By on November 5, 2020

Independent repair shops and aftermarket parts retailers have been pitted against major automakers and their dealer networks in Massachusetts for years. The state has served as the primary battleground for right-to-repair legislation that would permit/prohibit customers and independent entities from working on or modifying vehicles. However, a major victory came on Tuesday after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure updating existing right-to-repair laws to give vehicle owners and small shops better access to vehicle data typically reserved for industry giants.

The resulting decision gives consumers substantially more control over what’s done with the data being harvested by the industry (often without their knowledge) and frees up their options on who to go to when their vehicle needs fixing.

Full disclosure: this is one of those topics where I fall so hard on one side of this issue that I have to admit to my bias upfront to avoid looking like I’m acting in bad faith. I staunchly support right-to-repair laws in all forms and find the industry opposition to them reprehensible. Owners should absolutely have access to the data their vehicles generate and independent repair shops should have access to the tools used by branded service centers.

With that out of the way, it’s at least fairly obvious why industry players want to discourage the right-to-repair movement. They want the impunity to harvest driving data without someone looking over their shoulder and nullify the scant amount of competition that comes from do-it-yourself types and independent garages.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation (which represents practically every car manufacturer currently selling in the U.S.) has repeatedly stressed the importance of modernizing vehicles with “mobility” features, like data acquisition. But it hasn’t been too keen on sharing said data with customers. It has claimed that the accumulated info could be dangerous and open consumers up to privacy/security concerns. While this begs the question of why they’re harvesting on-road data if it’s so freaking dangerous, only the most naive person would come to any answer other than it making them money.

Of course, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) can blame businesses for being greedy too. It’s has been claiming aftermarket retailers and small shops just want the data for themselves. While technically true, some amount of data procurement is required just to work on modern vehicles and it’s not like anybody truly believes one business entity is going to act more responsibly with consumer info than another.

John Bozzella, CEO of AAI has also said government regulators have shared concerns about security — referencing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specifically, according to Automotive News. He claimed the NHTSA shared concerns about some of the language used in the ballot measure.

“Automakers have made available all the diagnostic and repair information that is needed to service a vehicle safely and securely. That consumer choice will not change,” he said. “Moving forward, automakers will continue their work to protect our customers and prioritize their safety, privacy and vehicle security.”

From AN:

The updated law expands access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair by requiring automakers to make available all mechanical information needed to diagnose and repair vehicles as well as perform routine maintenance starting with 2022 models. It also gives vehicle owners and independent repair shops access to real-time mechanical data from telematics — systems that collect and wirelessly transmit information such as crash notifications, remote diagnostics and navigation from the vehicle to a remote server.

Meanwhile, right-to-repair supporters (including the Auto Care Association and retailers like O’Reilly Auto Parts) have claimed the passed initiative closes a loophole in the current law that exempts data transmitted wirelessly through telematics system from being shared and will ultimately give vehicle owners more choice and control over how their data is used.

The ballot passed with 75 percent of voters in Massachusetts supporting. Right-to-repair advocates have called it an important victory and feel the state should continue setting a national example.

[Image: CAT SCAPE/Shutterstock]

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36 Comments on “Massachusetts Passes Right-To-Repair Protections...”


  • avatar
    jalop1991

    it seems to me, this is more like HIPAA than not. “My data belong to me, not anyone else, and only I may make the decision on who sees it.”

    When the car starts up for the first time and I get to click the button for “don’t share my data,” I’ll believe it. Until then, though, it’s a fair bet that the automakers will continue to collect the data regardless–because, with wireless connectivity (I’m looking at you, VW and Golf 8), they can.

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    Help me here. Does my car have to use my cell phone to communicate with the manufacturer? Or are cars coming with their own cell phone connections? If it is using my phone/data then there is no way my car should be able to hijack my cell phone for it’s own use.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      My Super Duty doesn’t need my cell phone to communicate. If I can lock doors/start/stop/read tire pressures remotely (and I mean 1000 miles away) using my cell phone which is also 1000 miles away, Ford with their giant cell phone in the sky can do the same whenever and wherever they desire. Until I pull that modem fuse, that is.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice work MA.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Now, we also require legislation to allow the right to repair cellphones.

