Massachusetts Voters Overwhelmingly Pass Car Right-to-Repair Ballot Initiative

The 75-25 percent margin on "Question 1," which ensures independent repair shops can continue to work on cars, suggests we overwhelmingly want to be able to fix their things.
November 4, 2020, 7:08pm
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Image: Jeffrey Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Massachusetts overwhelmingly voted to extend its automobile right to repair law, in a huge win for consumers. Question 1 was the most expensive measure battle in Massachusetts history with the auto industry (and independent repair companies) spending tens of millions of dollars lobbying, according to the Boston Globe. The measure is an essential win for independent mechanics, auto-repair shops, and consumers, as it will require car manufacturers to continue to make diagnostic tools available for years to come.

 

Under the law, car manufacturers will be required to use an open-data system in cars using telematics. This means mechanics will have access to wirelessly sent repair data—whether they are associated with an official car dealership or an independent shop. While cars currently use a wired connection for diagnostics, there was concern among independent repair professionals that car manufacturers would switch to a wireless system in order to circumvent a 2012 right to repair law that required car dealers make wired repair codes universal. 

As new car models are produced in coming years, the thought is many will ditch physical diagnostic ports and instead, cars will wirelessly send repair information. Tuesday's ballot measure closes a loophole in the 2012 law that would have exempted wireless diagnostics from the law.

Crucially, this 2012 law resulted in a national memorandum of understanding, meaning that it essentially had force nationwide. The overwhelming margin on Question 1—75 percent of voters voted for it—also suggests that there is a huge majority of people who want to be able to fix their things.

“Question 1 will prevent the auto industry from re-monopolizing repair broadly,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association. “Even if the language isn't perfect, the response from consumers is favorable…which should deter the industry from trying to block repair for at least a few more years.”

The new legislation will allow smaller repair shops to continue business, even with brand new car models—especially when electric cars become more popular, said Gordon-Byrne. 

There are still things to work out, however, according to Nathan Proctor, Director of the U.S. PIRG Campaign for the Right to Repair. 

“What will the protocols be for granting access, and how will the data be secured? The state Legislature is permitted to amend the ballot measure somewhat, so they will likely be at the table for a set of discussions about what happens next,” said Proctor. “Last time, the two sides came together and formed a plan, then signed it. That became the national basis for car Right to Repair.”

Gordon-Byrne agrees Question 1 will temporarily stall big brand monopolization of auto repair, but the future is bumpy. “That's expected because the dealership business model is so wrapped up in preventing competition or repair.”