Consumer Groups Praise Changes to Bill to Regulating Car Sales, Repair

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
New cars now include complex electronics that can require software updates, which can be triggered remotely. Photo Credit: Denis / Adobestock

Consumer groups are praising changes to proposed legislation needed to make sure California drivers can continue to get free computer upgrades to repair serious car safety issues remotely.

One of the provisions of Assembly Bill 473 would forbid car manufacturers from competing with car dealers regarding sales or service.

Rosemary Shahan, president, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, said the measure could have had unintended consequences.

“It’s a big relief that the bill is being changed so that consumers won’t be forced to go to a car dealer to get a free safety recall repair,” said Shahan. “They’ll be able to get it while the car is in their driveway, and that means a lot more cars will actually get the recall repairs done.”

The bill’s sponsor, the California New Car Dealers Association, just submitted changes to clarify that over-the-air safety fixtures would be allowed. These are software updates that can be done remotely by a manufacturer.

Other sections of the bill prevent manufacturers from charging subscription fees for things such as heated seats that are built into the vehicle. The bill would not apply to entertainment subscriptions such as Sirius-XM radio service.

Association President Brian Maas said the new language makes an exception when the manufacturer is directly providing a free safety update to motor-vehicle software.

“If it has to do with safety, and the manufacturer is not charging the customer, no problem, update the software over the air,” Moss explained. “But if it’s a feature of the car, that isn’t related to safety and they want to charge for it, the consumer should pay for that upfront when they buy the car.”

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a manufacturers’ trade group, said in a statement that “By prohibiting manufacturers from offering consumers subscription services for vehicle features, this bill limits consumer choice, stifles innovation, increases costs to consumers, and negatively impacts used car buyers.”

Shahan noted that car dealers are sponsoring similar legislation in multiple states.