    Which of course, the fruit named company staunchly opposes.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Fruit company bad.

    • 0 avatar
      Old_WRX

      It’s a shame about them. They make some reasonably nice stuff, but then they act like total paranoid a$$holes.

      Also, some of their designs where they felt such a desperate need to avoid showing any fasteners on the outside make getting inside them ten times more difficult than it needs to be. I guess I’m just an old fuddyduddy. I like my ancient wheezing PC which allows access to the internals in about 2 seconds. Of course, it is so much better without the tiresome OS from a certain company headquartered in Redmond, WA.

      And, closer to the topic, I’ve heard a lot of farmer are (or at least were) very unhappy with John Deere over Deere’s refusal to share what the farmers would need to be able to repair their own equipment. Farmers are somewhat famous for their reliance in fixing their gear.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “No user serviceable parts inside”

    BS

    Thank you, voters of Massachusetts! At least you haven’t completely lost your minds.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Can you repair a Tesla? Or do you have to wait until Tesla gets around to it?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I believe you can. They were forced to make their spare parts catalog available a couple years back, just for this reason.

      And there are third-party repair shops who can handle them.

      But like many vehicles, a repair while it’s still under warranty is likely to go back to the mfr’s shop. I never darken the dealer’s door for any repair, unless it’s warranty work.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Yes, Teslas are repairable, but they fought tooth and nail to keep away independents. We now have multiple EV repair shops in Massachusetts. The most famous is Rich Benoit’s Electrified Garage staffed by former Tesla employees.

        All of the auto companies were battling hard to keep it from passing. One of the most extreme scare ads showed a room full of hackers taking over a car and crashing it.

        I think long term we need laws giving us copyright to any information we generate. Cookies, GPS, etc. Any entity selling it would have to pay us and we’d be paid royalties on it’s use. Just like music or a work of art. Think about it. You’re using your mind and muscle effort to create what is essentially a written document. The document might contain GPS data or cookies with tracking information. It’s something you create. If others want to use this creation, they should seek permission and pay royalties.

        Ultimately, I think tracking will get far worse than it is now. There are cameras everywhere and it’s only a matter of time until companies start putting that information together to track every move you make without you even having a device. You pull out of the driveway and your neighbors doorbell came captures your address and car license plate. Other doorbells and security cams track your movement through the streets. Security cam at walmart tracks your movements. The camera at the checkout captures even more information. Wait until your insurance company raises your rate because of data from doorbell cams. They see that you bought beer at Walmart, then went to a friend’s to watch football. Your reaction times weren’t so good while driving… It’s doable now.

        • 0 avatar
          Imagefont

          Privacy has the potential to be the casualty of the connected world we increasingly live in. And I like my privacy, it is my right, theoretically at least. Some people like to go on and on about their gun rights, that’s how I feel about my privacy. But now I’m concerned that my TV is talking to my phone and comparing notes with the traffic camera and telling people things about me that they have no business knowing. And even old cars can have their license plates read and someone knows you’re not home. This is when I want my government to come in and make some rules.

          • 0 avatar
            Old_WRX

            What is needed is something like the internet browser extensions that prevents tracking by sending back fake data to the snooping website.

  • avatar
    Stanley Steamer

    This should open up those proprietary on board diagnostic systems like Land Rover uses. It was always difficult to diagnose my P38, even though the Australians were able to build some work-around systems.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    “Full disclosure: this is one of those topics where I fall so hard on one side of this issue that I have to admit to my bias upfront to avoid looking like I’m acting in bad faith.”

    this is all anyone asks. I agree with you by the way.

    Everyone has some bias…its only a problem when they pretend they don’t.

    having said that,
    “John Bozzella, CEO of AAI has also said government regulators have shared concerns about security — referencing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specifically, according to Automotive News. He claimed the NHTSA shared concerns about some of the language used in the ballot measure.”

