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Federal right-to-repair bill may require carmakers to provide build sheets

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1965 Ford Falcon build sheet. Photo by Frank Adinolfe.

Carmakers may soon have to provide to their customers not only software programming but also build sheets under a bill proposed earlier this month that aims to provide more transparency to car owners.

Introduced by Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, H.R. 2460 specifically addresses on-road motor vehicles under existing laws that outline how and when carmakers should communicate information about their cars to the owners of the cars.

As written, the bill would require carmakers to provide, based on a car’s VIN, a list of the various part numbers “and the software of each such part (if applicable)” along with “build sheet information” in a standardized format on a searchable website.

The bill would amend a specific section of the United States Code – Title 49, Chapter 301, Subchapter II – that already directs carmakers to include “technical information related to performance and safety” with new cars and to alert customers of recalls and any safety-related defects in the car.

While that section of United States Code relates to new cars, the language of Kinzinger’s bill does not appear to include a cutoff date for vehicles which customers can request build sheets. A call to Kinzinger’s Washington, D.C., office for clarification was not returned.

While some luxury carmakers with heritage divisions such as Mercedes-Benz already offer build sheet information to owners of classic and collector vehicles upon request (and owners of cars from certain discontinued carmakers, such as Studebaker and many British brands, can order build sheets from their respective museums), others such as GM (excepting Cadillac), Ford, and Chrysler either don’t offer individual cars’ build information or have sold some of that information to third-party research services.

The bill’s inclusion of software also positions it as a “right to repair” bill, though most such bills require that carmakers provide such proprietary information to independent repair shops and not directly to customers. While other right-to-repair bills – which aim to prevent carmakers from withholding information necessary to repair vehicles – have been introduced on the federal and state level as early as 2001, only Massachusetts has actually passed a right-to-repair law, enacted in November 2013.

That law, in turn, led the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers to sign an agreement in early 2014 that would apply the Massachusetts law’s standards nationwide.

H.R. 2460 has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.