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tional costs caused State legislators to reject the Federal mandate. Even the threatened loss of highway funds in 1976 did not offset the political barriers in the 17 States without periodic motor vehicle inspection, or PMVI, at that time.
The DOT Secretary's report to Congress of July 1977 acknowledged that the sanctions approach had failed and suggested that PMVI become optional to the States. Presently, not more than 65 percent of the vehicles registered in the United States are subject to PMVI in 27 States and the District of Columbia; and only 11 percent of vehicles are registered in certain jurisdictions where they are required to undergo inspection for both safety and emissions. If the Senate's Highway Safety Act Amendments 1978, S. 2541, are adopted, and PMVI becomes optional, it is a safe prediction that even these modest advances will dwindle.
The DOT argues that many consumer complaints about auto repair can be alleviated by providing diagnostic information independent of the service industry. The APAA feels that diagnostics and repairs should be allowed to exist and be performed by private industry at the same location.
First, consistent with our support of less government competition with private business, we would not favor separate diagnostics at any levels of government. In addition, since most of the States with PMVI use private industry for testing and service, why have to reinvent the wheel?
Second, diagnostic equipment has been available since the 1960's. To the best of our knowledge, the private business sector has not set up freestanding specialty shops. Also, to the best of our knowledge, no private applications were received by the DOT to participate in the pilot diagnostic demonstration projects authorized by the 1974 amendments to the Motor Vehicle Information and Cost Savings Act. It is our assumption that since no private interest has been expressed, the demand and/or profitability is not available. Even the most sophisticated diagnostic equipment does not eliminate the need for mechanic followthrough, with further diagnosis to isolate a component failure. With a shortage of qualified mechanics, seems ar more practical to train those we have to use the testing equipment effectively, rather than try and train a whole separate corps of technicians. If repairs could only be performed separately from diagnostic inspection, there would be a problem integrating the printouts from equipment employed in high-volume inspection with diagnostic equipment employed by small garages. DOT's small garage report stated that although small garages account for 46 percent of all service labor and parts, the cost of sophisticated diagnostic equipment might be prohibitive to many of them.
Also, in separating the two functions, additional inconvenience would be created in forcing the motorist back and forth between State-operated inspection to the repair service and back to the State-operated inspection location.
The subcommittee has asked if APAA believes a mechanic shortage exists, or if there is only a shortage of qualified mechanics. The Tuesday, September 5, 1978 edition of the Washington Post listed 35 advertisements of jobs for mechanics, not including the listings for service station attendants. The ratio of mechanics per automobile is estimated at 1 to 250. With the expected increase in inspection/maintenance programs, the need for competent mechanics to diagnose and repair noncomplying vehicles will become more severe.
Mechanics are having a tough time keeping pace with rapid technological changes, many of which were brought about by Federal requirements for more economical, fuel efficient, and less polluting cars. The service market becomes increasingly complicated as the variety of in-use vehicles expands to include pre-1968 cars, catalyst-equipped cars, those with new electronic components, diesels, etc. In the past, most service dealt with repair work; however, in 5 years much of a mechanic's time will be spent diagnosing malfunctions and replacing faulty components with new modules.
We are faced with a problem of both supply and competence. In our view, mandatory mechanic certification will aggravate the shortened supply. Administrators might attempt to remedy this effect by simply testing at lower levels of competency to assure that an adequate number of certified mechanics would be available to perform repairs. Under this circumstance, the intent of mechanic certification, to raise levels of competency, would be undermined. In this case, the problem of mechanic competency is not significantly improved. Or mandatory licensing laws might include grandfather clauses to automatically grant certification to mechanics already working. Such clauses destroy the credibility of the program in the eyes of the public and do a disservice to those who would qualify through intensive training and testing. The Michigan experience, where certification of mechanics is mandatory, illustrates our point. The Michigan Bureau of Automotive Regulation is certifying 95 percent of the State's mechanics as competent in one or more areas of specialty repair. If such a high percentage of mechanics are already competent, then why certify? Or could it be that the State is not certifying to high levels of competence? APAA believes that certification can be best achieved through a voluntary program. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, NIASE, offers such a program in which mechanics can voluntarily validate their skills and competence.
