Baxter: Right-To-Repair Legislation Needed To Put Vehicle Owners, Not Car Companies, In The Driver’s Seat

County Commissioner Sara Baxter.

By Sara Baxter, Palm Beach County Commissioner

As the owners of an independent automotive repair shop, my husband Brian and I are accustomed to solving complex and unexpected challenges. We always strive to work with our customers to provide efficient, cost-effective service. We understand that for many of our customers, their car is their lifeline to work, school and daily life. Unfortunately, repair restrictions imposed by auto manufacturers are driving up costs and negatively impacting our ability to serve our customers and their ability to get back on the road. What’s needed is national right-to-repair legislation to ensure that vehicle owners, not corporations, are in the driver’s seat when it comes to vehicle repair.

In the past, before certain auto parts could only be purchased from vehicle dealers (i.e. manufacturers), the vehicle would be back on the road the same day. Now, in addition to the added cost, the customer’s car is out of commission for three to four weeks. Dealers show no inclination to assist, leading many shops to believe that the negatives outweigh the positives, prompting them to cease working on certain car brands. This leaves car owners with one option for repairs — the dealership. Consequently, dealers have increasing control over parts, software and repairs, enabling them to charge exorbitant prices.

A recent example from our garage proves this point. Our customer had his car towed into the automotive repair shop that my husband Brian and I own because it wouldn’t shift into drive. The software needed to analyze the problem, which we are forced to buy from the manufacturer, revealed a faulty transmission control unit. However, we had to inform our customer that the required repair part could only be purchased from the dealership. To even purchase the part, we had to obtain a costly special license. This made a $250 part skyrocket to $1,400, a cost that independent service shops like ours must pass on to the client.

This must stop. Vehicle owners need a federal right-to-repair law that will ensure they can choose where and how they get their car repaired, that will prevent automakers from holding patents on common parts for unreasonably long periods — which would allow aftermarket parts makers to compete — and that would give car owners more control over access to their car’s data and software needed to fix problems. This will spur competition, keep repair prices down and end automakers’ increasing control over your car and its data.

Vehicle owners have begun to assert their rights at the state level, and that’s where automakers have been lobbying against vehicle right-to-repair legislation. They argue that only authorized dealerships can be trusted to fix cars properly. They also say that right-to-repair laws would violate their intellectual property rights and hurt their innovation.

These arguments are false and self-serving. Right-to-repair laws would not force automakers to reveal any trade secrets or proprietary information, but only the same information that they already share with their dealerships. Right-to-repair laws would not affect vehicle warranties or recalls, which are regulated by federal law. And fears of cybersecurity risks are overblown, fanned by scare-tactic ad campaigns designed to defeat vehicle right-to-repair initiatives at the state level.

Further, the automakers are acting hypocritically. On the one hand, they oppose letting vehicle owners and independent repair shops have access to that data so that owners can repair their cars, but they boast of the value created for their companies by driver data. Indeed, the remarkable extent to which car companies share driver data has recently come to light.

And yet, independent repair shops like ours are already not able to access some repair data we need — or we are forced to pay astronomical sums to automakers to regularly buy it. This double standard is why consumers need a national vehicle right-to-repair law, and why it’s important that Congress pass the REPAIR Act and SMART Act.

The REPAIR Act would guarantee that vehicle owners can get the parts, tools and information they need to choose aftermarket parts while ensuring cybersecurity is prioritized. The SMART Act would reduce automaker patents on collision repair parts from 14 to 2.5 years, which would allow aftermarket parts makers to make and test parts during the newly defined patent period.

These bills are common-sense measures that would ensure that consumers have more options and transparency when it comes to repairing and protecting their cars. They would also create a level playing field for independent repair shops, which employ Americans and support local economies. Moreover, Americans overwhelmingly want them. A June 2023 survey for the CAR Coalition conducted by YouGov found that 94 percent of American vehicle owners want to choose where their vehicle is repaired.

It’s time to end the automakers’ control over our vehicles and how they are repaired. Consumers need a national vehicle right-to-repair law, and Congress must pass the REPAIR Act and SMART Act.

Sara Baxter is the Palm Beach County Commissioner for District 6 and owner, along with her husband Brian, of Foreign Auto Specialists repair shop.


  1. Almost 3 years ago, I bought a late-model used car from a dealer of the same brand. I was quite impressed with the dealership and how they treated their customers, so I regularly drove 99 miles for regular servicing. But finally, it took the car over there and told the service manager that I had detected a slight alignment problem. When they brought the car back to me, they had not done an alignment, but charged me the price of an alignment just to tell me that I needed an alignment. Needless to say, I am now getting my servicing done at an independent auto service shop.

  2. I feel that dealerships that offer multi year warrantees use this tactic to pay for their multi year warrantees. So yuo get an extended time period, but they know most repairs won’t be needed, but a year or two after it expires you need a replacement part / service and BAM… you get hit with a big bill

  3. Abusing your elected position to benefit your business? You completely ignore the manufacturer argument that their warranties and the ones required by federal law are contingent upon using parts designed by the manufacturer to specifications at time of design. Aftermarket parts cannot be verified to have the same integrity as an OEM part since it is outside their manufacturing process. Also, with powertrain warranties anywhere from 4/50 to 10/100 the use of aftermarket parts or non-oem repair facilities creates enormous potential for warranty fraud. Maybe advocate for government requiring less nonsense to be standard equipment on cars so the manufacturers can build more affordable options. Instead, all you are going to do is give manufacturers more ammunition to kill customer’s warranties by having techs do an additional hour of paid warranty time to find an aftermarket cause of failure and kill their warranties.

  4. Are some car manufacturers better than others? Ideally I’d prefer a market-based solution rather than a law-based one. If car-related media educated the public about which auto manufacturers are more friendly to consumers, consumers would be more friendly to them, and the market would largely solve this problem itself. All else being equal, no one wants to buy a car that is expensive to repair (or in which there are huge delays due to issues such as are raised here), or likes the idea of a 3rd party maintaining extensive control over the auto they paid for. So help educate the public and press the auto industry to respond with consumer-friendly policies, such that those following the slave-market model go extinct.

  5. I have long advocated for a law that requires automotive engineers and designers to work on the cars they design for 6 months every year. Three months in a dealership setting and 3 months in a small “Mom and Pop” repair shop.

    I suspect that we’d see a radical change in auto design and cars that are much easier to repair.

    • Hi Angie, I appreciate the intent behind your proposed law. But speaking as someone who worked as a quality engineer in the auto industry through my career, I’d call it misdirected and it would completely fail to have the impact you desire.

      The problem is that it’s not the engineers and designers who are coming up with the repair issues highlighted in this article and elsewhere. Those issues are the result of decisions made several rungs up the management ladder, and/or in departments outside of the engineering realm. So sending a bunch of engineers out to work in a repair shop would just have them muttering “Yep, it sucks, but we already knew that.”

  6. I live in the midwest – Big 3 car territory. I had to lease a car while mine was at the dealership – dealer lease guy told ne that xxx car company had now placed the water pump in the engine blok where b/f it was mounted outside the bock for easy access. Reason: put the mom/pop repair shops out of business, or at least those who wouldn’t tackle opening up the block to fix this.

Comments are closed.