By on July 19, 2021

While the right-to-repair movement is fighting a national battle, the brunt of the action has been taking place on America’s coasts. Consumer activists are taking on multinational corporations that don’t want you to modify your mobile devices, affix aftermarket components to your vehicle, or have complete access to the data that’s amassed by the staggering number of products that are needlessly networked to the internet. After years of petitioning the government, often while arguing with high-paid lobbyists, the group achieved a major victory in Massachusetts in 2020. Voters decided that automakers should not be allowed to withhold information from the vehicle’s owner or use it as a way to prohibit them from taking their car into independent repair shops (rather than manufacturer-certified service centers) or tinkering with it themselves.

Now the federal government is getting involved. Joe Biden has signed an executive order that effectively forces the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take regulatory action that would settle the matter. But we don’t really know if that’s going to lead to a market where customers are free to treat their property (and private data) as they wish, one where the manufacturer holds all the cards, or simply result in a regulatory minefield displeasing all parties. 

Officially signed on July 9th, Biden’s order does come with a slew of recommendations that seem to favor the right-to-repair movement’s cause. Included among them include directions to limit the industry from restricting consumers’ ability to use independent repair shops and establish rules that would prohibit anticompetitive behavior. It does put an overwhelming amount of responsibility on the FTC, which some consumer advocates remain distrustful of. But the general trajectory seems like this will result in a substantial win for the movement.

“No one’s got a bigger megaphone than the administration, and so them bringing more attention to the automotive right to repair issue is really important,”  Justin Rzepka, executive director of the Consumer Access to Repair Coalition, a group of independent auto parts and repair companies, associations and insurers, told Automotive News.

“It’s hard to argue this doesn’t help our side, bringing more attention to this issue,” he added.

From AN:

The commission — led by Chairman Lina Khan and flanked by two Democratic and two Republican commissioners — is scheduled to meet Wednesday, July 21, to vote on whether to issue a new policy statement on repair restrictions following the FTC’s report to Congress on the topic.

The report issued in May catalogs the types of repair restrictions used by manufacturers in the auto industry and other sectors, summarizing explanations for those restrictions as well as repair advocates’ arguments against them.

It also suggests solutions to complaints across a range of consumer products — including vehicles, cellphones and farm equipment — either through state or federal law, voluntary cooperation by industry or new FTC regulations.

Small businessman turned right-to-repair figurehead Louis Rossman has been habitually skeptical of regulatory efforts — routinely providing examples where the government fails to enforce existing consumer protection or antitrust laws. But even he suggested that some of the FTC’s newer hires looked to be promising allies for the movement, including Khan. Though he still believes it’s up to citizens to remind those in power to act in accordance with their stated beliefs and press for desired outcomes.

From Rossman’s perspective, the executive order creates an opening for real progress to be made and that’s enough after years of right-to-repair fighting losing battles against industry lobbyists and risk-averse politicians. But he doesn’t believe the battle is anywhere near finished.

“Of course I am cynical,” he said earlier this month. “I am always cynical. I will always remain cynical. Which is precisely why I have been doing a lot of work engaging with members of the FTC that are responsible for making these types of rules — through my antitrust attorney that I retained several months ago — to make sure that when they start writing these rules that repair people have a seat at the table so that this doesn’t wind up being a bunch of diluted, watered-down bullshit.”

“We are very far from done. There is a lot of work to do.”

Most of that work will be done in opposition to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) — the largest automotive trade group in the world — and other corporate lobbies that are attempting to keep Massachusetts’ right-to-repair laws from catching on in other parts of the country. The AAI has previously stated that the automotive industry effectively knows better than consumers on how to fix their cars and provide meaningful OTA updates — which are allegedly dependent upon manufacturers’ ability to control the data. It also believes the automotive industry’s repair options are robust compared to other sectors and has called into question the very concept of vehicle ownership moving ahead. Automotive lobbies have also alleged that Massachusetts has violated federal laws and has exposed customers to new cybersecurity risks.

Intermixed with all of this is a coalition of groups, both supporting and opposing the right-to-repair movement, that would prefer regulatory action be decided upon by Congress. Some are finding dictums by the White House and/or Federal Trace Commission unsavory, believing they set a bad precedent for American governance. Others are just happy there’s a ball in play at the federal level.

[Image: Alexander Kirch/Shutterstock]

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19 Comments on “Right-to-Repair Movement Gets Federal Attention...”

  • avatar

    I defend tesla in some areas, but their attitude towards independent shops is probably the worst in the industry. Rich Benoit and his Tesla independent Electrified Garage have had their lives made difficult by tesla. Hands down, tesla is the worst. The techs at EG are experienced and tesla trained and I think are better than the tesla techs. Tesla needs to change and start supporting the independents.