APAA has kept abreast of Federal and State legislation and regulations governing auto repair practices. We annually publish a "Summary of Auto Repair Legislation and Regulations of the 50 States” for distribution to our retail members and motor vehicle regulatory bodies. Our summary lists at least 22 State regulations specifying penalties and sanctions for auto repair abuses. Penalties usually include revocation of licenses or the application of civil penalties (treble damages or flat fines) for certain clearly defined deceptive practices. Since these regulations are promulgated, monitored, and enforced by State administrative agencies (consumer affairs offices, bureaus of automotive regulation, or motor vehicle departments), the creation of a Federal bureaucracy to mandate and check compliance with Federal disclosure requirements is impractical
We believe that estimates for repairs which exceed a certain amount (such as over $50) should be required and that such estimates should not be exceeded by a designated amount-for example, 15 percent-without the consent of the customer. Because estimates for minor repairs create unnecessary hardship on both the repair shop and the customer, Michigan revised its regulations so that estimates are not now required for minor repairs at anything less than $20.
Licensing of shops has been basically a State revenue-raiser rather than an enforcement tool in most instances, and will probably continue to be just that. We believe that any licensing should be a State requirement, but only for those facilities which perform inspection, to monitor and attest to uniformity of procedures and availability and calibration of equipment.
APAA has maintained an active consumer education role. We contend that a routinely maintained car is less likely to be incorrectly repaired. We periodically publish sales and technical manuals and regularly prepare "Tips for the Novice Auto Mechanic," which are reprinted in newspapers across the Nation. These guidelines appeal to the automotive do-it-yourselfers, but they could also serve to educate the general motoring public. This year, we have also generated congressional proposals to declare that “May is Car Care Month"-SJR 126 and HJR 920. We have been joined by the support of NHTSA, EPA, and DOE. This type of action and education is well-suited to a Federal role. A populace made aware of vehicle problems and indicated repairs will hasten the day when repair businesses can communicate more effectively with consumers.
We thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to present our views, and we would be happy to answer your questions at this time. [The following letter was received for record:)
AUTOMOTIVE PARTS AND ACCESSORIES ASSOCIATION,
Washington, D.C., December 8, 1978. Hon. BOB ECKHARDT, Chairman, Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Finance, Committee on Inter
state and Foreign Commerce, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C. DEAR CONGRESSMAN ECKHARDT: I am pleased to have the opportunity to answer the question you posed in your letter of December 4. With respect to the position of the Automotive Parts & Accessories Association on mandatory licensing of repair shops, I reiterate my statement made in testimony before your Subcommittee on September 20.
“Licensing of shops has been basically a state revenue raiser rather than an enforcement tool in most instances, and will probably continue to be. We believe that any licensing should be a State requirements, but only for those facilities which perform inspection, to monitor and attest to uniformity of procedures and availability and calibration of equipment.”
Regulation of auto damage appraisers and tow truck operators is beyond the scope of formal APAA policy; however, we submit that licensing on any level is not a feasible means of eliminating abuses. Neither the federal government, nor state and local enforcement bodies generally have the funds or manpower to strictly enforce controls that may be imposed through licensing regulations. Laws that will not and cannot be enforced should not be enacted. Sincerely,
C. W. HIGGINS. Mr. METCALFE. Thank you very much, Mr. Higgins, for a fine statement, and the Chair will now recognize Mr. Clarence Ditlow, executive director of Center for Auto Safety, also in Washington. STATEMENT OF CLARENCE M. DITLOW III Mr. Ditlow. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I will read an abbreviated version of my statement and insert my full statement in the record, if that is permissible.
Mr. METCALFE. Without objection, the entire statement will be entered in the record. Hearing none, it is so ordered.
Mr. Ditlow. The experience of the Center for Auto Safety supports the findings of almost every recent national consumer pollautomobile problems are the largest source of consumer complaints in the country today. Our own consumer complaints on autos now reach at least 15,000 per year. Based on the center's 8 years of experience, automobile problems have clearly reached a national epidemic stage, affecting all levels of economic groups, in terms of their health, safety, and pocketbook.
