Consumers Need Both the SMART Act and REPAIR Act

This is a big day for vehicle owners’ right to repair. Today, Rep. Darrell Issa (pictured at right) reintroduced the bipartisan SMART Act (Save Money on Auto Repair Transportation) in the 118th Congress. This follows the reintroduction of the REPAIR Act (Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair) last month. The challenges facing consumers who want to repair their vehicles where and how they want is so daunting, they need two pieces of federal legislation to solve them.

The SMART Act focuses on creating options for consumers when they need to repair car parts. Automaker patents on car parts restrict these choices and impede the work of non-automakers that make parts for cars, also known “aftermarket” parts makers. Vehicle owners often want to choose aftermarket parts rather than automaker-produced parts because the aftermarket parts are just as safe and reliable as the automaker parts and usually cost less.

But automakers want consumers to buy their parts, so they’ve made things difficult for aftermarket parts makers – and consumers – through patents. Law and regulations have enabled this for far too long.

Over the past two decades, automakers have increasingly applied for design patents to restrict consumer access to basic car parts, including headlamps, doors, and fenders. This is an anticompetitive practice, and it hurts vehicle owners’ ability to choose from a variety of brands and products when making repairs. Further, it costs American consumers more than $1.5 billion per year, according to recent research from the CAR Coalition and DePaul University College of Law.

The SMART Act will put an end to automakers’ unfair use of patents by reducing from 15 years to 2.5 years the time that automakers can enforce design patents against alternative parts manufacturers on collision repair parts, including common parts like side mirrors, quarter panels, and bumpers.

The other half of this equation is vehicle data. Today’s vehicles generate a great deal of data that describe the operation of the vehicle and the behavior of the drivers. Data include road conditions, repair and maintenance information, charging information for electrical vehicles and so on. It can also include where drivers went, how long it took them and what kind of driving style they have. Vehicle owners have a right to all the data their cars generation.

More to the point, if a vehicle owner chooses to take their car to an independent repair shop – instead of an automaker dealership – to get it fixed, they should have the right to share this data with repair shop, which needs it to diagnose and repair the vehicle. This is a data pipeline that automakers want closed off, except to them, and that’s not acceptable. The REPAIR Act would fix this.

The SMART Act and REPAIR Act are two sides of the same coin – a coin that will guarantee the rights of vehicle owners to control their cars’ data and the freedom to choose where and how they repair their own vehicles.