    • 0 avatar

      We all know that Tesla can do everything better than anybody else, including body shops and insurance. Musk is just trying to save the ungrateful proles from pirate repair shops.

      • 0 avatar

        That pirate repair shop charged a guy $700 for what tesla wanted $16k. I don’t know about the body shops, but I’ve heard the insurance isn’t any cheaper. I really like teslas drivetrain tech, charging network, a d lack of dealers. I think I have issues with everything else. Toyota in 2024-2025 might have better battery tech if they can get it into mass production.

        • 0 avatar

          I wonder how many Tesla peeps realize that 16 grand repair was basically a new battery pack? Which means when it’s time for a new battery, those Teslas are heading for the last roundup.

          Although the Model 3/Y running in the salt belt will likely die of rust before that due to Musk’s overclocked paint line.

          • 0 avatar

            “Which means when it’s time for a new battery, those Teslas are heading for the last roundup.”

            Did people not understand this?

          • 0 avatar

            Look – I’m as skeptical as anyone of Tesla and their shitty way of doing many things. I got a refund on my initial model 3 deposit, once I realized it wasn’t a driver’s car, but a way to train you to be a good passenger (IMHO).

            OTOH, I would imagine that in 5-10 years, there will probably be a ton of used battery packs available (due to cars that were crashed, etc) that could be swapped in for maybe $2-4K, assuming battery packs are swappable among the same model (i.e. model 3 into model 3, etc).

            Battery tech keeps getting cheaper at something like 5%/year, IIRC. As long as the connectors are somewhat standardized, I could imagine a new battery pack that would cost $16K today would be $8-9K in 10 years. Add in one major battery breakthrough of 10-15%, and you’re looking at $5-7K for a new battery pack. For a $50K+ car when new, assuming the rest of it is still in good shape (hard to know for sure), it wouldn’t be a bad investment. Given that your battery would suddenly hold MORE of a charge than before, it wouldn’t be that far-fetched that people would be willing to pay that.

        • 0 avatar

          Not exactly. That shop found an alternate solution to the problem is really what happened. Two completely different solutions, of which one was significantly more expensive. It was not at all the same repair job, so it stands to reason that they would be differently priced.
          Frankly, I’m not sure that the shop’s solution justifies the $700 cost, except that they were willing to do it whereas Tesla would not.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah Tesla said we only sell the battery pack as a unit. The shop tapped the hole and put in a nipple. I do think they overcharged since the parts were just a few dollars and it shouldn’t have taken more than 2hrs to do including the trip to the hardware store, for the nipple and a pipe tap.

      • 0 avatar

        hes the guy with the youtube channel? hes done some interesting stuff. and Yelp is a good place to look for independants. its how i found my “toyota guys” that are a half mile away

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    “Of course I am cynical,” he said earlier this month. “I am always cynical. I will always remain cynical.”

    I like this guy

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    If cars had existed in 1776, this is what the British would have tried to do in the Colonies. It must be stopped.

  • avatar

    “Now the federal government is getting involved. Joe Biden has signed an executive order that effectively forces the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to take regulatory action that would settle the matter.”

    I would be absolutely amazed. Also whatever happened with that NAFTA 2.0 matter where the former domestic mfgs didn’t like the percentage of parts content and wanted the appointed trade representative to “wink wink” them out of compliance?

  • avatar

    Congressional action of any meaningful impact is unlikely. With our hyper-divided country and Congress, there will be no progress. These boneheads have put partisanship over country. Too bad because there is a real need for this.

  • avatar

    Say what you will about the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, but when they tell you that I am unqualified to change my front spindles without screwing up the new bearings, they are right. :-)

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Massachusetts fought for and won the right to repair?

    Sounds Marxist to me.

    You’re better off just trusting the Capitalists. Let them provide you the freedom you desire (;

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, unfettered capitalism worked so well during the industrial revolution. On a serious note, check out “The men that Built America” on the History channel. They outline all the good and bad that the era of industrialization brought. Fascinating program. They also have simialar shows on cars, food, and machines that shaped this country and the world. Really great stuff….Now if they would only bring back “Life After People”…

      • 0 avatar

        I watched those “men that built America” shows. I was appalled at the inaccuracies of the cars shown. An executive at GM taking his CEO out to the parking lot to show him “a Chevy with a big engine”. Except it was a 1955 Mercury with a continental spare tire with (IIRC), a Ford flathead under the hood. WTF?
        Not to mention John Delorean road testing a pre-production GTO. Except it was a 1963 or 4 Buick Lesabre 4dr HT.
        Turned me off.

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