In the last few years, more and more consumers have become less and less willing to tolerate the failure of the auto industry to provide the public with reliable vehicles meeting minimum standards of quality, durability and performance. When the consumer instead receives a lemon, or an otherwise unsafe and unreliable car, topped off with poor warranty performance by manufacturer and dealer, shoddy and expensive repair service, he or she wants to do something about it; and this greater degree of consumer awareness is reflected in the letters we receive.
The auto repair problem occurs both in and out of warrantyfrom the new car dealership to the independent repair shop. Even with increased consumer awareness, the majority of consumers fail to resolve auto repair complaints to their satisfaction, leaving the consumer to pay for the manufacturer's, dealer's, or repair shop's mistakes.
The automobile complaints received by the center can be classified into several broad categories, ranked in order of frequency. To start with, we have automobile reliability and repair problems involving safety and nonsafety defects. Following that is the poor manufacturer warranty performance. We frequently receive tales of 30 to 40 trips to the dealer for correction of a defect under warranty without correcting it. Poor manufacture handling of nonwarranty defects where a defect occurs after the warranty period is
If we look at recalls, even the present record levels of vehicle recalls do not necessarily resolve consumer complaints. In fact, they may be generating more, in that: (1) Consumers must wait up to 6 months for repair after the recall is announced, with potentially fatal effects as seen in the six Pinto fire deaths since that recall was announced in June; (2) consumers who already had the defect fixed do not get reimbursed; (3) some recalled cars may be outside the statute of limitation-8 years for cars, 3 for tires-by the time of the recall, and, finally, the dealers may use the recall as a vehicle to sell unnecessary repairs to the consumer. We received an example of that when a dealer in Virginia sold a $139 repair job utilizing a DOT factsheet on engine stalling. Although we asked DOT to investigate, we have yet to receive a response.
DOT has stated there is a $20 billion economic loss in automobile repairs, including loss from poor fuel economy and items along those lines, including maintenance, faulty repair, faulty diagnostics, package repair deals and vehicle design. Our complaints basically support the NHTSS analysis and particularly indicate that faulty, excessive, or inadequate repairs rather than fraud, account for the majority of consumer complaints that we receive against the auto repair industry.
Rather than go into all the specific problems facing the consumers, the following are a few examples: Often the consumer must pay for a whole system or integral assembly rather than a single part to make necessary repairs. Or the consumer must pay for several hours' worth of labor just to replace a 35-cent plastic valve. Auto manufacturers design cars so that even the simplest problems, such as replacing the plastic lens on a running lamp, may require a major and expensive repair job.
A consumer in Annapolis, Md., found an example of this when he had to replace an otherwise perfectly good steering wheel on his 1974 Thunderbird for $110, when the rim to sound the horn failed. Although the rim was a separate part that should cost no more than a few dollars, Ford had only the entire steering wheel as a replacement where the cars were equipped with cruise control. There is little option for the consumer here since lack of a horn would be a traffic violation.
Every year, a substantial number of consumers end up buying another consumer's lemon. Information given to consumers by used car dealers is incomplete and frequently so ambiguous as to be misleading. Even basic safety information, such as whether or not a recall repair was performed, is unavailable. The lack of safety recall information is absolutely inexcusable in view of the auto companies' computerized files of vehicle identification numbers for each recall and repair and the registration of that same number at the time of sale. Although the Federal Trade Commission's forthcoming rules on used car sales disclosure will go a long way in informing the consumer as to the mechanical condition of the car, it omits this very basic safety information.
Although there are a few State and local programs evolving, such as California's Bureau of Automotive Repair, generally Federal, State, and private programs are inadequate in resolving automobile complaint problems. All too frequently, consumers tell us they are just shuttled from one office to another. The local consumer protection office refers them to the State attorney general, which refers them to the FTC, which refers them to the local consumer protection office, and so on.
One frustrated consumer, a toymaker from Provincetown, Mass., had been so frustrated by incompetent repairs and being shuttled around that she circulated her own petition about poor quality auto repair work. Dated April 16, 1978, 100 citizens of Provincetown signed the petition over one weekend, which stated in part:
We, the undersigned people of Provincetown have had to suffer poor quality autorepair work and conscienceless so-called mechanics.
Because we are an isolated community at the tip of Cape Cod, must we be forced to be satisfied with inferior-if not damaging-performance upon our vehicles?
We demand and must have qualified people to service our most necessary motor vehicles.