When mechanics at Ramstrom’s Service Center on West Boylston Street start work on a customer’s car, they reach first for the shiny blue tool chest. But the tool chest doesn’t contain wrenches. It holds thousands of dollars of computers.
“We spend more time using this stuff than using wrenches now,” said Rick Ramstrom, the owner of the shop.
Welcome to the new world of auto repair, where computers shift gears and everything from keys to transmissions depend on code.
But in this new world, there is a dispute over who controls the information that code details.
Independent auto repair shops interviewed said they worry that the information needed to fix any problems with these codes may soon be unavailable, as wireless technology, called telematics, enables cars to communicate directly with manufacturers. The information available now also comes at a cost that some independent repair shops say may be prohibitive.
As a result, independent repair shops, parts stores and consumer groups are reigniting the Right to Repair coalition, which successfully pushed a 2012 ballot initiative and 2013 legislation giving independent auto repair shops the same access to diagnostic information as car manufacturers. The new push is for an update to the law to include telematics.
The Legislature is also getting involved.
Bills pending in the Legislature would require manufacturers to give vehicle owners access to all the wireless information, which consumers could then share with the independent shop of their choosing through a mobile-based app.
Over the 112 years that my family’s tire shop has been open, we have seen incredible technological advances with vehicles. From Model-Ts to Teslas, Wilder Brothers Tire Pros has always kept up with the latest technology to provide our customers with the best service. Our company has survived for more than 100 years, and through countless safety and regulation changes, but now we face our steepest challenge: new wireless technology and how automakers are using it to try to cut independent repair shops out of the repair business.
Big automobile businesses in Detroit are attempting to harm small businesses like mine here in Scituate, by restricting auto repair shops from accessing diagnostic data. Over the last decade, and especially in the last few years, more and more new models have started to be manufactured that transfer diagnostic data back to manufacturers using wireless technology. By 2020, more than 90 percent of new cars will transmit real-time repair information wirelessly, and independent repair shops will have limited or no access.
Automakers are monopolizing this technology so it is only available to them or to their dealerships, preventing shops like mine from being able to properly diagnose vehicles.
In 2012 we told the citizens of Massachusetts about the automakers limiting or restricting small shops from accessing diagnostic and repair information by restricting access to computers that plug into your vehicle. In an overwhelming referendum victory, 86 percent of Bay Staters sided with us, leading to the 2013 Right to Repair law which allows the thousands of small shops in our communities to have the information necessary to fix your vehicles.
The voters wanted it because it allows them to shop around for car repairs and save money. It’s common sense.
But now, in 2019, we are facing the same struggle once again, because of a loophole that does not require automakers to share the wireless diagnostic information. In just a few short years the automakers were able to skirt around the law because of advancements in technology.
They’ve embraced it in order to control diagnostic and repair information so that they make a profit on it.
If the fight cannot be solved legislatively, the Right to Repair Coalition says they will consider going to the ballot in 2020.
“You cannot have a system of information the independent repair shop doesn’t have access to to fix or diagnose a car, especially in newer cars,” said Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, which includes independent repair shops, parts stores and consumer groups. “That will put independent repair shops out of businesses going forward.”
A coalition of Massachusetts independent repair shop owners, employees, and consumers today announced support for a much-needed update to the Commonwealth’s Right to Repair law. By 2020, advancements in vehicle technology will result in more than 90% of new cars being equipped to transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information wirelessly to vehicle manufacturers, threatening the rights of Massachusetts car consumers to choose to get their cars fixed at trusted independent repair shops or do the work themselves.
The Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition supports bipartisan legislation filed in January by twelve State Representatives and two State Senators to update the Commonwealth’s Right to Repair law. The legislation would further protect Massachusetts car owners’ rights to choose where they have their cars repaired, shop around for the best deal, and control who has access to the repair and diagnostic data compiled and transmitted by their car.
The Coalition has launched a grassroots and advertising campaign to educate Massachusetts policymakers, businesses and consumers about the threat that wireless technologies, sometimes referred to as telematics, pose to consumer repair choice and small, local businesses.
Despite the overwhelming 86% vote of support at the ballot in 2012 and the subsequent 2013 law guaranteeing access to independent repair shops, these shops are increasingly facing the prospect of having limited or no access to diagnostic and repair information now that automakers are increasingly restricting access through rapidly expanding wireless technologies in vehicles not covered under current law. If independent repair shops can’t get direct access to diagnostic and repair information from the car, then car owners have no choice but to be steered by vehicle manufacturers towards more expensive automaker authorized repair options.
The update to the law would also give car owners control over the diagnostic and repair data generated by their car so that they could opt to provide access to any dealer, repair shop, or automaker that they choose during the lifetime of their car.
“The Right to Repair law must be updated because automakers are starting to use the next generation of wireless technology to get around our law, shut out independent repair shops, and cost car owners more money,” said Barry Steinberg, owner of Direct Tire in Watertown. “Massachusetts voters voted 86% in 2012 to require car companies to give access to repair information and diagnostics and it has worked. Car owners can comparison shop to save money on repairs, knowing that all repairers can access the data they need to fix the car. Our law needs to keep up with these new technologies that are coming on-line in new car and truck models.”
“Beacon Hill needs to update the law to ensure that it keeps up with technology and that car owners and their trusted, local independent repair shops are not shut out by automakers aiming to maximize their parts and repair profits,” said Glenn Wilder owner of Wilder Brothers Tire Pros in Scituate. “Wireless technology to diagnose and repair vehicles exists today that wasn’t around in 2012, so we need to make this change to protect consumer choice and preserve an open market for auto repairs.”
Steinberg and Wilder are members of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, a group of Massachusetts independent repair shops, local auto parts stores, trade associations, consumers, and drivers interested in making sure car owners have access to the repair and diagnostic information produced by the vehicle they own.
In 2012, the Right to Repair Coalition helped pass the ballot initiative and law in the Legislature. Members of the Coalition also include the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of Massachusetts (AASP-MA) the New England Tire and Service Association (NETSA).
Further information and the Coalition’s radio ad may be found at massrighttorepair.org