MAY 2010

Access to Repair Parts Act protects consumers’ right to choose alternatives for repair

The United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee heard from consumer advocates and industry experts on why the “Access to Repair Parts Act” (H.R. 3059/S.1368) – legislation that would create a narrow exception in the United States design patent law for purposes of repair – is the solution to guaranteeing motorists’ access to affordable alternative replacement parts and curbing car companies’ attempts to monopolize the marketplace. The Quality Parts Coalition (QPC), which represents consumers, seniors, insurers, parts manufacturers and distributors and repairers, urged Congress to swiftly enact the Access to Repair Parts Act.

Americans are likely unaware of the looming threat that could send the costs of car repair and insurance premiums soaring – a car company parts monopoly. Every year, fender-benders around the country leave motorists in need of crash parts such as bumpers, fenders and hoods.

For more than 60 years, Americans have been able to use cost-effective alternative parts to repair their vehicles instead of costly car company parts. Alternatives, while high in quality, are as much as 26 to 50 percent less than car company equivalents. This translates into an estimated $1.5 billion in savings for the millions of motorists on America’s roads. But in recent years, the car companies have secured an increasing number of so-called design patents on crash parts for cars (bumpers, fenders, hoods). When enforced, the patents give car companies total control of the market. Insurers warn that this loss of competition will drive up the cost of insurance premiums by as much as $3 billion.

Jack Gillis, director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America and author of The Car Book, in testimony on behalf of CFA, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Center for Auto Safety and Public Citizen, warned legislators of the consumer cost of a car company parts monopoly: “The lack of competition for repair parts will result in high repair costs and more vehicles being ‘totaled’ because the price of repairing the damage exceeds the value of the vehicle. High repair costs will lead to higher insurance premiums. Furthermore, when faced with expensive repairs and a limited budget, consumers may simply not be able to replace their head light or a broken side mirror, items essential for safe driving.”

The Access to Repair Parts Act provides a narrow exception to the design patent law, paving the way for consumers to continue to have access to affordable alternative replacement parts for their vehicles.

Identical legislation is pending in the United States Senate (S. 1368), sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Rep. Lofgren is joined by cosponsors Reps. Rick Boucher (D-VA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), William D. Delahunt (D-MA), Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Charles A. Wilson (D-OH), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Debbie Halvorson (D-IL).