Independent mechanics will benefit if we break manufacturer's secret code - Op Ed, The Australian

INDEPENDENT MECHANICS WILL BENEFIT IF WE BREAK MANUFACTURER'S SECRET CODE

The Australian, 24 September 2018

Just imagine if your local plumber told you that they couldn’t fix your new toilet, because the manufacturer wouldn’t give them the instruction manuals. Instead, you had to go to an ‘authorised plumber’ - approved by the manufacturer.

Sounds farcical, doesn’t it? But this is the situation that tens of thousands of independent mechanics find themselves in across Australia, as they struggle to get software updates from vehicle manufacturers.

Modern cars are computers on wheels, with dozens of onboard computers controlling everything from the engine to the entertainment system. Like your smartphone, the software gets regular updates. When a part is changed, the system will sometimes ask the mechanic to enter a special code.

Independent mechanics are happy to pay a fair rate for these data, but right now some makers are outright refusing to share them. The result is that independent mechanics get less business, drivers get less choice, and everyone gets frustrated.

That’s why Labor has announced that a Shorten Labor Government would require car manufacturers to share with independent mechanics the same data that they provide to authorised dealers. No special deals - just a level playing

field. It’s a policy that’s been welcomed by motoring clubs and consumers groups, and backed by a careful report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission - the nation’s competition watchdog.

Around four-fifths of mechanics are independent dealerships - either standalone enterprises, or part of chains such as KMart, Pedders or Repco. For people living in remote areas, an independent mechanic is often the only repairer in town. If they don’t get the data they need to fix the car, the owner can face a lengthy trek to find an authorised dealer.

No-one is blaming authorised dealers for the current state of affairs. They do a terrific job fixing cars, and there’s plenty of work to go around. But it just isn’t fair when the car manufacturers - almost all of them large multinationals - won’t share the necessary computer data with independent repairers.

Labor’s “Your Car, Your Choice” policy reflects the fact that no-one tells you which car to buy, and no-one should tell you were to get it fixed. It’s good for motorists, good for mechanics, and reflects the fair go that we’ll always defend.

Andrew Leigh is the opposition spokesman for competition and productivity.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.


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