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Car repair costs could fall with new pact

Automakers are promising to give independent garages access to key information that is needed to repair newer-model cars. It's a voluntary deal that should see repair bills fall for all brands.

Automakers are promising to give independent garages access to key information that is needed to repair newer-model cars.

It's a voluntary deal that should see repair bills fall for all brands.

Independent garage owners had been pushing for such an agreement, saying they sometimes had to send clients to dealers because they lacked information like computer codes for small sensors, or training to make certain repairs.

The new agreement, known as the Canadian Automotive Service Information Standard, was announced by Industry Minister Tony Clement on Tuesday. It will come into force in May 2010 and will likely pre-empt an NDP private member's bill that would have forced automakers to share proprietary information.

The bottom line is that cars and trucks should be cheaper to repair because of increased competition, said David Adams, president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers of Canada.

"Regardless of which brand you own, you will have more choice in where you can repair it," Adams told CBC News. "Shops that could only repair one type of brand will now have the ability to repair other types."

Adams's organization represents 14 foreign automakers.

Dismissed as 'sideshow'

The NDP's automotive critic, Brian Masse, called the new agreement "an ineffective sideshow," compared with the Right-to-Repair Bill, C-273, that he has brought forward.

"No environmental or consumer protection rule is voluntary. No public safety measure is voluntary. A law is the only real protection for vehicle owners that is available," Masse said in a statement.

Bill C-273 received preliminary approval in the House of Commons last spring and is due for committee consideration. But Adams predicted it would not survive because of the voluntary agreement.

Most auto manufacturers have kept proprietary information about car design close to the chest in the past, but it has not stopped independent mechanics from figuring out how to make repairs.

The problem now is that cars have become much more complex.

Adams said today's cars are more like "computers on wheels," and now eclipse the ability of small-time mechanics to do the repairs they used to.

Adams described one example that a frustrated mechanic told to him during the negotiations: The glass in a car door needed to be replaced after a break-in, which was easily done, but the mechanic found he could not start the engine until he reset a sensor in the door. But because the sensor code was considered proprietary, he had to send the client to the dealer.

The independent auto-repair industry has complained in the past that a voluntary agreement would not be enforceable. However, the industry indicated it was happy with the deal that was negotiated.

"This agreement ensures that all auto manufacturers will provide access to service and repair information, which will increase competition in Canada's service and repair industry for the benefit of Canadian consumers," Dale Finch, executive vice-president of the National Automotive Trades Association, said in a release.

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