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Merrimack Valley

June 3, 2012

Goliath vs. Goliath in 'right-to-repair' bill battle

NORTH ANDOVER — You can almost hear the roar of professional ring announcer Michael Buffer's voice as he shouts his trademark phrase: "Let's get ready to rumble!"

Except in this case, the rumble has already begun. In fact, it's been going on for years: In one corner are automotive parts retail giants like Autozone, NAPA and Carquest. In the other corner, it's car and truck manufacturers like General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

Lost somewhere in the middle of this multimillion-dollar lobbying match are mom-and-pop car-repair shops, and even some dealerships with small service departments, who stand to gain, or lose, depending on which way the so-called 'Right-to-Repair' bill goes in the state Legislature.

"It's a big guy versus big guy battle," said Dan Gage, communications director for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which opposes the legislation.

Art Kinsman, spokesman for the Right to Repair Coalition, which favors the legislation and is collecting signatures to put a question on this fall's ballot that would implement such a law, agrees.

"The folks who are funding this are the auto parts retailers including NAPA, Autozone and Carquest," he said. "They are the lifeblood of the independent garage. Our fight is with the big car manufacturers."

The bill, at its core, would force carmakers to release all the computer codes needed to do diagnostic testing on increasingly high-tech cars and trucks coming off assembly lines from Detroit to Tokyo.

Carmakers already sell most of those codes to third-party software companies that in turn sell them to repair shops like North Andover Auto Computer and Diagnostics or Merrimack Valley Tire of Haverhill. The auto manufacturers also sell that information to dealerships like Regan Ford and Commonwealth Motors.

The difference is that more information is available to the dealerships than is available to the independent repair shops. And that, say supporters of the legislation, is unfair.

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