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A plan to get car manufacturers to voluntarily share technical information with independent repairers has failed, according to the head of the ACCC.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman Rod Sims who addressed the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association’s Autocare 2018 summit in Sydney today, said a stronger scheme is required to force any significant industry change.

“Our recent new car retailing industry market study found consumers benefit from competitive aftermarkets and by having a choice of providers to repair and service their cars, and a mandatory scheme to share technical information is the only way to achieve this,” Mr Sims said.

“To fix today’s cars, repairers need access to volumes of complex technical information held digitally by car manufacturers. This allows car manufacturers to control access to the technical information needed to fix cars, often favouring their own dealer and preferred repairer networks over independent repairers.”

“Few car manufacturers provide equivalent access to the technical information provided to their authorised dealers and preferred repairer networks. On this basis, we concluded that voluntary commitments to share technical information were unsuccessful and would not work,” Mr Sims said.

“The ACCC has recommended that a mandatory scheme be introduced compelling the sharing of technical information with independent repairers as car manufacturers’ voluntary commitments have not worked.”

Mr Sims also highlighted a range of other findings from the ACCC’s market study into the new car retailing industry, including that car manufacturers should update their complaint handling systems and improve their approach to the handling of consumer guarantee claims, and update their logbooks and service manuals, to remove any misleading statements that their new car must be serviced only by an authorised dealer in order to maintain the warranty, when no such condition exists.

“The ACCC has seen numerous examples of practices by a number of car manufacturers that raise concerns. We found that there is a dominant ‘culture of repair’ underpinning systems and policies across the industry based mainly around the manufacturer’s warranties, when enhanced remedies may be available under Australian Consumer Law.”

“As but one example, with Ford last week we saw that even where a new car has a known mechanical issue, consumers did not receive the ACL remedies they were entitled to. This can involve a consumer bringing their new car in to be repaired repeatedly, instead of being offered a replacement or refund. Many consumers felt their cars were unsafe.”

Mr Sims also discussed the progress of the Takata airbag recall, which he described as the “largest and most significant recall in Australian history”.

“The compulsory recall requires all suppliers of vehicles with faulty Takata airbags to replace them as quickly as possible and by 31 December 2020, unless varied by application to the ACCC,” he advised, “The recall affects a range of businesses, including around 15 large vehicle manufacturers, the second-hand vehicle market, auto-recycling businesses, salvage yard operators, auction houses and Registered Automotive Workshop Scheme operators.”

Rod’s full speech is available here