Right to Repair Back on the Ballot

With election day (November 3rd people!) fast approaching, here’s your friendly reminder to vote if you haven’t already. If you still have a mail-in ballot, you can locate a convenient drop box location to return your ballot if you do not plan to vote in person.

Of the two questions on the Massachusetts state ballot this year, Question 1 is really of interest to us. Question 1 is essentially an expansion of the Right to Repair Law, which passed with a whopping 88% of the vote in 2012. The issue at hand is that the original bill specifically exempted vehicle telematics systems. With modern vehicles becoming increasingly complex and reliant on wireless data transmission and recording, organizers felt that it was time to address this loophole.

This question aims to require auto makers to standardize, and make available to independent repair facilities and end users (ie. vehicle owners), a system to access mechanical data and run diagnostics through a mobile application. As it is, every vehicle manufactured 1996 through present comes equipped with an OBD-II port for performing diagnostics. You can hop on down to your local auto parts shop and buy a simple OBD-II reader for $50 (or to an upper limit of several thousand dollars, depending on complexity) to troubleshoot mechanical issues on your own car without being forced to go to a shop or dealership to have them perform the work for you. Find out if that pesky check engine light is a misfire or a vacuum leak – the rest is up to you! If you can repair the issue on your own, great. If you decide it’s above your ability, you’re free to choose to go to a local garage (who can also access the same data via OBD-II that you can) or a dealership.

Today, the main concern is that automakers are not required to have any standard platform for their wireless diagnostics. And with increasing complexity of automobiles, more and more errors can be logged that wouldn’t be typically available via OBD-II. The passage of Question 1 would ensure you, your local garage, and the dealership would all have access to the same tools to perform the same diagnostic work on your car. A “no” vote on Question 1 would allow automakers to continue to keep their wireless data platforms proprietary, meaning that you’re at the whim of one vendor when it comes time to fix your vehicle. You would be required to go to the dealer, the only people with access to the wireless diagnostic software, and pay whatever their rate is. That would mean no more capability to shop around on that pricey repair or even having the option to DIY.

You may have seen the automaker-funded “vote no on Question 1” ads that have been running. They’re genuinely over the top fear mongering, insisting that the passage of Question 1 would allow predators to access your GPS data and phone logs in order to track and do harm to you or your family, or even take control of your car. To be clear, this question does NOT aim to make your personal data (GPS and phone numbers) available to anyone with compatible wireless software. The question explicitly states that this is for mechanical and diagnostic data only.

This battle is similar to the one that’s been playing out in agriculture for a while, with a particularly well-known green and yellow brand. This brand is exceptionally strict with their warranty clauses and forces you to take your equipment to them. If inoperable or stuck in a remote field, then you would wait an untenable amount of time for a qualified technician to come fix it. Any attempt to bypass the manufacturer and fix it yourself can brick your equipment. This brand has proprietary software interfaces for diagnostics and repair and nobody but them can access it. We don’t want to see this happen to the automotive landscape. Can you imagine not being able to troubleshoot and fix a vehicle that you own, by yourself?

We support “yes” on Question 1, and we hope you do too.

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