Mechanics Threatened By New Cars

image327811x.jpg
mechanic. auto repair.
AP

When the air-conditioner went out on insurance analyst Greg Conklin's car, he took it to his dealer.

"They couldn't see me for another six weeks, so I took it to John instead," says Conklin.

John O'Connor has run his New Jersey repair shop for nearly 30 years. Fixing the air-conditioner was no problem, but as CBS News Correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports, he couldn't get the dashboard warning light reset because he didn't have the right code.

Today's car is outfitted with more than 50 computers, making it a 1,000 times more complex than the Apollo 11 that went to the moon.

It's nearly impossible to fix your own car and it's become harder and harder for your neighborhood mechanic to do it quickly.

Most shops have the technology. The problem, they say, is that automakers don't want to give them the software updates they need to communicate with the car.

So what that like to a mechanic?

"It's a horror show," says O'Connor.

Conklin says he now has no choice.

"I decided I better stick to the dealer since they have the software," says Conklin.

So independent mechanics want Congress to force automakers to provide all the computer information needed to diagnose and repair any problem.

"We think it's unnecessary," says Mike Stanton of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Automakers say they have to keep some things - the stuff that keeps them competitive - secret. Plus, they insist they are giving mechanics the information they need.

"All our manufacturers have made the commitment and are supplying the exact same information to the independent technicians that we supply to the dealers now," says Stanton.

But a recent survey, paid for by independent mechanics, found almost 60 percent of them couldn't access the information they needed and more than 50 percent turned away customers.

"The dealership definitely has a leg up," says Robert Teunisen, a parts and service director at a New York dealership.

He says their software is updated by satellites link from the manufacturer everyday.

Without the software, "we couldn't do our jobs," says Teunisen.

Teunisen makes no secret that his dealership wants to service the cars it sells.

It's a roaring business.

"The parts and service side is really paying more and more the bills and of a business and the industry is relying less and less on the profits of sales," says Teunisen.

Meaning drivers may have to rely on the dealership to get that check engine light turned off.

And while that might drive consumers crazy, it could also drive independent mechanics out of business for good.