The “Right to Repair” and What’s Being Done To Protect It

When shopping for a new car, drivers tend to view a sophisticated suite of telematic systems and capabilities to serve as a valuable asset in maintaining the vehicle’s health and integrity in the long run. Knowing that their cars are collecting and transmitting operational data that can point to potential malfunctions and hazards can contribute to a greater sense of security on the road than drivers have had in the past.

However, there are also ways in which that special data can turn into a liability and a major inconvenience, which shops and technicians are growing all too familiar with.

Imagine that a driver is taking a road trip on an empty highway, halfway between towns, when his or her check engine light comes on, and the symptoms of a sudden mechanical issue become clear. That driver pulls over, and a tow truck brings the wounded vehicle to the nearest repair shop, with the hope that he or she may be able to get the car fixed and get back on the road soon. Except, there’s a problem.

That telematic data that was a part of the reason the driver bought that car in the first place? Well, it turns out that the manufacturer has its access permissions configured in such a way that only that OEM’s dealership service centers have access to it. Perhaps the shop’s OBD-II code reader isn’t enough to give the driver a complete diagnosis as to what’s truly wrong with your car, and more data is needed to pinpoint the problem. Therefore, that driver’s only option at that point is to have the tow truck haul the still-faulty car out to the nearest dealership for that manufacturer…however far away that may be. And who’s responsible for breaking that bad news? Unfortunately, the shop.

Car owners don’t want to be treated like captives, and shop owners don’t want manufacturers’ over-protectiveness of their cars’ data to reflect poorly on the shop.

The Right to Repair has long been a hot issue for consumers and automotive service professionals across the United States and around the globe, reaching far beyond the automotive sphere into more general realms of consumer technology. Consumers want the right to choose where they bring their vehicles for repair and maintenance, and independent repair shops don’t want to lose entire generations of valuable business by way of having the information they require withheld from them. Massachusetts has become a particularly active front for progress on this issue, with a significant victory coming by way of a ballot initiative in 2012 (1), spearheaded by the Right to Repair Coalition.

In 2012, Massachusetts voters approved the initiative, in order to:

“enact the proposed law requiring motor vehicle manufacturers to allow vehicle owners and independent repair facilities in Massachusetts to have access to the same vehicle diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturers’ Massachusetts dealers and authorized repair facilities,” (1).

As such, the “proposed law,” was indeed enacted in 2013. Despite the importance of the vote to Massachusetts repair shops, the victory was only effective at the state level, for the time being.

However, in 2014, several groups representing various independent repair entities and vehicle manufacturers drafted and released a Memorandum of Understanding, a non-binding agreement that laid essentially signaled a willingness by vehicle manufacturers to apply the terms of Massachusetts’ voter-approved law nationwide (2).

The success of 2012’s vote in Massachusetts was a significant leap ahead for the Right to Repair movement. However, the state law that the initiative’s passage set into motion was worded in such a way that did not specifically address certain new issues that could emerge in the future.

The law, as approved by voters years ago, guarantees that manufacturers cannot prohibit access to proprietary information providing guidance on diagnostic and repair outright, nor can they do so to the manufacture-developed systems that must be used to access that data. However, the law does include language that provides for the right of manufacturers to sell that data to shops, and independent repair businesses worry that those costs could become prohibitive. Despite language in the original law that sets a framework for “fair and reasonable terms” (3) for the exchange of such data, shops worry that they may still lose access to it by simply being unable to afford access to it (4).

Additionally, the information mentioned above strictly concerns information generated by the manufacturer in establishing guides for care of its vehicles, and not information generated by the vehicle itself under driver operation. The law, as approved by voters in 2012 and implemented in 2013, specifically excluded a requirement for manufacturers to provide telematic data to car owners and shops, including:

“Automatic airbag deployment and crash notification, remote diagnostics, navigation, stolen vehicle location, remote door unlock, transmitting emergency and vehicle location information to public safety answering points and any other service integrating vehicle location technology and wireless communications.” (3,5).

Under these terms, manufacturers that implement newer mobile communicative technologies into their vehicles’ suite of data generation can still retain exclusive access to certain areas of their vehicles’ collected data, by way of hiding that information within manufacturer-specific systems that require specialized software or equipment to access. Using proprietary access routes as a loophole to keep their telematics accessible only to franchised dealers could continue to hinder the ability of consumers to obtain proper diagnoses and repairs at non-dealer outlets (6).

With those concerns still on the horizon, the Right to Repair Coalition has regrouped in order to introduce a new 2020 voter initiative (7), set to appear on Massachusetts ballots this coming November, that would require manufacturers of cars sold in the state to guarantee car owners and independent shops access to telematic data by way of an easily accessible digital platform. If the initiative is successful, its passage may, as in the past, lead to another national-scale agreement between manufacturers and representatives of auto repair service professionals that would extend the protections from Massachusetts out to drivers across the entire United States.

Autonet Mobile knows that a shop doesn’t make its techs; techs make the shops! Successful vehicle repair is technician-focused, and every driver deserves to have the right tech working on his or her car. Therefore, it’s essential for every tech to have all the information needed to diagnose and repair any vehicle that comes onto his or her lift, no matter how new or high-tech. With proper access to the right tools and info, techs can continue to prove to a wide base of customers that they’re qualified for whatever comes their way. Our ShopCure and CarCure platforms make sure that your experience with all those different makes and models gets accounted for, and gets used to match your techs to the right customers, who are ready to transact and start a productive relationship with you and your shop!

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