Why owning a car is about to get much cheaper
Car ownership will get cheaper when manufacturers are forced to share tools and data with third-party mechanics under proposed changes set to go before parliament next year.
Previously off-limits to independent workshops, the mandatory availability of special tools and software currently withheld from independent workshops will give motorists a chance to shop around when maintaining their car.
Supporters say the move will benefit drivers, but some car makers object to sharing data with third parties on the grounds of safety and security.
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said the planned reforms "establish a level playing field for all participants in the automotive service and repair sector, increasing competition and consumer choice."
"The new scheme is designed to ensure appropriate commercial dealings and improved competition in the service and repair market for the benefit of both businesses and consumers."
"The scheme will mandate that all service and repair information car manufacturers share with their dealership networks in Australia must also be made available for independent repairers and registered trading organisations to purchase at a fair market price."
The Morrison Government will consult stakeholders and accept submissions on the issue until January 31 before introducing legislation in the first half of 2021. The plan is to put it into effect on July 1, 2022.
Tony Weber, chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, said manufacturers broadly support information being made available "for the benefit of consumers, on fair and reasonable commercial terms".
"The important thing is that consumers are protected through the process," he said.
Mr Weber said small businesses were unlikely to be able to match dealerships' investment in training, parts and tools, particularly if they want to work on a diverse range of cars.
"The days of the backyard mechanic fixing every car in the neighbourhood are well and truly gone, but some still cling to that hope," he said.
"The capacity of the independent repair sector to cover a wide range of makes and models is very limited."
Volkswagen Australia managing director Michael Bartsch said VW already cooperates with workshops to offering basic servicing, but that data held back by the brand "should be proprietary".
Mr Bartsch said safety and security systems - such as the programming of digital keys, should remain exclusive to manufacturers.
"I would say right now that key coding is something that we would do everything we can to retain the integrity of that information within Volkswagen," he said.
The changes will allow independent workshops to plug computers into cars, helping them diagnose potential problems and clear error codes within a vehicle's systems.
Richard Dudley, chief executive of the Motor Trades Association of Australia, welcomed the long-awaited development.
"This is a good day for consumers, and a good day for business," he said.
"This heralds a new era for consumers in terms of surety around consistency of those working on their cars, and ultimately being able to choose where they have their cars repaired and serviced."
Mr Dudley said it means workshops can offer the same standard of service as official dealerships.
"We will be one of the first countries in the world to have mandated this across a whole country," he said.
"I don't think this should be underestimated."
The news comes as manufacturers are pushing to lock customers into extensive prepaid multi-year servicing contracts and exclusive arrangements attached to extended warranties.
Many manufacturers offer multi-year service plans discouraging customers from visiting third-party providers. Mitsubishi has courted controversy by doubling its standard warranty from five to 10 years if customers have all maintenance carried out in its official dealerships.
Labor's Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry, Brendan O'Connor, welcomed the changes while pointing out delays in implanting a scheme originally promised for 2019.
"We know independent mechanics are doing it tough," he said.
"If the Morrison Government would just get on with the job, rather than announce and forget, these reforms could help this struggling sector."
Originally published as Why owning a car is about to get much cheaper