Thursday, March 22, 2012
Massachusetts ‘Right to Repair Act’ Sent to the Legislature
Photo entitled "Duct Tape and Cars: A Global Standard" by David Edenfield on Flickr
On January 17, 2012, the 2012 version of the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair Act was introduced to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The Act, better known to most as the “Right to Repair Act,” seeks to remedy situations in which consumers and independent automobile repair shops cannot access the necessary information to properly diagnose and repair a vehicle. Recently, groups supporting the Right to Repair Act in Massachusetts collected more than 80,000 signatures in support of offering the question to voters as a ballot initiative.
The Right to Repair Act was first introduced as legislation over 10 years ago, when it was introduced to the United States Congress as H.R. 2735, the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act of 2001. The Act was created in response to a growing trend in the independent repair industry in which independent repair shops were forced to turn away customers because they were unable to access the vehicles’ on-board diagnostic systems.
Several motor vehicle industry players have long voiced strong opposition to the Right to Repair Act, with one industry advocate going so far as to call it, “a solution in search of a problem.” The Bill purports to make information more accessible to repair shops in the independent automobile industry by requiring manufacturers to, “maintain a diagnostic and repair information system which shall enable the owner of the motor vehicle or the owner’s designated independent repair facility, the capability to utilize such system” and which is composed of, “the same diagnostic and repair information, including technical updates, which the manufacturer makes available to its dealers.”
The information will not be free, however, with a statutory proclamation that the system be available to the aforementioned parties, “on a hourly, daily, monthly or yearly subscription basis at cost and terms that are no greater than fair market value and nondiscriminatory.”
Unfortunately, even if the problem of wholly-inaccessible information were to exist today (and by most accounts, the NASTF has reduced nearly all information gaps of that nature), the Act would still fall short of its goals. Most independent repair manufacturers today that are unable to repair vehicles due to computer-related shortcomings are unable to do so not because they cannot “potentially” access the information, but rather because the acquisition is too expensive.
The issue lies in the diverse number of makes and models that are repaired by independent repair shops, as compared to authorized factory dealers. Typically an authorized dealer will repair a limited number of brands—usually those within the family sold by the dealer. An independent repairer, however, fixes whatever the next patron owns. The expense of purchasing a computer designed for a Mercedes vehicle, then, could be split amongst hundreds of cars by a Mercedes dealership, but might be split between a handful of cars at an independent repair shop. The implication is simple: it will likely continue to remain economically infeasible for independent repair shops to acquire the information and technology utilized by authorized dealerships.
The 2012 iteration of the Right to Repair Act is titled, “An Act to Protect Motor Vehicle Owners and Small Businesses in Repairing Motor Vehicles,” and has been assigned bill tracking number H.B. 3882.
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