Right To Repair: Massachusetts Battleground

March 13, 2011

Just like you can depend on the Kentucky Derby to be run on the first Saturday in May each year the opening of legislative sessions is bringing a new consideration of the Right to Repair law.

Nationally the federal law was proposed in the house in 2009 and at last count had 64 primary co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, while in the U.S Senate a bill was introduced in March of 2010 by Senator Barbara Boxer with Senator Sam Brownback as a co-sponsor.

At stake is the intellectual property that car makers glean from the manufacturing and research and development process, which they say is naturally their property. To use a query that is circulating in the debate - "Would you expect Coca-Cola to give Pepsi the recipe for their product?"

The independent repairers are saying that the car makers have a stranglehold on the information that they need to fix their customers' vehicles. One shop owner offered an example that his mere replacement of a windshield wiper motor was cause for the customer to return to the dealer for reprogramming. Does this sound like a dysfunctional family with control issues?

The latest wrinkle is that industry representatives are deflecting criticism by saying that the information to diagnose problems is available through an industry coalition website where OEM Website Access Charges are listed at costs ranging from $350 per year for Honda to $5000 for Porsche. This would only cover one make of car and most independents service many makes.

Attention has shifted from efforts at the federal level to state legislatures that are considering the same sort of legislation. Last year All Car Advice reported on the status of the Right to Repair in New England in the article Right To Repair: The Massachusetts Version. The law was close to passage, needing only a thumbs up from the state's house after its senate approved it, but died with the end of the 2009-2010 session according to the Boston Herald.

The list of opponents of the bill is impressive and varied and includes the 400 member New England Service Station Auto Repair Association and a police chiefs' group which feels that it will increase vehicular theft.

Supporters of the bill point to a poll that interviewed 400 voters registered in the state and of the 35 percent who said they were familiar with the proposal a whopping 80 percent supported its passage. The data gathering was commissioned by the Right To Repair Coalition which is a group of independent repair shop advocates.

Both sides in this fight are saying that they are confident of victory. If  past performance is an indication of what awaits the lawmakers this year, they can expect intense lobbying efforts from supporters and opponents alike. For now the bill is in the Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure, what comes next will be interesting to watch and possibly have national impact.

(Boston Herald)    

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