Study Suggests Public Supports Right-to-Repair Movement
Most people who know their way around a wrench will tell you that vehicles haven’t gotten any easier to work on over the years. While modern automobiles tend to be longer lived than earlier models and on-board diagnostics have made issues somewhat easier to diagnose, decades of added complexity have made resolving those problems substantially more troublesome and costly. Modern engine layouts are focused on packaging, not on providing mechanics with easy access, and the sheer number of electrical components in today’s cars means that many parts that could have been repaired before now have to be replaced.
This is poised to get worse in the years ahead, with the automotive industry spending millions to lobby against legislation proposed by the right-to-repair movement. Ideally, manufacturers want to force customers to utilize their service centers whenever possible by hoarding telematic data and proprietary tools independent repair shops need and owners should have every right to access and control. But the right-to-repair folks finally seem to be making some genuine headway, with a recent study showing broad support from the general public.
While today’s movement originated with the failed “Motor Vehicles Right to Repair Act” of 2001, it wasn’t until the Supreme Court agreed that mobile operators had to unlock cell phones in 2008 that things started picking up steam. Just three years later, the first successful right to repair act was passed in Massachusetts. While not exclusive to automobiles, it required automobile manufacturers to sell the same service materials and diagnostic equipment provided to dealerships directly to consumers and/or to independent mechanics.
By 2019, twenty other states were also considering some form of right-to-repair legislation. The following year, Massachusetts expanded its existing rules to require that all vehicles sold within the state utilize telematics systems with a standardized, open-access data platform.
But the industry proved it was committed to maintaining the status quo, spending an estimated $25 million to lobby against proposed laws inside the United States. This was led primarily by the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, an arm of the Automotive Alliance for Innovation that’s funded by practically every large automaker currently in existence, and was focused around the claim that these laws passing would somehow guarantee that criminals would immediately gain access to someone's private data.
Frankly, it has done a pretty good job slowing things down so far. But the public awareness of the right-to-repair movement has been growing and a recent survey conducted by Ducker Carlisle (a market research agency) is showing broad support. The research was also conducted to determine whether or not such legislation would result in people snubbing dealerships when there’s fixing to be done.
"Our goal was to figure out what is going to happen if right-to-repair passes," Nate Chenenko, a director at Ducker Carlisle, explained to Automotive News. "Everybody thinks it's going to be really bad, but what's actually going to happen?"
The survey involved 2,147 vehicle owners and was conducted in a way to mitigate messaging bias. That means the questionnaires were split into thirds and evenly distributed among respondents. One used language that framed using “pro-right-to-repair” definitions preferred by those endorsing the bills, one used “anti-right-to-repair” definitions used by the automotive lobby, and one attempted to use neutral language sourced from Wikipedia. Before you head into the comments to reference the millions of times Wikipedia has been faulted for bias, it actually seems fairly even-handed on the right-to-repair issue and you’re welcome (encouraged even) to take a look for yourself.
In this format, Ducker Carlisle reported that 59 percent of people surveyed claimed they would vote yes to approve right-to-repair legislation. While that doesn’t seem all that impressive on its face, only 13 percent said they would oppose such laws. The rest expressed no real preference until the option to remain neutral was removed.
When given the decision to either be for or against right-to-repair laws, 80 percent of respondents said they’d support them.
"Even when we look at the people who saw just the [anti-right-to-repair] message, only 21 percent of them voted no," Chenenko said. "OEMs are going to lose. This is important for them to realize; they spend tens of millions of dollars a year lobbying for this."
Automotive News has the finer details of the survey if you’re seeking more data points. But there really wasn’t any scenario that seemed to indicate manufacturers would have an edge. That’s seemingly bad news for the industry’s aspirations of monopolizing the repair business. But it might not be all that bad for them, as most people surveyed claimed they’d probably keep going to branded service centers if they had been already. Though most preferring independent shops said they’d be unlikely to swap either.
Wayne Weikel, senior director of state affairs for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, told AN he couldn’t comment on the survey, but stated that the industry fully supports customer choice and expressed consternation at the premise that the relevant legislation was actually about the right to repair. He alleged that it was wrong "to conflate the right to repair with efforts by the aftermarket to control vehicle telematics data for applications unrelated to vehicle repair."
"Access to consumer telematics data has nothing to do with repairing a vehicle," Weikel said. "In fact, there is not one vehicle repair that requires access to telematics data to complete."
Huh. That just kind of makes you wonder why automakers want it so badly then.
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