State of Repair is Motherboard’s exploration of DIY culture, device repair, ownership, and the forces fighting to lock down access to the things you own.
People in Massachusetts overwhelmingly supported new right-to-repair legislation for cars in 2020. Now automotive manufacturers are doing whatever they can to delay and impede the implementation of the new law. The law was supposed to take effect in 2022, but new legislation filed in the Massachusetts legislature would push that date back to 2025.
The specific issue is whether car owners and independent repair shops should have access to the telemetric data generated by their cars. As cars become increasingly complex and computerized, the data they generate is key to conducting safe repairs. Access to that data has been withheld by automakers to keep people from repairing their own cars.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry trade group made up of almost all car makers—including Ford, Honda, Hyundai, and GM—said that giving people access to telemetric data was dangerous. Massachusetts put the issues before voters in 2020 and the automakers spent $26 million running negative ads about the law. One ad implied that letting people access the data generated by their own cars would embolden sexual predators. Voters didn’t buy it and voted by a margin of 75 to 25 to allow people access to the telemetric data.
The automakers kept fighting after the law passed and sued to prevent its implementation, arguing it was unconstitutional and it would be impossible to comply in the time allowed. It also pointed to a letter from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that claimed such a law would make it easy for hackers to access people’s vehicles. It’s a claim that’s been roundly and repeatedly debunked.
The results of the lawsuit are still pending and automakers continue to fight. On Monday, Massachuset’s Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure heard automaker backed proposals that would delay the implementation of the law until 2025. “After spending $26 million only to be resoundingly defeated at the ballot box, the big automakers and dealers still don’t get it,” Tommy Hickey, Director, Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, said in a statement.
“Massachusetts consumers have spoken, and the law now gives them the right to control their own repair data so that they can get their car fixed where they want,” Hickey said. “However, instead of listening to their customers and attempting to comply with the ballot initiative, automakers and dealers filed a baseless, anti-democratic lawsuit. Now, they are again trying to thwart the will of the voters and ‘kick the can down road’ by using the Legislature to delay the law’s deadlines. We hope and expect that the Legislature will honor the will of their constituents, who voted by a 75% majority for Right to Repair.”
The new law mirrors similar legislation Massachusts voters passed in 2012 requiring car dealers to make wired repair codes universal. There was a loophole in that law that exempted wireless diagnostics. The new legislation, if it’s finally implemented, would close that loophole.
The battle in Massachusetts is part of a wider war for the right-to-repair. People want to fix their own stuff and device manufacturers—whether it’s Apple or Ford—don’t want them to. But 2021 was a good year for the movement. Biden issued an executive order aimed at fostering right-to-repair, Apple announced a program it said would help some people fix their devices, and national legislation was filed in Congress.
In Massachusetts, it increasingly feels like automakers are fighting a losing battle.