NHTSA’s recent reversal of its decision to block the implementation of Massachusetts’ Right-to-Repair law illustrates the complex nature of the general concept of Right-to-Repair as vehicles increasingly become electronic devices on wheels.
Massachusetts was a pioneer in passing the “Right-to-Repair Act” in 2012. That law says, in part, “each manufacturer shall make available for purchase by owners and independent repair facilities all diagnostic tools incorporating the same diagnostic, repair, and wireless capabilities that the manufacturer makes available to its dealers and authorized motor repair facilities.”
The act does not address telematics, which allows a vehicle to wirelessly relay information to an outside party, such as the manufacturer or a dealer.
The law purposefully excluded telematics, Chris Connolly, Jr., a partner at Herb Connolly Chevrolet in Framingham, MA, and a Massachusetts State Auto Dealers Assn. board of directors executive committee member, tells Wards.
He was part of the group that drafted the 2012 law. To overcome manufacturers’ objections, “we ended up passing the law that carved out telematics,” he says. “We made the language more sensible. No information about repairing cars would be sent over the air anyway.”
Telematics became part of the law when it was revised in 2020. Massachusetts voters approved an amendment that required manufacturers to create an open platform allowing anyone wanting repair information to access that information wirelessly. It became known as the Data Access Law.
That is when NHTSA got involved. This June, it blocked the implementation of the 2020 law because it left vehicles at risk to hackers.
However, last week, NHTSA reversed this decision. Now, independent repair shops can access the repair data through short-range telematics technology such as Bluetooth.
In an Aug. 22 letter to the Massachusetts attorney general NHTSA wrote: “One way that vehicle manufacturers can comply with the Data Access Law is by providing independent repair facilities wireless access to a vehicle from within close physical proximity to the vehicle, without providing long-range remote access.”
Ben Halle, director of public affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation, of which the NHTSA is a part, stated DOT’s support for Right-to-Repair provisions and tells Wards it is “eager to promote consumers’ ability to choose independent or DIY repairs without compromising safety to themselves or others on our nation’s roads.”
For Massachusetts car dealers, this whole affair has been something of a tempest in a teapot, says Connolly.
“Dealers aren’t upset (about the Data Access Law. We know that because there are no complaints with the current attorney general’s office from any independent shop saying they can’t get the information about repairing vehicles,” says Connolly.
At least in his state, he says not all dealers are concerned about repair work being taken away by independent repair shops. Indeed, Connolly welcomes the additional repair capacity.
“As a Chevy dealer, I would love to service every Chevy out there, but I can’t,” says Connolly. “We have had a collaborative but competitive relationship with the independents.”
Connolly questions why Right-to-Repair laws are even necessary, given that 70% of post-warranty repair work is performed at independent shops anyway.
Right-to-Repair laws are “a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” he says.