The Games Car Companies Play to Hinder Competition and Eliminate Choices for Consumers

When you’re repairing your car, you likely take the ability to choose your parts for granted. Perhaps you take your car to the dealership and only have Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts put on your car. Maybe you take your car to an independent mechanic that asks you what kinds of parts that you want to be used. Or perhaps you work on your car yourself and go to a parts store to grab what you need.

Whichever way you choose to fix your car, truck, or motorcycle, you know you have exactly that – a choice. However, car companies are looking to take that away from you, and they are using a number of different strategies to hinder the competition and make it difficult for you to use anything other than parts developed by the automobile companies.

The Games Car Companies Play to Eliminate Your Choice in Auto Parts

The car companies are using every tactic that they can think of to try and minimize the competition, leveraging warranties, new car features, and even misinterpretations of the law to challenge alternative parts manufacturers.

Position Statement and Repair Procedures

A position statement from a car manufacturer is a document issued by the company that states their position on subjects that pertain to their vehicles. Frequently, these statements relate to the safety of the vehicle. They are created by car companies to direct or oppose repair practices under the auspices of protecting the vehicle and its owner.

Position statements go hand in hand with repair procedures. Repair procedures are a car company’s documented instructions on making repairs to one of their vehicles.

The problem is that car manufacturers are now using position statements and procedures to state that using anything other than OEM parts can adversely affect the safety of a vehicle. The wording in these statements has become much stronger, veering from aftermarket or salvaged and reconditioned parts may impact the vehicle’s safety to firmly stating that it will impact it, despite there being no evidence to support this in many cases. Many of these statements focus on structural parts when, in reality, less than 1% of all aftermarket components are structural parts, and “tests”, such as the “saw and bumper test”, that were previously done to question the safety of alternative parts were proven flawed.

Telematics

In recent years, the amount of information stored and processed on your vehicle by computer chip has grown exponentially. Today’s cars come with built-in Internet connections, and car companies are using those connections to collect information on your vehicle. This information goes beyond what parts in your car are having issues – it extends to the vehicle’s location, how you drive, and where you drive, also known as telematics.

Despite what you may think, the car companies don’t think this is your personal information – they act like it’s theirs. That means that the car companies will share that information with whomever they choose to but may not share it with your chosen service technician. And for them, it’s their dealerships who should have access. If they share it with others – like independent auto mechanics – they do so with a high price tag. This should not be a discussion or negotiation, nor should there be any charge for access to this information.

Car companies are fighting Right to Repair laws, throwing money behind the opposition to these initiatives in states like Massachusetts. Despite the opposition, Massachusetts voters backed the Right to Repair law passage in November of 2020, but in some ways, the car companies are still winning. The law states that car companies need to be able to share telematics beginning with 2022 models, and the law only applies to Massachusetts vehicles. We can expect that OEMs will continue to push to limit access to telematics in the other states.

Design Patents

Most of us are familiar with patents – functional designs registered with the U.S patent office to protect intellectual property. There is another type of patent, called a design patent, and OEMs are doing everything they can to wield design patents like a weapon against the alternative parts market.

You see, a design patent protects the design of an object – how it looks – as opposed to how it works. But when it comes to many car parts, how it looks is how it acts. Bumpers, fenders, lights, mirrors, and so on must be created in the same way as the original design for it to fit properly as a replacement for your car. 

Yet, car companies are claiming design patent infringements under the PARTS Act against alternative parts that look like the OEM parts. These claims are creating an environment that suppresses competition for the alternative parts that can save consumers thousands of dollars on repairs.

Keep Your Right to Choose

Having a choice between OEM parts and alternative parts is important. Why? Because the very existence of alternative parts keeps the cost of OEM parts down. In fact, studies by the APICIA have shown that alternative parts have save consumers millions of dollars in repair parts cost while keeping their vehicles in good running condition.

If you want to keep the cost of your car insurance and repairing your vehicle down, be sure to support efforts to keep competition alive and well in the auto parts industry. 

Competition and choice are what drives the market and keeps prices reasonable for consumers.

Don’t let the car companies use their monopoly and lobbyist powers to dictate your cost of vehicle repair! If you’re concerned about the auto manufacturers eliminating the competition and your right to choose what parts are used to repair or maintain your car, contact your state or federal representative and let them know your thoughts. You can also file a complaint with the FTC at their Complaint Assistant website.

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