The Right to Repair Effect

Sept. 1, 2012
After years of debate, the country’s first Right to Repair bill passed in Massachusetts.

Right to Repair has been a hot topic of discussion for years. Legislation has been considered in state legislatures across the country, including Oregon, New York and Wisconsin. But none of the bills ever took shape after policy makers recognized its unintended negative consequences on the automotive industry, says Daniel Gage, director of communications and public affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM).

That changed in July, when Right to Repair legislation took a major turn in Massachusetts. 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.

The approved legislation requires auto manufacturers to make for sale all repair and diagnostic tools and information to independent shops as are provided to dealerships at a “fair and reasonable price,” says Art Kinsman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition. Everyone who fixes cars, whether it’s a shop owner or a driveway mechanic, will have access to the information to “level the playing field” between repairers.

The AAM, which represents a group of 12 domestic and foreign manufacturers, said achieving a compromised bill before the question appeared on November ballots was critical to reduce possible problems.

The AAM was never opposed to the concept of providing shops with access to the information, especially since independent shops complete 75 percent of post-warranty repairs. Instead, the AAM had concerns about how the original version of the bill mandated the way in which information should be presented, and the time frame that was suggested to make it happen.

Kinsman says the original legislation called 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.

Gage says the J2534 scan tool is 15-year-old technology, initially developed for emissions testing, and is now considered out-of-date. He says the original bill called for that technology to become the standard that every vehicle would need to be diagnosed and repaired through.

Gage says the J2534 mandate would have been harmful to the entire automotive industry. For shops, he says it would have eventually led to a slowed repair process, extended repair times and reduced customer satisfaction.

There was possibility of the bill causing a stop sale for auto manufacturers in Massachusetts, too. If manufacturers were unable to have their fleet 100 percent compliant by model year 2015, they wouldn’t have been able to sell vehicles in the state. Gage says that wasn’t enough time for manufacturers to redesign vehicles.

The compromised bill now gives auto manufacturers until 2018 to become compliant. It also allows for new types of technologies to be used, rather than long-term use of
the J2534 scan tool, allowing for future innovation.

However, Gage says repair information still won’t be accessible for free like many shops had hoped. They still need to invest in expensive software and website subscriptions to operate the scan tool.

Dan Stander, director of the Automotive Service Association’s (ASA) Collision Division, suggests the bill is a solution to a nonexistent problem. Shops now have access to repair information they need with its passage, but several avenues already existed with the same purpose—information providers, ALLDATA, Motor Information Services, and, for example.

There is speculation that passage of the Massachusetts bill will set a precedent for other states. Kinsman says he isn’t aware of any new legislative proposals in other states, but “it seems everyone is kind of watching Massachusetts to see what happens here.”

The Right to Repair legislation is still scheduled to appear on Massachusetts’ November ballot.