The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protections recently held a hearing questioning whether 21st century technology is locking out consumers. At issue is whether foreign and domestic automakers are moving quickly enough to share access codes and other technical information that permit independent repair shops to work on the many computers that now control the operation of automobiles, according to Rep. Joe Barton, chairman of the committee. Some modern cars have as many as 15 computers, he added.

Following the hearing, Barton called on automakers to accelerate the sharing of such information, which was supposed to have been completed by the fall of last year for both independent shops and dealers alike. "The issue is access and availability, not, as some suggest, about gaining proprietary information," he said. "Automakers comply with an EPA rule that requires similar information for emission-related repairs, and it is written in a way that does not require them to release proprietary information. I believe the same could be true for non-emission repair information."

In 2000, the Automotive Service Association, auto makers, car dealers, and aftermarket part manufacturers formed the National Automotive Service Task Force to address service information, training, and tool issues. NASTF serves as a conduit for mechanics to make manufacturers aware of any problems or concerns with emission and non-emission service information. From Jan. 1, 2004, to Sept. 20, 2004, NASTF received 33 complaints, and automobile manufacturers have responded to 31 of those complaints, according to ASA.

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