If you own a car, you know a good garage can save you both time and money on repairs. But some vehicle owners are shocked to learn that in some cases they have no choice but to take it to the dealership.
Some independent repair shops believe this is an alarming trend that's unfair to service garages and customers.
"We can't buy certain coded items that we used to buy all the time," complained Mike LaMonte, a co-owner of M Complete, an auto repair facility in Tampa specializing in Mercedes-Benz.
He's worried about parts he can no longer buy, which means he must turn some good customers away.
"Obviously they are here for a reason and they don't want to go back to the dealer."
It's the same story down the road at Advanced Auto Repair, which has been in business for decades.
"We have the equipment and the technology and the software to install the part and make it work correctly, they won't sell us the part," said owner Ted Speltz.
Speltz says his customers have no choice but to pay dealership prices.
"Most of these components that the dealer will not sell will make the car break down. The car is towed in, we check it out, and it needs a particular part, and the dealer says we won't sell you the part," continued Speltz.
What does Mercedes-Benz say? We contacted the company and Donna Boland, the manager of corporate communications at Mercedes-Benz USA, sent us this statement:
"Our top priority is to protect our customers and their vehicles.
We and our dealers work closely with independent service providers (ISPs) to facilitate general repairs and have channels through which virtually all parts and repair documentation is available. For theft-relevant parts (TRPs), though, we require authentication and an additional level of security. We accomplish this by requiring that this information be accessed either through our own website (STAR TekInfo) or via the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF).
All of our TRPs are available to any ISP, except for the valve body of our newest, 7-speed, transmission, and the associated repair equipment for this valve body. This particular valve body has an integrated control unit that must be 'mated' with the vehicle for proper operation of the vehicle's anti-theft immobilizer and other safety technologies on the vehicle. The other seven TRPs -- by far the parts in highest demand -- are all available to any ISP as long as the ISP uses the NASTF registry and their security process to obtain the TRPs.
Our experience is that most ISPs use this process and have no issues repairing Mercedes-Benz models. Where there are issues, and these are relatively few, it is typically a case where the ISP refuses to register through the NASTF website and/or follow the security processes that we feel are integral to protecting our customers and their property."
Some mechanics think it's more about money than safety and security and wonder why valve body parts in the transmission are theft relevant parts.
"You're not going to go out and steal a car and put a value body in it," said Brian Arturi at M Complete. "The customer should be able to go where ever they want to have their car repaired."
Ted Spletz is worried that if it's Mercedes-Benz today, other automakers could follow suit and restrict parts down the road.
That concern led to the state of Massachusetts to enact the 'Right to Repair' initiative in November. Voters overwhelming passed it and now all automakers must give owners and independent repair shops access to the same vehicle diagnostic and repair information that's available to dealers.
This is a big issue on social media these days. There's a Facebook page dedicated to this topic: www.Facebook.Com/righttorepair
Groups like the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association hope the new law in Massachusetts has a ripple effect with automakers across the country preventing them from following the lead of Mercedes-Benz.
Aaron Lowe, vice president of government affairs, sent us this statement.
"AAIA has been very concerned about actions taken by Mercedes since 2008 to restrict the availability of "Theft Relevant Parts" to their franchised dealers. Consumers have consistently demonstrated that they prefer independent shops based on price, convenience and trust. A recent ballot question that would require that independent shops have the same access to information and tools as dealerships was overwhelmingly approved by Massachusetts voters by 85-15 percent margin last November. We are working with the trade groups representing both the domestic and foreign nameplate vehicle manufacturers to develop a national agreement based on the Massachusetts legislation.
While the requirements enacted in Massachusetts do not directly address the Mercedes issue, we are extremely concerned that other car companies might adopt a restrictive policy regarding parts availability and are closely watching the situation. Our hope is that Mercedes and other car companies will voluntarily make all parts available to independent shops for the benefit of their customers and to forestall the need for further legislation."
Independent auto repair shops say this is an issue that needs to be fixed.
Here's the List of Theft Relevant Parts provide by Mercedes-Benz USA:
Independent Service Providers (ISPs) who are registered Vehicle Security Professionals under the Secure Data Release Model (SDRM) can purchase all these "dealer install" items through NSTAF or STAR TekInfo except the ones that have an asterisk: