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What’s Next After Right to Repair’s Passage?

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Question 1 on the Massachusetts ballot passed with three quarters of the vote, settling the Right to Repair issue in the state and updating a previous law. Now, its passage could have national implications for auto repairers, including in the collision repair industry.

The ballot question requires automakers to create a standardized digital platform that makes certain telematics information available to all Massachusetts repair facilities—not just to dealer shops.

Groups spent millions of dollars campaigning on both sides of the issue. The Auto Care Association and related aftermarket groups, along with independent shops, campaigned in favor of Right to Repair. A coalition formed by automakers opposed the measure.

“I think we anticipated that it would pass again, similar to what happened several years ago with the original Right to Repair law,” says Robert Redding, Washington, D.C. representative for the Automotive Service Association. “It was a clear message, again, about independents and consumers having access to information.”

What exactly does this mean for independents and consumers? If you haven’t been keeping up with the Right to Repair initiative, here’s a recap of the action and a preview of what’s to come.

Background

The first Right to Repair bill in Massachusetts passed in 2012 and aimed to extend diagnostic vehicle information to independent repairers. That bill and the subsequent law exempted most telematics information, which wasn’t as widely used at the time. Massachusetts was the first state to pass such a measure.

Now, telematics information is much more relevant. Commercial fleets have been the bellwether group showing growth. Sandeep Kar, chief strategy officer at Fleet Complete, says that 19.5 million commercial vehicles subscribed to some kind of telematics service in 2015. By 2025, that’s estimated to be 63.5 million vehicles—more than triple the 2015 figure, which he noted during his presentation at the AASA Technology Conference this fall.

The concern was that more and more critical diagnostic information would only be transmitted wirelessly, rather than through an OBD-II port, and become off-limits for much of the independent repair sector.

With the help of independent shops and other key associations, like the Auto Care Association, the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition was able to get the issue in front of 2020 election voters, and the rest was history come Nov. 3.

What does the outcome mean?

The big change to come from the passage of the ballot question is that OEMs will need to create a standardized platform for access to telematics information. This would be available to repairers and vehicle owners.

The implication could be national, because it might not be feasible to create such a telematics platform for vehicles in just one state. A report by Tufts University’s Center for State Policy Analysis examined the ballot question before the vote, noting that the initial 2013 law spurred a larger trend.

“It’s possible the same thing will happen again, with the 2020 sequel setting terms for nationwide standards around telematics data,” the report says.

What’s Next?

Redding with ASA says he could see lawmakers in other states pushing lays similar to Massachusetts’ Right to Repair.

“Some other states will have bills dropped in,” he says. “A state legislator sees it, somebody in that industry segment, or a consumer group gets their representative to enter something.” Such state-level bills might not make much progress, says Redding, because they may be “introduced without a lot of steam”—without an organization’s backing or without much thought from the legislator.

Of perhaps more interest, Redding says, is language found in the House Committee on Appropriations’ 2021 explanatory statement for the Department of Transportation and others, related to the agencies’ appropriation bill.

The statement includes a section regarding telematics, and says, “Vehicle manufacturers currently control access to the telematics data generated and transmitted by the vehicle, but some have raised concerns that the proprietary nature of this data may hinder consumers’ choices in having independent car maintenance shops access such information remotely. The Committee is concerned about potential safety issues and encourages [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] to work with stakeholders.”

Redding says that while it’s unclear what will come of NHTSA taking up the topic, he says that agencies do take such directives seriously and that it’s high time the federal government started discussing telematics.

“That would have been helpful if we’d started that 18 months or two years ago,” he says. ASA’s abiding goal, Redding says, is for independent repairers to have access to what they need to repair vehicles at a reasonable price.

“The OEs have to provide that path here or you’ll see these kinds of initiatives [like in Massachusetts] continuing,” he says.

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