Last summer, I wrote about the efforts in Massachusetts to pass legislation guaranteeing residents an automobile "Right to Repair". The proposed law would allow a Massachusetts resident to take their car to either an independent repair shop or to a dealer to be fixed. The reason given for the law is that currently, independent car repair shops in Massachusetts and across the US do not have unfettered access to all the diagnostic and repair information as well as tools that are available to a car manufacturer's dealership.
Last year time ran out on the Massachusetts legislative session before the law could be voted on.
The act was reintroduced earlier this year under House Bill 102 which states that:
"The manufacturer of a motor vehicle sold in the commonwealth shall make available for purchase to independent motor vehicle repair facilities and motor vehicle owners in a non-discriminatory basis and cost as compared to the terms and costs charged to an authorized dealer or authorized motor vehicle repair facility all diagnostic, service and repair information that the manufacturer makes available to its authorized dealers and authorized motor vehicle repair facilities in the same form and the same manner as it is made available to authorized dealers or an authorized motor vehicle repair facility of the motor vehicle. ... "
"The information must include, but is not limited to, the following: (1) all diagnostic, service, training and repair information and tools related to the proper and complete diagnosis, service and repair of a motor vehicle including any diagnostic codes used to activate all controls that are required to be activated by a repair technician to diagnose, service and repair the motor vehicle; and (2) tools and software capabilities, including wireless capabilities, related to the diagnosis, service and repair of a motor vehicle."
The Right to Repair Act is scheduled for a hearing on the 28th of June in front of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection, and there is hope that it will be voted on later this year.
In addition, at the US federal government level, Congressmen Todd Platts (R-PA) and Edolphus Towns (D-NY) introduced in April the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act (HR 1449) which basically covers the same ideas outlined in the Massachusetts bill above.
The AAA among others (see the list at the Right to Repair Coalition) supports Right to Repair legislation. The AAA says given the increased complexity of automobiles, especially because of their electronics, that not allowing independent service shops full and easy access to the information and diagnostics tools needed to repair cars will lead to less competition and higher car repair bills.
However, there are also many organizations who opposed the legislation as well. In Massachusetts, for instance, the Massachusetts Police Association, the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Highway Loss Data Institute are against it. These three groups believe such a law will make it easier for thieves to access sensitive security information and steal cars.
Automobile manufacturers and dealers are also opposed for obvious reasons, and argue that for as little as $10 a day, repair shops can get the information they want on most vehicles from the non-profit National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). Even some independent car repair shops are against it, since they have already invested in advanced diagnostic devices and see such a law as eroding their competitive edge, a Melrose Free Press article says.
The Massachusetts Auto Coalition - which is opposing the Right to Repair Act - says that in addition to the theft issue, car owners don't need the Act since 99.8% of them have no problem getting their car repaired and that the passage of the Act would lead to increased counterfeiting of auto parts.
The Lowell-Sun has a nice article describing the Right to Repair arguments being made - pro and con - in Massachusetts. The same ones are being played out at the national level as well.
The only issue both sides of the argument seem to agree on is that automobiles are being more electronically complex and that as a result repairing cars will require more complex diagnostics and increased technical skills to cope with the situation. Volkswagen Group of America CIO Warren Ritchie recently said in an article appearing in ComputerWorld that future Volkswagens should be really considered as "rolling computers."
However, as Ford has found out, that may not entirely be a good thing. Ford CEO Alan Mulally admitted last week that there have been on-going problems with its Sync and especially MyFord Touch technologies. Ford has been taken to task in the press the last few weeks for rolling out MyFord Touch before it was ready in its latest Ford Edge SUV and Explorer vehicles.
I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has had a problem getting his or her car repaired at an independent repair shop because it wasn't able to get the information or tools needed from the manufacturer to make the repair.
I never have had such a problem: my repair issues center more on getting parts for my 1986 Honda Prelude.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.