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The Battle Over Right To Repair: More Important Than Ever Before

Source: Aftermarket Business World

As we begin 2018, one of the issues that seems to never go totally away is right to repair. There is good reason for this since many of the issues now at the forefront of our industry, such as access to data transmitted by embedded telematics systems, have as their root the right of car owners to obtain repairs for their vehicle from the location of their choice and not be limited to authorized dealer facilities.

Further, the right to repair battle points to an important dynamic that is occurring not only in our industry, but in many others where manufacturers are attempting to assert increased control over how their products are used and repaired. Therefore, it is important to go back and review where the right to repair came from and its current status since its repercussions are not only being felt in the automotive aftermarket in this country, but in other countries and even other industries.  

Many in our industry are no doubt familiar with the right to repair battle that our industry launched as far back as 2001, but only concluded when a law was finally enacted in Massachusetts in 2012. The car companies embarked on a major campaign to prevent passage, only to finally concede defeat when Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a right to repair ballot measure by an 86-14 percent margin as part of the 2012 elections.

Following the victory in 2012, the car companies agreed in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with Auto Care and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) to comply with the Massachusetts right to repair law nationwide in order to avoid a state by state battle over right to repair.

The result of this effort is that there is now a nationwide requirement that vehicle manufacturers make available to independent repairers at a fair and reasonable price, the same repair information, tools and software that they provide their dealers. This year, the right to repair law and MOU will require car companies to make all of their software, repair capabilities and information available over the cloud on a subscription basis.

Under this system, a shop should be able to download all of the repair capabilities on to a generic laptop and then connect to a vehicle using a standardized interface that either meets either SAE J2535 or ISO 22900 industry standards. If everything works as planned, a shop would be able to obtain on either a long or short-term basis, all of the same diagnostic and repair capabilities that a new car dealer receives for nearly any car that comes into their shop, without the investment of tens of thousands of dollars to purchase car company proprietary tools.

Of course, with the benefits of right to repair come some responsibilities. While having a lot of great tools at their disposal is great, shops need to ensure that their technicians are properly trained to work on late model computer controlled vehicles and know where they can obtain the tools, software and information they need to repair them. Further, if information, tools or software are not available, shops/technicians need to take the responsibility to let us know so that action can be taken to ensure compliance.

Which leads me to a quick word about the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF). NASTF was designated to help ensure that technicians can get what they need to repair cars and to close gaps that occur either on purpose or by accident.

There is a process called the Service Information Request (SIR), where NASTF will attempt to remedy a gap found by a shop. However, NASTF can only do this if someone lets them know there is a problem. The NASTF website also has links to all of the car company service information web sites for quick reference. For most issues, NASTF is a good first point of contact if you need something. Auto Care and other groups can take on more difficult issues. To find out more about NASTF, go to   

Notwithstanding the day-to-day problems that sometimes occur with right to repair in the real world, it is easy to take for granted that the independent aftermarket has for the most part pretty good access to the information and tools needed to work on most makes sold in this country. However, the recent battles in the electronic device industry and the farm industry demonstrates that consumer choice does not always come easy.

You may have seen in the press that independent technicians that work on electronic devices claim that companies like Apple are locking them out from access to the tools and information to work on iPhones and tablets, leaving the OE designated repair facilities the only place consumers can go to obtain repairs.

In the farm industry, John Deere requires that all of their tractors are repaired by only authorized repairers, thus delaying needed repairs for farmers that depend on their tractors to keep their farms profitable. Groups representing independent technicians in the electronic device and farm industry have been pressing for their own version of right to repair, and had bills introduced in about eight states during 2017. While all of those efforts were unsuccessful, they are promising to return in 2018 with additional state efforts.

Further, groups representing the independent automotive aftermarket in Australia and South Africa are fighting their own battle for right to repair. In these countries, the same vehicle manufacturers that are making most information and tools available in the U.S., have severely limited what is available to independents. Our success in the U.S. is providing important assistance to these groups has they move forward with their right to repair efforts.

The right to repair battles in the U.S. and globally makes me wonder what would have happened in the U.S. had the industry not pressed the right to repair battle. It also points to the fact that just like the freedom we enjoy in this country, competition cannot be taken for granted – it must be something that the independent aftermarket must fight to maintain every day, whether through government action or just by educating consumers on the benefits they receive from having a choice on where they get their car repaired.