Right To Repair: The Massachusetts Version

July 21, 2010

AllCarAdvice covered the federal Right to Repair act back in May and at the time it looked like the federal law called the Motor Vehicles Owners Right to Repair Act was on its way to some sort of resolution. There were both senate and house versions circulating both of which had bi-partisan support.

With the legislation’s small business and pro-consumerism profile it appeared as though the hurdles that had been holding it back since the early 2000’s had finally been cleared. But since then a Massachusetts law aimed at the same market conditions has become a battleground of sorts.

If you’re wondering what this is all about, it has to do with intellectual property in the form of repair information developed by and in the control of the car manufacturers. This information allows the car makers and their dealers to trump the independent garages in their ability not only to fix cars but also to develop tools that more accurately and efficiently repair cars.

The independents claim that the auto companies are indirectly dictating to car owners where to get their cars repaired. The manufacturers maintain that their trade secrets are at risk and that their expenditures on research and development merit some control over their proprietary information.

In Massachusetts the debate has run along the same lines, however, on the heels of the state senate approving the bill, the 400 member New England Service Station Auto Repair Association has opposed the bill. The president of the organization, Roger Montbleau, has told Market Watch: "What this bill will do is create lawsuits which will lead to uncertainty in our industry! It is a recipe for disaster."

Aftermarket parts makers like those that supply AutoZone and Advance Auto Parts also have a lot at stake in the debate. Their access to the information would enable them to more easily produce parts that are closer to the original specifications of the OEM parts. Those opposing the bill’s passage assert that the real thrust of support for the Right To Repair comes from these quarters.

If the Massachusetts house passes the law it would be the first state to do so and could forge a path to similar action in other states. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers an association of 11 automobile makers which includes the remaining three car makers in the U.S. is actively lobbying in the Bay state to oppose passage and prevent a proliferation of similar legislation.

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