By Spencer Kosior
Right to Repair laws control how much you can know about your car, how quickly some emergency services can assist you, and might even serve as the example for future right to repairs for other consumer products. The law and consumers’ choice are inherently connected.
It is this connection that made the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM) support the Right to Repair Coalition in its effort to pass the law in 2012-2013.
RAM endorsed the 2012 bill, and continues to support the campaign to update the law today, because its members believe it is a strong, pro-consumer piece of legislation that put independent service stations and auto part stores on the same level as manufacturer-owned businesses, according to Bill Rennie. Rennie is the vice president of RAM.
“Many consumers prefer to have their cars serviced or repaired at their local, independent service station, and we need to ensure that those small business owners are not locked out of the future by the auto manufacturers,” says Rennie.
Consumers themselves seem to agree. An ongoing social media survey reports that many Massachusetts drivers prefer taking their vehicle down the street to the local mechanic instead of a dealership.
“I trust my mechanic to do a better job, at a better rate, more honestly and forthrightly than a dealership,” says Cory Cooper, a motorist from Blackstone, Massachusetts.
Cooper is also friends with his mechanic and prefers to support local business for that reason. Several other respondents gave similar reasons. Going to the local repair shop was closer, the deals were better, they preferred building a relationship with their mechanic and they wanted to support a local business instead of an expansive automotive corporation. Because of the 2013 to Right to Repair law, these people are able to bring their car to these local shops to get the same variety of service they would get at a dealership.
Local repair shops are not the only local businesses affected by the law—locksmiths are too.
“Technology is a great thing—it’s very necessary. But you have to protect your car repair choices.”
They are called in to help with locking and security mechanisms whenever a driver is locked out of their car, needs a new key or fob machined for their vehicle. Since locksmiths are not directly associated with repair shops, their access to technical information is limited.
The Massachusetts Locksmiths Association (MLA) supported original Right to Repair law and continues to support the reemerging coalition that is pushing for an update to the roughly 7-year-old law. Members of MLA support updating the policy because it allows them to more effectively do their job, gives consumers more control over who they take their business to, and they believe it will keep costs low.
“It almost becomes like a monopoly situation when automakers keep information from consumers and repair people,” says Gordon Silva, president of the Massachusetts Locksmith Association.
When Silva was asked to give an example of what he means, he mentions Telsa. The all-electric vehicles produced by the Paleo Alto-based company can only be repaired and serviced directly at dealerships or a very select handful of approved third-party repair shops. It is a business model more commonly seen in technology companies like Apple or Canon, not the automotive industry. It completely shuts out an established arm of the automotive repair industry—an arm that regularly operates independent of a mechanic shop or dealership.
Right now, it still can be a lengthy process to access a vehicle’s electronic security system to fix an error or override a lockout, according to Silva. Automotive locksmiths and even AAA roadside assistance workers have to go through a lengthy, bureaucratic process with automotive manufacturers so they can access a vehicle’s security systems.
Academics in the automotive repair industry debate how strict and rigorous these processes should be. If a new Right to Repair law made it easier to get this information and data, it would bring motorist’s autonomy into question. David Protano, chair of Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology’s automotive technology program, has concerns about how law enforcement might use driver data to shut down vehicles, for example.
“I do feel this subject needs to be thought about in great detail before decisions are made,” says Protano.
Since there are so many nuanced technologies in use today within modern cars, consumers should be able to have the resources available to learn how they work and interact with one another.
“Technology is a great thing—it’s very necessary. But you have to protect your car repair choices,” says Tommy Hickey, a spokesperson for the Right to Repair Coalition in Massachusetts.