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Straight Talk About Right To Repair
Author: Justin Boyle

You may not have heard of the legislative battles raging on right to repair -- if you only work on older cars, for example, or if your primary business is routine maintenance -- but it's at the forefront of conversations at repair shops, parts stores and dealerships all across the New England area.

What is right to repair?

Although it's been hitting the news heavily over the last year or so, right to repair legislation isn't a new idea. The concept goes back as far as 2001, when it became apparent that the escalating use of microchips in vehicle systems was more than a passing trend.

Fundamentally, right to repair legislation seeks to establish a fair, market-appropriate pricing structure that allows independent garages, parts retailers and repair shops to purchase high-tech service information from vehicle manufacturers.

As cars came to rely more and more on computers throughout the first decade of the 21st century, it became increasingly necessary for independent shops to use the most up-to-date manufacturing data when taking diagnostics or performing repairs. In 2012, Massachusetts became the first state to enact laws ensuring fair access to that data.

Right to repair pros and cons

Supporters of right to repair legislation claim that without it, manufacturers are free to control access to their service information and encourage an unfair competitive advantage for their own dealership service bays.

In order to make proper repairs to modern cars, technicians need certain codes that let them interact with the vehicle's onboard computers. Vehicle manufacturers can set high prices on this information -- or, in some cases, deny it to third-party repair shops altogether -- making it either cost-prohibitive or impossible for customers to choose an independent garage over a dealership when the time comes for service.

It may seem like a clear-cut issue, and Massachusetts voters certainly treated it that way by passing their state's initiative by a wide margin in 2012, but opponents of right to repair have got a case of their own.

Critics of the legislation, which include the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers and the Automotive Service Association, contend that mandatory information sharing is unnecessary because manufacturers already share the majority of their proprietary repair and service info voluntarily. They state that the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) website, established in 2001, satisfies the need among independent garages for service codes and information.

They also assert that certain proprietary codes, like the ones that allow access to the vehicle's emissions and safety systems, may do more harm than good if submitted to wide release. With the ability to access onboard computers for repair comes the ability to compromise the systems' integrity, and some manufacturers would rather minimize those opportunities.

The bottom line on right to repair

Whichever side of the debate you're on, the fact remains that the bill's passage in Massachusetts drew a joint letter of support from two of the three opponents noted above. Right to repair seems to be winning hearts and minds on both sides of the line.

On April 18, 2013, however, in a hearing of the Maine legislature's Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development, a repair shop owner delivered testimony on behalf of the ASA against the state's own upcoming ballot measure.

The right to repair battle continues. Which side are you on?

Sources:

  1. FenderBender, "Maine Legislature Holds Right to Repair Hearing," April 24, 2013.
  2. Tire Business, "ASA against Maine R2R bill," April 24, 2013.
  3. Right to Repair Coalition 2013, "About the Right to Repair Act Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, "Motor Vehicle Owners' Right To Repair Act," Aaron Lowe, March 2009.
  4. The Business Journals, "Massachusetts Motoring Consumers & Automotive Aftermarket Make History As First State To Pass 'Right to Repair', During Olympic Week, Setting Gold Standard For Other States & Congress To Follow, States CARE," PR Newswire press release, August 1, 2012.
  5. Massachusetts Auto Coalition, "Automakers and Repair Community Join in Opposition to Senate Action on 'Right to Repair'," The Truth About Auto Repair in Massachusetts, May 31, 2012.
  6. Consumer Reports, "Right to Repair Act back in Congress," Liza Barth, May 15, 2009.