Massachusetts Is Back with More “Right to Repair” Nonsense
Momentum behind the right-to-repair movement with its call to force manufacturers to make repair information open and accessible to consumers and independent repair shops has built up over the past decade. Right-to-repair laws have already passed in a number of states, always underlaid by the claim that manufacturers in every industry from automobiles to smartphones seek to hide and obfuscate product repair data. Without these laws, their advocates claim, consumers would always have to go to the manufacturer to have their product fixed, because independent repairmen—although more local and affordable—would be barred from accessing the information necessary to make repairs.
After more than a decade of pushing for change, the right-to-repair camp made its first legislative splash eight years ago in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, citizens can propose new statutes themselves through direct democratic ballot initiatives, which are sent to the General Court if the vote succeeds. In 2012, voters in the commonwealth were confronted with a right-to-repair initiative which proposed that all automobile manufacturers be required to provide owners the same access to vehicle repair data as the manufacturer’s dealers and affiliated repair shops have. Unfazed by attempts to dilute public support, voters rallied behind the right-to-repair banner, and it passed with 86 percent of the electorate’s support—the widest margin of any ballot measure in the history of the commonwealth.
These days, activists worry that automakers may begin using vehicles’ increasing computerization as a loophole to restrict access to repair information. On November 3, Massachusetts voters will be given the opportunity to approve or reject an updated right-to-repair initiative—known informally as “Question 1”—which builds on this worry. If passed, it would “require manufacturers of motor vehicles sold in Massachusetts to equip any such vehicles that use telematics systems—systems that collect and wirelessly transmit mechanical data to a remote server—with a standardized open access data platform” by model year 2022. Through a mobile app, independent repairers “would be able to retrieve mechanical data from, and send commands to, the vehicle for repair, maintenance, and diagnostic testing” with the authorization of the vehicle’s owner. The idea is that with access to the same mechanical data, local garages would be able to compete with manufacturers on an equal footing to make vehicle repairs. The reality behind Question 1, however, is much less straightforward and carries the promise of almost certain disaster.
Accessing Repair Data Is a Nonissue
To the average voter, it’s unclear what’s even going on with repair. Are automakers actually restricting access to information or has the “problem” been created out of whole cloth? “As far as we know,” cybersecurity expert Paul Roberts explained, “the data that is being shared wirelessly via the auto service shops with the Cloud is the same data that repair people can get via the port under the dashboard.” Mandating that new vehicles be equipped with wirelessly accessible data platforms would do absolutely nothing to expand consumer choice or protect independent shops. Automakers have not in any way tampered with consumers’ ability to patronize their local shops, and little evidence has been proffered to suggest that they will. The problem simply does not and will never exist. After all, if one brand—say, Honda—were to ever restrict accessibility to vehicle data, consumers would be drawn to other brands—Ford, Nissan, and Toyota. Cartelization could never arise in the auto market, as manufacturers are in consta
Article from Mises Wire