MIDLAND, MI – Now that U.S. taxpayers hold a stake in General Motors Co. and Chrysler LLC, chances seem greater Congress will pass the latest version of a Right to Repair Act.

So says John Washbish, vice president of the Aftermarket Auto Parts Alliance Inc., a trade group pushing for legislation to require auto makers to share virtually all technical service information with independent repair shops, not just their dealers.

“We’ve tried for eight years to get this passed,” Washbish says here at an automotive forum at Northwood University. “Lobbyists from both sides are having the most fun.”

At issue is whether auto makers by law should provide independent shops with all the codes dealership technicians use to diagnose problems, especially those involving the array of computerized systems on modern vehicles.

The bill also would require auto makers to offer the same specialized tools, training information and equipment dealerships get. The tools must be sold at “nondiscriminatory” prices, according to the bill now in committee.

Currently, repair shops have access to some but not all codes. In some repair cases involving sophisticated systems – particularly in high-end vehicles – independent shops are unable to do the work and must refer customers to dealerships.

“Independent shops need the codes so we can repair vehicles,” Washbish says. “It is necessary for that information to be available.”

Opponents of the bill say most information already is available on websites and elsewhere, such as Chilton and Mitchell repair manuals.

They argue that widespread dissemination of all repair data presents security and safety risks. For instance, they say it makes it possible for an independent technician to alter emissions and safety systems.

Today’s vehicles are complex and equipped with about 250 different computerized systems.

Because of that, dealerships employing master mechanics are the best places to go for major repairs, says Ryan LaFontaine, general manager of the LaFontaine Automotive Group, a Highland, MI, dealership representing several GM brands.

Washbish replies: “The facts speak for themselves. There are 930,000 bays at independent shops in the U.S. and 280,000 at dealerships. The 930,000 bays need the codes.”

A former dealership manager notes the issue also centers on access to the special tools that auto makers only sell to their dealerships – at inflated prices, he adds.

“I sometimes used to loan tools to independents to complete repairs, although I was tempted to be a jerk about it,” he tells Ward’s. “But if the independent bought parts from me, I’d help him out with a tool.”

Meanwhile, Washbish proposes the establishment of so-called hybrid repair facilities. They would be independent shops auto makers authorize to do warranty work and such.

LaFontaine supports the concept of satellite service centers, but ones that dealers own and operate.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com