    So as someone in the field, since when has security through obscurity been anything but a terrible idea? Fact is, to this point, security has been an afterthopught if it got thought of at all on vehicles. If you really care about it, make your code available to security researchers (open source is a pipe dream). Harder to cheat on emissions though when you make the code available I guess.

  • avatar
    monkeydelmagico

    Good. Put more items like this to the ballot vote. Tired of industry lobbyist dictating the terms and conditions of MY ownership. John Deere should be next. Just like a car, a tractor shouldn’t have “if seal is broken….” sticker anywhere on it.

  • avatar
    Yankee

    As someone who has been working on cars professionally for over 30 years and who currently works for a government contractor overseeing a state safety and emissions program, I had to add a footnote to this discussion. When I teach emissions inspection classes and cover OBD-II, I always say that every once in a great while, government gets something right. Prior to it’s implementation into law in 1996, shops were spending insane amounts of money for scan tools, cartridges, and connectors to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of computer diagnostics. OBD-II standardization empowered consumers and independent shops alike with the ability to diagnose and repair vehicles and not be at the mercy of the manufacturer/dealer. I believe we are at the point again where further legislation is necessary to ensure an even playing field and fight collusion by the manufacturers to drive traffic back to the dealer. But consumers have a part to play too, by considering what they truly need. Things like lane departure warnings and laser-guided cruise control turn a minor front bumper cover replacement into an expensive odyssey that ends with (if not begins with) a mandatory trip to the dealer for the expensive equipment needed to calibrate these advanced sensors. Technology is wonderful and has saved many lives, but there is always a point at which you must ask yourself how much technology you really need, lest you unwittingly make something like a car purchase into a lifelong contract with that manufacturer.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      a) I absolutely love OBD-II.
      b) Strangely, my OBD-II scanners would not work with my family’s EV’s.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        I don’t know if you are being serious, but I had to buy a special OBDII USB dongle for my phone and an obviously hacked together app for my phone to reset all of the warnings on the Leaf after it was repaired. My year old OBDII scanner would not talk to it. It is the only vehicle I’ve ever used it on that it was an issue.

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          @Art, my 1995 GMT400 doesn’t speak OBD2 – it flashes the check engine light for a very limited set of codes, and the ‘scan tool’ is a bent paperclip which I keep in the ziploc bag with the registration, insurance info and the ‘wheel key’. Much better than nothing, but nothing like OBD2.

          My daughter’s 2010 Liberty has an amazing amount of data, which is important because it also tends to have more issues than our other vehicles. If it reports a misfire I can use my older scan tool (haven’t figured out how to do this on the nicer newer one) to get the actual misfire counts – if the count is ~8 out of a possible ~65K, I know the problem isn’t severe.

          [Sidebar: It is amazing to ponder how the misfire counter works, since it uses the crankshaft position sensor and the engine is turning pretty quickly.]

          So OBD2 is a big thing and I have always been aware of it because my ’95 missed it by one model year.

          When I was driving an early model Leaf (and the driveway was full of one-year-old vehicles except the truck), I looked over at the Leaf one day and thought “I wonder…” and grabbed my old OBD2 scan tool and tried to hook it up. When I noticed that the form factor was different (it wouldn’t plug in), I said “Oh man here we go again with 47 different systems,” but that’s as far as I got.

          I didn’t need to diagnose anything, was just curious about whether it was compatible at all (ex. accelerator pedal sensor, ambient temperature).

          @Scoutdude below, this wasn’t just a case of my scan tool not being ‘nice enough’ – the adapter didn’t physically fit (as Art and SCE pointed out).

          Was watching a youtube video recently where the scanner returned a code of something like “Water Pump Not Found” – not sure I’m ready for a water pump which is that “smart.”

