The Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act and How Consumers Can Take Action

The car companies are doing everything they can to make it difficult for anyone – including independent repair shops – to fix their cars. They are using a long list of tactics to try and force repairs to be done using only Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts

This includes introducing new laws that aim to make OEM repair procedures required and to limit the power of the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair law. Enacted in Massachusetts in 2012, this law laid the groundwork for access and competition in vehicle repairs in all 50 states. Today, that access is in jeopardy as auto manufacturers push to limit the access needed to the data needed to fix modern cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

The History of the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Law

Understanding the current issues with the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Law, frequently shortened to “right to repair”, we’ll need to start in 1990, when the Clean Air Act Amendments added additional environmental protections regarding auto emissions. It required that all vehicles built after 1994 include on-board computer systems that would monitor emissions. The ruling required that the information be provided to independent repair shops and dealerships alike.

Over time, however, the on-board computers moved beyond simply tracking emissions to being an integral part of the diagnostic process. Auto manufacturers became the gatekeepers of information about a car’s diagnostics as well as the key masters of that data.

By the early 2000s, multiple states and even the Federal government considered Right to Repair legislation, but it would take until 2012 before any such legislation passed. In November of 2012, the Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly supported the bill, which was signed into law in November of 2013.

Once the Massachusetts law passed, the writing was on the wall, and based on that law the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, Coalition for Auto Repair Equality, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and the Association for Global Automakers signed a Memorandum of Understanding that committed vehicle manufacturers to meet the Massachusetts law requirements in all 50 states. The Memorandum was finalized in 2014.

Why “Right to Repair” is in Jeopardy Now

However, at that time, telematics – the data transmitted wirelessly from vehicles to the manufacturer – were excluded in regards to automotive repair. This was less of a concern in 2012, but today, with modern vehicles relying even more upon computerized data and connected devices becoming the norm in the automotive industry, independent repair shops are again at risk of not having the information they need to appropriately repair customer vehicles.

The telematics data includes a wide variety of information on your vehicle that is transmitted, wirelessly, to a centralized server at the auto manufacturer. That data is processed and re-displayed for end-users, like repair shops.

Except, with telematics being excluded from the law and memorandum, the car companies control this data and can restrict who has access to it. If they choose to only share the data with their dealerships, they are within the Massachusetts law and their agreement from 2014 to do so.

The consequences of not sharing this data can already be seen. Tesla, for example, managed to argue successfully that it should be excluded from sharing data because they don’t have dealerships. In recent years, Tesla owners have had to wait weeks or months to get repairs done. Some data is available to independent shops with a subscription to Tesla’s service portal, which can cost thousands of dollars.

In 2020, voters in Massachusetts returned to the polls and voted to require car manufacturers to use an open-source, unified system for telematics on all cars starting with the 2022 models. Yet, without further agreement from the automotive industry, the law will stay in Massachusetts, since the memorandum that extended the right to repair to all 50 states was voluntary and still excludes telematics. Recently the automotive manufacturers issued a challenge to the new law approved by the voters.

This restriction of information is just the beginning of how automakers are shifting the landscape to become the single source for repairs for the vehicles that they build. With the data about your car locked down and only available to their dealerships, the automotive industry is locking out independent repair shops as well as home mechanics. By extension, this limits or even eliminates your ability to choose who works on your vehicle, where, and what parts are used on it.

What You Can do to Keep Your Right to Repair

Today, you can choose where to take your car for repairs. But as technology becomes more advanced and prevalent in cars, the automakers will work hard to restrict your choices on who fixes your vehicle and what they use to fix it. 

Just like the voters in Massachusetts, who passed the new Right to Repair law with 75% of voters supporting it, you have the power to protect your right to choose, as well as your right to your own vehicle data on your car, truck, or motorcycle.

Contact your representatives at both the state and federal level and let them know that the data from your car is your data and you want to control how it’s used, when it’s used, and by whom. Make sure that you let them know that restricting access to the telemetrics data on vehicles means independent auto shops and small businesses will suffer at the hands of automakers. 

Together we can ensure that the automotive industry does not have a vice grip on data that is rightfully yours.

Are you concerned about your ability to choose who can repair your car and what data you have access to from your own vehicle?

If so, take action now. You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) using the FTC Complaint Assistant website. Also, contact your state and federal representatives and let them know that you want a choice in what goes into and onto your vehicle.

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