Sides debate ‘right to repair’ bill at State House
BOSTON - The long-simmering battle over requiring auto manufacturers to share diagnostic and repair information with independent garages returned to the State House on Wednesday.
More than 100 people crammed into a hearing room, some in suits and ties and others dressed in the uniform of aftermarket parts companies.
The latest version of the “right to repair” bill would mandate that manufacturers create an online database of diagnostic and repair information by 2015, as a condition to sell vehicles in the state. Owners of a vehicle would have access to information on their vehicle and independent repair shops could have access to this information through a paid subscription.
The information would have to be the same as the data provided to mechanics working for the franchised dealerships.
The Legislature has already held several hearings on this issue. The bill’s advocates have lobbied for it for several years, including a federal attempt in 2001, and are now pushing to place the question on the November ballot if the Legislature fails to act.
Alan Saks, a Braintree resident and owner of Dorchester Tire Service, told the consumer protection committee about the struggles his shop’s technicians have when they fail to diagnose a vehicle’s problem.
“We have to play a game of multiple choice,” Saks said.
Recently, Saks said a technician in his shop spent three hours on a repair that would have taken only 15 minutes if he had access to information manufacturers provide their dealers.
Plympton resident Arthur Kinsman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair coalition, told lawmakers that auto manufacturers don’t always have their customer’s best interests in mind. “Remember, big car manufacturers resisted airbags and seatbelts,” he said.
Glenn Wilder, a Scituate mechanic at Wilder Bros., said some companies like Toyota already provide dealer-quality data online. He felt the other companies should follow suit, because not all customers have easy access to a dealership. “In Scituate, the closest dealer is 11 miles away,” Wilder said.
Representatives from the automakers and dealerships objected to numerous aspects of the bill. Matthew Godlewski, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, argued the 2015 deadline is too short, as vehicle development time is a multi-year process.
He said the major parts stores pushing for the bill were being dishonest when they told the committee they didn’t have access to manufacturer information. He showed printouts of their websites that advertised having dealer-quality data.
Godlewski also said the bill would lock manufacturers into a specific communication system for diagnoses.
“Mandating that every motor vehicle manufacturer design the products of tomorrow to run on a system developed over 12 years ago is no different than telling computer manufacturers that every new laptop sold in the Commonwealth beginning in 2015 must exclusively run on Windows 98,” Godlewski said.