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            The Leaf has the standard OBD-II port so any scanner will plug into it. It is just that they don’t communicate with the car. Leaf Spy is just an app and it will work with pretty much any quality Bluetooth ELM adapater. The Chevy Bolt also uses a standard OBD-II connector.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Scoutdude, if you are gaslighting me, you are doing an extremely effective job. :-)

            I officially accept your word over my memory (hopefully the early connectors were different and I’m not insane?) LOL.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        As Art says, I’ve had to use a special dongle to get my 12 Leaf, and now my 19 Ioniq EV, to talk via OBD-II. Even then it talks through an app, and only gives what the app provides. The Leaf app suited the engineer in me, providing battery balance info, etc, but the app for my Hyundai has much less information. Neither app comes from the mfr.

        I just don’t think OBD-II was design with EVs in mind, so standard OBD-II scanners are of no use. Most of its outputs are ICE-based.

        Just a guess, but agreeing on a standardized comm protocol for EVs via OBD-II is probably like the Wild West right now. Mfrs can’t even agree on a common charging protocol. With Tesla owning the domestic EV market, they’ll just do whatever they want.

        And, truth be told, EVs require so little under-hood maintenance that spending time developing a standardized comm protocol must seem like a waste of time to mfrs.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The original purpose of OBD II was so that the gov’t could do “plug-in” emissions testing instead of testing actual emissions and the expensive equipment required to do so.

          So yeah the standardized codes are for emissions related things when it comes to power train. Yes they did reserve number ranges for mfg specific codes and they are given using the same communication protocols.

          So it has nothing to do with the vehicle and everything to do with the scan tool and whether it is capable of reading the mfg specific codes.

          Get the right scan tool and you get the codes and data. Unfortunately many scan tools don’t bother with that, especially the ones intended for DIY.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          My leaf uses a standard OBDII connector. It’s useful for monitoring battery health and was how I confirmed it had hidden reserved space.

      • 0 avatar
        fiasco

        I love OBDII cars old enough to be exempt from the Check Engine light inspection InstaFail in NH. :)

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          There are new cars without check engine lights. EVs don’t have them along with other failure components like exhaust, oxygen sensors, evap hoses, etc. Actually, with regen, brakes almost fall into that category too.

          Saw a nice white Taycan at the Nashua Porsche dealer last weekend.

          I remember when NH had 6 month inspections. It was a pain.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      You either have a complex and expensive modern bumper or an impossible-to-find-at-a-reasonable-price chrome one.

      The Big-Bumper Lobby always wins.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “Prior to his time at Cerberus, Bozzella spent five years at Chrysler and DaimlerChrysler leaving as senior vice president of external affairs and public policy in 2009. He is credited for playing a major role mobilizing government support for the significant restructuring of Chrysler. Bozzella also spent 10 years at Ford Motor Co. in positions in government and community relations from 1994 to 2005.”

    Bozzella gets paid to funnel money from your pocket to the OEMs.

    https://tinyurl.com/y3a3wx8x

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    And THAT is how good government is supposed to work. I (no surprise) vehemently oppose blocks on access to anything I bought. I can understand the “seal” on modules and the like for the warranty period. If I open something up and break it, that should not be on the manufacturer. But, after that period I should have access and not have to be dependent on a dealer to reset a dash light.

    …nullify the scant amount of competition that comes from do-it-yourself types and independent garages…

    DIY is not a big number for sure, but independents has to be a big number for vehicles that are out of warranty. I do know some who stay with dealer service – and some dealers are pretty competitive with basic services – but many choose to service their vehicles elsewhere after that three or four years.

    • 0 avatar
      2manycars

      There is no such thing as “good government”. It’s much like saying “good criminal gang”.

      The best you’ll ever get from that lot is tolerable and it’s a short quick ride downhill from there. The only thing government has consistently been good at is killing people en masse.

      I stick with cars old enough that there is no data problem to deal with in the first place.

  • avatar
    Daniel J

    I find this stuff interesting. Most people I know defend apples shenanigans with getting their computers and tablets repaired but God forbid a car manufacture does the same thing. I had a friend that could only get his macbook pro serviced at an authorized apple service center.

    The fundamental problem with standards is that standards holds back innovation. Not that I’m against standards.

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