Massachusetts approves Right to Repair ballot question

Nov. 9, 2012

Nov. 9, 2012—Massachusetts voters this week approved the state’s Right to Repair ballot question, which will require auto manufacturers to provide all repair diagnostic tools and information to independent shops as are provided to dealerships at a fair and reasonable price.

The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition said voters approved the law by the largest margin of any ballot question in recent history.

“Voters sent a clear message to automakers—it’s my car, I paid for it, I’ll get it fixed where I want, not where some big corporation tells me to,” said Art Kinsman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition. “Right to Repair is about true ownership. When you buy a car from a manufacturer’s dealer, you ought to have the information necessary to fix that vehicle. Technology should never leave the rights of car owners behind.”

The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition said it is now illegal for automakers to withhold repair and diagnostic information for passenger cars, motorcycles, RVs, large trucks and construction vehicles.  

“We have now achieved complete victory in Massachusetts on Right to Repair. Until there is a national Right to Repair law or agreement, we hope this emboldens other states to strike a blow for car owners and pass their own Right to Repair statutes,” Kinsman said.

But this week’s approval of the Right to Repair law now creates conflict. Just months before the bill was scheduled to appear on November voting ballots for decision, a compromised version was passed by the Massachusetts Legislature July 31. There are now two versions of the law in effect, which have significant differences.

“With passage of Question 1, Massachusetts is now in the unfortunate position of having two conflicting Right to Repair laws on the books—the compromise law and the ballot question,” the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) said in a press release_notes. “This creates confusion and uncertainty for automakers, repairers and consumers.”

The ballot version calls for auto manufacturers to maintain a website that all repairers could access through a universal J2534 scan tool by 2015. The tool, which would work on all vehicle makes and models, would prevent repairers from spending unnecessary time searching for vehicle schematics and information or sending jobs back to dealers for assistance.

But the AAM, which represents a group of 12 domestic and foreign manufacturers, is concerned that the ballot version could create several problems.

Daniel Gage, director of communications and public affairs for AAM, said the J2534 scan tool is 15-year-old technology, initially developed for emissions testing, and is now considered out-of-date. He says the ballot version of the law calls for that technology to become the standard that every vehicle would need to be diagnosed and repaired through.

Gage said the J2534 mandate could be harmful to the entire automotive industry. For shops, he says it could eventually lead to a slowed repair process, extended repair times and reduced customer satisfaction.

In addition, Gage said the bill could cause a stop sale for auto manufacturers in Massachusetts. If manufacturers are unable to have their fleet 100 percent compliant by model year 2015, they will not be able to sell vehicles in the state. Gage said 2015 is not enough time for manufacturers to redesign vehicles.

The version of the law that passed in July, which was approved by OEMs, still requires auto manufacturers to make all repair and diagnostic tools and information available to all repair shops. But auto manufacturers are given until 2018 to become compliant. The compromised bill also allows for new types of technologies to be used, rather than long-term use of 
the J2534 scan tool. Gage said that would allow for future innovation.

“This is a difficult and complex issue. Automakers continue to support the negotiated Right to Repair compromise—previously agreed to by all parties—that became law prior to the election,” the AAM said. “We hope to work with legislators to fully reinstate that joint agreement as soon as possible.”

“The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition remains committed to working with lawmakers and all affected parties to ensure that any reconciliation of the ballot question with existing law is done with careful thought and consideration of the wishes of Massachusetts’ voters and car owners, especially in light of the resounding and historic nature of the vote,” the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition said.