Auto manufacturers are spending tens of millions of dollars lobbying against a ballot initiative that would ensure independent repair companies would retain the ability to fix cars well into the future.
The measure, called Question 1, will be on the ballot in November and if it passes, independent repair stores will be able to access car data wirelessly to help facilitate vehicle repairs. The fear is that car manufacturers will move away from the wired data port used to diagnose car problems, which would prevent independent companies and car owners from assessing what's wrong with a car. A coalition of auto manufacturers have spent more than $25 million in the state to defeat the measure.
The lobbying group behind the big push is the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, an arm of the Automotive Alliance for Innovation which is funded by car manufacturers like General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, and Subaru. A lot of the money is going to airing terrifying advertisements that imply criminals could access your data should Question 1 pass.
But Question 1 is just an update to a 2012 law that allowed independent repair stores access to a car's data through the on-board diagnostics port in a car. That legislation became the national standard and allows mechanics to legally repair vehicles even if they don’t work for the manufacturer. Question 1 would simply allow the same access to the same people via the wireless tools that are becoming increasingly common in modern cars.
The Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee, a lobbying group that supports the passage of Question 1, has also raised a lot of money in the state. Supporters have raised more than $15 million from companies like AutoZone and Advance Auto Parts.
“It goes without saying that competition for vehicle repair and maintenance services from independent repair shops keeps the cost of service and repair down,” SecuRepairs—a group of security and repair professionals who advocate for security and repair issues—said in a recent post on its website. “It also makes perfect sense that the same mechanical data shared via a wired connection from a vehicle to a computer in a repair shop should also be accessible wirelessly. That’s why automakers are anxious to change the subject.”
Groups such as the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee and SecuRepairs fear that the failure of Question 1 at the ballot in November will help automakers build and maintain a monopoly on repair. If a mechanic can’t access the data in your car, they may not be able to make a repair and you’ll be stuck taking it into the dealership which can charge whatever they want.
According to SecuRepairs, the auto industry’s ads raise questions about automakers' ability to keep data secure, regardless of which mechanic can access it. “Rather than trying to frighten consumers, car makers should make owner access to this data easy, while also being transparent about what data they are collecting from smart vehicles and how they use it,” SecuRepairs said on its website. “Facts and transparency, not fear, are the antidote for the public’s anxiety about data privacy and security.”