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Report Makes the Case for Independent Aftermarket Service

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June 22, 2021—A recent report from the Federal Trade Commission found that independent repair and maintenance facilities are no more likely to misuse customer data than OEM-affiliated shops.

It was just one of many findings in the report, called “Nixing the Fix: An FTC Report to Congress on Repair Restrictions.” It brings together some of the tidal forces shaping independent repair and maintenance, including right to repair, telematics, and data access.

One of the simplest examples of the OEM data advantage pops up on dashboards on the road today: “Oil Change Needed. See Your Dealer.” The oil life monitor determines that a drain and fill is needed, and the messaging leaves no indication of another option.

Joanna Johnson, policy advisor for the Automotive Oil Change Association, argued on behalf of independent servicers before the FTC. She says that not only is it improper for the declarative demand style in the dashboard indicator, this closed loop between the driver and the dealer could be used to hide bigger faults.

“We argue that it’s far more powerful to make that command in the car than anywhere else,” says. “Of course, if OEMs only have the data and no one else can really get into the codes and how the codes are set up, then they’re able to manipulate the situation to avoid discovery of defects.”

Investigative work from the Detroit Free Press found that when drivers of Ford Fiesta and Focus vehicles experienced severe power loss, bucking, and other symptoms with DPS6 transmissions, they repeatedly went back to the dealer for service with poor results. Ford eventually distributed talking points to dealers who were getting large numbers of these vehicles in the shop with similar transmission issues. The company also allowed for expanded warranty coverage to deal with an influx of cases. The issues swirled around in the dealership space while Ford appeared to deflect meaningful fixes.

While the Ford example is an extreme case, Johnson argued to the AOCA that in this closed loop system, OEMs can divert blame to aftermarket services or parts to extract an additional service at the customer’s expense.

The FTC report summarized Johnson’s research:

“The dealers forgo technical analysis and instead repeat the maintenance process for which the aftermarket part was employed—this time using the automaker’s recommended brand part. The automaker and dealer have not proven the particular aftermarket part caused the problem engine symptom as required by MMWA (Magnuson Moss Warranty Act), yet the consumer gets charged for the mandatory maintenance including when it doesn’t solve the problem engine symptom.”

One fix that Johnson, AOCA, and affiliated groups are pushing for is the required disclosure of MMWA rights to consumers at the time of warranty repair denial or vehicle purchase.

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