A congressional staff report released yesterday gives details of abuses in the auto repair industry and calls for corrective legislation and federal programs to protect consumers.

The House Commerce subcommittee on consumer protection and finance reported that the cost of owning and operating an automobile has risen much faster than the cost of living index in recent years, and that "the most rapid increases have been in the costs of parts to repair crash damage, and ordinary auto repair and maintenance expenses."

Much of that increase is also in "avoidable costs," that are incurred as a result of "unnecessary, incompetent, sometimes fraudulent, and often unsatisfactory repairs," the report claims.

In releasing the staff report, subcommittee Chairman James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.) and Commerce Committee member Bob Eckhardt (D-Texas) said "the public has perceived and the statistics verify that something is fundamentally amiss in the field of auto repairs, driving up consumer costs out of all proportion to the quality and reliability of the services that can be secured by the average motorist."

The two congressmen noted that their report "accepts the estimate of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that these 'avoidable costs' -- or 'waste' in the NHTSA's terms -- may exceed $20 billion per year, or 40 percent of the total consumer costs associated with ordinary maintenance and repair."

The report proposes several possible remedies, and its release was timed to coincide with anticipated action on two congressional legislative proposals in this area.

The legislation deals primarily with improving warranty repair service. Other proposals include a call for tougher regulations on crash protection that could reduce damage costs in accidents.