. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas), Charles A. Wilson (D-Ohio), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and Debbie Halvorson (D-Ill.).

The Quality Parts Coalition represents the interests of consumers, seniors, independent parts industry, repairers, and insurers. It is the goal of the Quality Parts Coalition to develop and secure a permanent legislative change to U.S. design patent law to preserve competition and to protect the consumer's right to benefit from quality, lower-cost alternative replacement parts.