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The National Impact of Right to Repair

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A new national agreement will enact the controversial Massachusetts Right to Repair bill’s provisions nationwide and eliminate the need for additional U.S. states to pursue similar legislation.

The Massachusetts bill, which was approved in November 2012, requires automobile manufacturers to provide the same diagnostic tools, repair and service information, and software for all light vehicles to independent repair shops as they do for dealerships. Complying with the bill will require auto manufacturers to make all necessary repair information publicly available immediately, and make every vehicle compatible with a standardized J-2534 diagnostic interface by model year 2018, says Daniel Gage, director of communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance).

In January, the Alliance, Association of Global Automakers, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), and Coalition for Automotive Repair Equality (CARE) agreed to a national Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to prevent other states from pursuing Right to Repair actions while the Massachusetts model is implemented across the country.

“We want to make sure we can do the same thing in 50 states; we don’t want 50 different state laws,” says Mike Stanton, president and CEO of Global Automakers.

Supporters say Right to Repair will level the playing field for shops, but some in the industry are concerned about manufacturer compliance and whether the impact of the bill will be significant, since repair information is already available through several other sources.

Access and Enforcement

Automotive Service Association (ASA) chairman Darrell Amberson says though the organization supports voluntary agreements and nonlegislative solutions, the Right to Repair effort will likely not make much difference as far as repair information is concerned. The information has been available to shops for more than a decade through resources such as ALLDATA, Identifix, National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), OEM websites and other information providers.

“Shops already have access to everything they need for the most part,” says Amberson, an executive at LaMettry’s Collision Inc., a Minnesota-based operator of eight collision centers and two mechanical shops. “Some of the concerns that have been addressed have been exaggerated, which represents a lack of effort on some peoples’ part to find the information.”

But Sandy Bass-Cors, executive director of CARE, argues that although shops previously had access to OEM information, it wasn’t a requirement for all auto manufacturers to provide it—and there were several circumstances when shops couldn’t find what they needed. 

“This has been piecemealed before. You would have one car company that was good about providing information that we would pay for, but others were not,” she says.

An enforcement protocol has been put in place to resolve issues caused by noncompliant OEMs, Bass-Cors says. Independent repairers can submit direct requests to auto manufacturers, and manufacturers are required to respond within 30 days. If the outcome isn’t satisfactory, repairers can submit the issue to a new dispute resolution panel to make a ruling.

Obtaining the information still won’t be free, though, Gage says. There will be costs associated with acquiring the information just like there are today.

Standardized Diagnostics

The most significant impact of the MOU, Gage says, is that auto manufacturers are required to transition all diagnostic information from proprietary systems to the J-2534 standard diagnostic interface by vehicle model year 2018. Gage says shops will still incur costs associated with diagnostic information because the J-2534 interface will require regular software updates, but needed tools should be reduced.

“That’s the real benefit to independent shops,” Gage says, noting there are multiple tool manufacturers that provide J-2534-compliant devices and a majority of shops already use one. “Eventually, [OEMs] will use the same hardware and setup so shops don’t need to have multiple tools and laptops specific to one brand. The need to have a tool for each manufacturer will be obsolete.”

The ASA, however, believes the J-2534 standard could prevent adoption of improved diagnostic options in the future, Amberson says. There are concerns that it’s not realistic for all auto manufacturers to comply with the standard, the interface might not be able to do everything that has been proposed, and it could restrict future technology advances.

Gage says the MOU ensures future innovation of diagnostics and enhancements beyond J-2534.

Aaron Lowe, vice president of governmental affairs for AAIA, says each manufacturer will be on its own timeline to meet the standard. He anticipates most companies will be compliant sooner than 2018, and some companies, such as Toyota, already are.

“All shops will be able to perform every repair that a dealership can do,” Lowe says. “This is going to increase the capability and affordability for independent shops to work on multiple makes and models of cars.” 

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