Diagnostic Dilemma

How do you balance the needs of truck owners to get their trucks repaired where they want, and the needs of manufacturers and dealers to protect their investment?

January 2008, - Feature

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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Parts Predicament

While the "right to repair" debate centers on electronic diagnostic and repair information, there is also a parts aspect to the issue.

There is continued pressure from OE truck builders in trying to negotiate with OE component manufacturers to build proprietary components and entire exclusive proprietary systems, says Pete Pasdach, chairman of the board for Vipar Heavy Duty and president of Midway Truck Parts.

Pasdach offers an example of a customer who needed a starter for his earthmoving equipment. The dealership quoted him $786 for the OE brand starter. Midway contacted its local independent electrical distributor, who is a distributor for the same component manufacturer's starter, and was able to save the customer more than $300 on the purchase price - same brand, same warranty.

"Had the starter been a proprietary component, the consumer would have had no choice but to pay the higher price quoted by the equipment dealer," Pasdach says. "The consumer should be able to choose where to purchase parts and service. Ultimately, competition is good for the consumer and for business in general."

Often, "right to repair" advocates are talking about parts that are only available through a dealer, explains Tim Kraus, president of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association, which represents both OEM and aftermarket manufacturers. The reason for that limited availability, he says, may have to do with the fact that the part is low-volume and the manufacturer is under contract to only sell it to the OEM and its dealer network. Or it may be that the parts are patented.

"If a company produces, say, a fuel injector that is patented, they have every right to defend their patent, to make sure are able to they recover their investment in research and design and testing," Kraus says. "Some parts manufacturers claim they should have access to those patented designs to compete with them effectively. That's not the way the intellectual property laws work in this country."

Bailey Wood, spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association and its American Truck Dealers division, says this is a key reason behind the aftermarket's "right to repair" effort.

"Why are they attempting to get hold of auto and truck maker blueprints? It's about stealing proprietary parts information," Wood says. "The bills that are out there specifically threaten auto and truck makers' intellectual property. Large aftermarket parts makers and distributors are simply trying to get free access to facilitate the reverse-engineering process."

He points to the fact that some of the groups pushing for "right to repair" legislation are third-party diagnostic and repair information providers, such as Mitchell and Alldata, that actually are owned by aftermarket parts companies (Napa and AutoZone, respectively).

Marc Karon, president of Florida-based parts distributor Total Truck Parts, scoffs at the notion. "Distributors do not make knock-offs," says Karon, who's also treasurer of the Commercial Vehicle Solutions Network, an organization of independent parts and service aftermarket distributors. "We're not looking for how the part was made - we're looking at what the code is so the truck or car is put together in a safe manner."

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