In 2012, Massachusetts became the first and only state in the U.S. to enact an “automotive right to repair” law. The landmark act required manufacturers to provide independent repair shops access on “fair and reasonable terms” to the same types of repair information and tools it provides to authorized dealers.
Fast forward to 2020 — the state added an amendment to close loopholes in the original law. Seventy-five percent of Massachusetts voters voted in favor of Right to Repair legislation.
Question 1, on the 2020 Massachusetts ballot, updated the previous law to make telematics information available to all repairers. The vote gave independent auto shops access to data that automakers might otherwise control.
Question 1’s adoption closed loopholes in the 2012 state law that exempts independent mechanics from accessing telematics data. According to Tommy Hickey, director of Massachusetts Right to Repair, 90 percent of manufactured vehicles in 2020 are equipped with telematics systems.
The new 2020 Massachusetts law states, “Manufacturers will have until car model year 2022 to install a standard open data platform. The platform will let vehicle owners and independent mechanics access telematics, wirelessly transmitted data that is typically sent directly to a remote server.”
This is the first article in a two-part series aimed at ending the “unfair monopoly” of car manufacturers maintaining control over repair information, resulting in independent shops not being able to service customers’ vehicles due to lack of information.
The Growing Use of Telematics
Until recently, diagnostic data generated by cars were retrieved by connecting to a standard on-board diagnostics port (OBD port). State law in Massachusetts and a nationwide memorandum of understanding (MOU) between major car manufacturers and the repair industry guaranteed consumers and independent repair shops the ability to access diagnostic information available through the OBD port.
The switch to telematics systems — systems that collect and wirelessly transmit mechanical data to a remote server — puts this access at risk, as these systems are not standardized across different car manufacturers. To maintain an effective right to repair cars, policymakers are urged to 1) regulate the way manufacturers are allowed to communicate to their consumers in their vehicles and 2) guarantee that access to diagnostic information transmitted via telematics systems remains open to all.
Specifically, the ballot mandates removing the telematics data exemption and mandates that manufacturers equip vehicles with an open-access platform which would:
- Be standardized across all of the manufacturer’s makes and models;
- Enable a vehicle owner to access all mechanical data, including telematics data, through a mobile application;
- Allow a vehicle owner to authorize independent repair shops to directly access this data to maintain, diagnose, or repair the owner’s vehicle; and
- Authorize independent repair shops to send commands to in-vehicle components if needed for maintenance, diagnostics, and repair.
The Right to Remain Competitive
Independent mechanics may retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics through a smartphone-based application with a vehicle owner’s permission with the platforms in place.
Question 1 pertains more to the future than the present. The data shared wirelessly is the same data that repair people can get via the [onboard diagnostic] port under a vehicle’s dashboard. However, the data under the dashboard may not reside there in the future. Therefore, the ballot question is forward-thinking because it ensures access to telematics data no matter where it lives.
Maintaining competition in the automobile repair market is particularly important considering the centrality of vehicles to the economy. The automobile is one of the more valued personal property items of most Americans. A recent Gallup poll found that eighty-six percent of Americans own or lease a car or some other type of vehicle, and sixty-four percent of Americans drive daily.
Right to Repair is Coming to a State Near You
As the “right to repair” movement builds momentum, 14 states are exploring the legislation and debating potential laws, including New Jersey, Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Vermont, and Washington.
New barriers to a competitive repair market have emerged as vehicle technology has become increasingly sophisticated. The OEs are still intent on putting up roadblocks wherever possible to keep repair and maintenance.
However, it’s imperative to help American motorists break down barriers to vehicle repair. Owners and their trusted independent repair shops need access to the critical information, tools, and parts required to keep their cars or trucks on the road safer, longer.
The Struggle Isn’t Over
Although Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved the right to repair initiative, auto manufacturers are suing to block implementation of the state’s new law. Using fear-mongering language, the automakers claim allowing independent shops to access mechanical and software repair data will “make serious cyberattacks much more likely and deadly than the attacks on pipelines and meat processors currently in the news.”
In part 2 of our series, we will dive deeper into right-to-repair’s latest court challenges.