Car Owners, Business Owners, Workers and Legislators Unite
23 March 1999
Car Owners, Business Owners, Workers and Legislators Unite to Promote Clean Air, Save Automotive Aftermarket JobsSACRAMENTO, Calif.--March 22, 1999--
Ensure Consumers' Right to Choose
Where to Have Their Vehicles Serviced
Seeking changes to California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations that stifle competition for consumers' auto maintenance and repair dollars, concerned car owners, repair-shop owners, employees and others in the independent automotive aftermarket gathered Monday on the steps of the State Capitol to urge legislative support for a bill introduced by State Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco).
SB 1146, if it is passed, will reform regulations that "lock out" all but franchised new-car dealers from vehicle on-board diagnostic (OBD) systems. The legislation will safeguard consumers' right to choose their car-care providers.
OBD systems, which began to be phased in in 1994 and became standard on all new cars and trucks in 1996, control and monitor all emissions-related parts and components, triggering the "check engine" light on the dashboard if a problem is detected.
Currently, California's OBD rules deny independent repair shops and parts makers fair access to the crucial electronic information and tools needed to perform even the simplest of repairs and maintenance -- information the car companies generally make available to their own franchised dealers.
Speaking to the crowd, Sam Cracraft, chairman of the California Consumer Choice steering committee, called SB 1146 "common-sense legislation that will level the playing field and make the regulations work for California car owners, California workers and California's environment.
"Regulations that ensure properly functioning vehicle-emissions systems are important to California's efforts to achieve better air quality -- a goal we all support -- but the problem is in the fine print," he said. "The bill is aimed specifically at reforming the provision in OBD rules that is anti-competitive, anti-consumer and anti-environment.
"If we don't get the rules changed, every car owner in the state will become virtual hostages of the big car companies and their franchised new-car dealers," Cracraft commented.
Engine misfire, catalysts, oxygen sensors, fuel systems and electronic powertrain components, for example, are all monitored by OBD systems.
However, Lynne Cardwell, a member of the coalition and owner of Sacramento's Car Care Center, noted that any of 400 or so conditions -- from a loose gas cap to a major system failure -- could trigger the "check engine" light and force owners of late-model cars back to new-car dealers.
"Around 80 percent of car owners choose nondealer facilities for maintenance and repair once a car goes out of warranty, but the current OBD rule creates a government-sanctioned monopoly on emissions-related work," said Richard Carlson, chairman of the Palo Alto-based Spectrum Economics.
"While car dealers experience a service business windfall, this monopoly will be devastating to California drivers and to the state's air quality:
-- With no competition for the consumer's car-care dollar, costs for this type of work will skyrocket -- California car owners will experience an increase of $17 billion in car service and repair costs during the next 10 years -- and the wait time to get the work done will increase; -- As neighborhood repair shops and other independent repair businesses are unable to compete and 6,000 go out of business -- about one-quarter of the industry - even routine car care will become less convenient -- car owners will be jockeying to get service appointments with a relative handful of dealers; and -- With higher costs and less convenience, it's very likely that many important emissions repairs will be delayed, if they're done at all."
Where Dealers Are Scarce...
Cardwell pointed out that the "lockout" poses a particular hardship for those who live or travel in California's rural areas because new-car dealers -- even for the most common vehicle makes -- are concentrated in larger cities and suburbs.
"There are lots of small towns in California where the nearest dealer for the make of vehicle a person owns could, literally, be 100 miles away. Those people -- and the people driving through those areas on business or with their families on vacation -- depend heavily on independent repair shops who can quickly diagnose their problem and get them back on the road," Cardwell said.
California as Bellwether
California's OBD rules have national ramifications, since federal standards in this area have historically followed those issued by CARB: "The damaging effects of the OBD lockout are only now beginning to be felt as the bulk of 1996 and newer, OBD-equipped cars are starting to come out of warranty," Cracraft said.
"It's Californians whose jobs, air quality, consumer rights and pocketbooks are threatened right now, but many hundreds of thousands of service technicians and shop owners around the country face losing their livelihoods, and car owners nationwide will feel the effects."
The principal co-author of SB 1146, the Consumer Choice in Car Care bill (formally titled "Motor Vehicles: Pollution Control Devices"), is Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles).
Sen. Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, where the bill will be heard, is also co-author, as well as Sen. Marta Escutia (D-Huntington Park). Assembly co-authors include Scott Baugh (R-Orange County), Tony Cardenas (D-Pacoima) and Brett Granlund (R-Yucaipa).
California Consumer Choice has initiated a toll-free line -- 800/CCC-AUTO (800/222-2886) -- and a Web site -- www.cccauto.org -- for consumers to learn more about how OBD affects them and what they can do to help protect their right to choose who will work on their vehicles.