Right To Repair Laws: Good For Consumers?

Legislators in Massachusetts have introduced a "right to repair" bill forcing automakers to publish repair and diagnostic software reserved for dealerships, so you and your local mechanic have access. Sound like common sense? Predictably, manufactures are fighting to kill it.

The notion of "right to repair" is simple enough. When you take your car into a service station for repair, you expect it to be done quickly and efficiently. One problem is that manufactures reserve some critical diagnostic software for their dealership repair shops and do not make it available to every mom and pop station. For certain repairs, it's necessary for independent repair shops to take the car to the dealership to finish a repair, thus incurring additional cost and wasting time, both of which are a detriment to the consumer.

This is common practice in the industry and among the eleven manufactures which make up the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the group putting the most dollars into lobbying against the bill. Their argument against making diagnostic and repair software available to all service stations is a concern over intellectual property. According to manufacturers, making such software available for sale or license would accelerate the counterfeit parts market.

Proponents of the bill — like James O'Day and 33 like-minded representatives co-sponsoring the bill — don't see a reason for concern over the topic. There's nothing in the bill which specifically requires sale of intellectual property to competing parts manufacturers, and there doesn't have to be. The bill recently passed in the Senate and is awaiting debate in the House, but the AAM is still fighting it — something they've has successfully done for almost a decade since RTR legislation first reared its head.

The alternate and unspoken motivation for fighting this legislation cannot be ignored though: making critical software available to competing service stations would mean a loss in profits for dealer repair shops. Keeping some software in-house means dealerships hold the keys to critical repairs, and guarantees some level of profit coming from customers who don't even walk in their doors always makes dealers happu. The fight isn't really about counterfeit parts, it's about keeping the dealership network fat and happy and limiting outside competition.

The situation is nothing new, it's business being protecting its own interests which many times conflicts with what's more than likely good for the consumer. What do you think? Considering the horror stories common at dealership repair shops, the idea of giving your local mechanic — or us as do-it-yourself gearheads — access to all the factory software is one we can get behind, even if it risks the chance of a couple more cheap Chinese parts muddying the aftermarket waters.

[Massachusetts Right To Repair, AP]

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