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Toyota breaks away from car industry servicing scheme

Toyota breaks away from the new servicing code of practice making technical data available to independent repairers

Toyota breaks away from the new servicing code of practice as Ricky Muir asks the car industry to review its decision.

Australia's biggest car maker, Toyota, has broken ranks with the industry's new vehicle servicing code of practice and will make technical data and recall information available to independent repairers.

Toyota's decision to open its books to local mechanics means that 20,000 independent repairers nationally can get up-to-date access to online workshop manuals for 2.6 million Toyota across Australia. Other brands are yet to follow.

The breakaway comes as Senator Ricky Muir has asked car companies to reconsider the new voluntary code on servicing announced by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

"I encourage the FCAI to take another look at this," said Senator Muir.

"I believe all consumers should have a choice of repairer and I would not like to see vehicles being poorly maintained because of a lack of up-to-date service data for those who can't afford routine maintenance at a dealership," said Senator Muir.

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Senator Muir said he appreciates "the skills, knowledge and technology" of the 1500 new car dealership service centres, but also believes the 20,000 independent workshops nationally also need access to "up-to-date service data to compete on a level playing field".

As reported exclusively by News Corp Australia, the FCAI has blocked local mechanics from getting access to the most up-to-date maintenance data and diagnostics units — even though it is compulsory for car makers in Europe and North America to share the most complete information and appropriate tools with independent repairers for a fee.

News Corp Australia has been told by several independent mechanics that when they log into overseas websites to diagnose a car, in some cases the repair information is blocked once an Australian vehicle identifying number is provided.

The Australian Automobile Association has also made fresh claims that sections of the new servicing code may contravene consumer law.

"We have serious concerns that a number of sections in this code do not meet the basic elements of consumer law in Australia,"said AAA spokesman James Goodwin.

In one example, if a customer is not happy with the repair work done by an independent mechanic, and it goes to an independent review, the local mechanic is outnumbered by three representatives from the car industry, the dealer and the car maker.

The code, as it is currently worded, also means an independent repairer "to the maximum extent permitted by law...does not have any rights of recourse against any OEM (car manufacturer) or party supplying the repair information or special tools".

The code allows limited access to workshop manuals, but the AAA is concerned it does not give independent repairers enough access to detailed data, and the important updates that fall outside safety recalls.

The Federal Minister for small business, Bruce Billson, is due to meet with the car industry and independent repairers over the next month — but the car industry is preparing for a fight.

One senior car company executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the industry would not be "bullied" into changing the servicing code of practice and said it was possible to have their parent companies hold the rights to repair information overseas, so they can be out of the reach of Australian laws.

"There are serious unresolved issues," said the senior car company executive from a leading brand. "We're not perfect but how do we know an independent repairer has done the work properly? What if that repair work affects something under warranty. Who's going to foot the bill? Are they prepared to stand by their repairs?"

When contacted by News Corp Australia yesterday, all of the Top 10 brands except Toyota said they either stood by the new code of practice for vehicle servicing, or were reviewing it.

Toyota has been the top-selling vehicle brand for the past 11 years and has more cars on Australian roads than any other.

"We understand that not all of our customers can visit a Toyota or Lexus dealer, which is why our repair manuals are made available to independent repairers," said Toyota Australia spokeswoman Beck Angel.

As is the case in Europe and North America, independent repairers in Australia must pay a fee to access Toyota's information — in this case, approximately $2000 a year.

Toyota also goes a step further, though, by providing smaller workshops with information about vehicle recalls, although the recall work must be done by a Toyota dealer.

Toyota's breakaway comes even though it was the first brand to offer capped price servicing in Australia, in an attempt to keep customers coming back to its national network of 200 dealership service departments.

Toyota introduced capped price servicing in 2008 but now all of the Top 10 brands — and some European marques — also offer fixed price certainty on routine services.