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Right to Repair Goes National

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A new national agreement will enact the controversial Massachusetts Right to Repair bill’s provisions nationwide and eliminate the need for additional U.S. states to pursue similar legislation.

The Massachusetts bill, which was approved in November 2012, requires automobile manufacturers to provide the same diagnostic tools, repair and service information, and software for all light vehicles to independent repair shops as they do for dealerships. Complying with the bill will require auto manufacturers to make all necessary repair information publicly available immediately, and make every vehicle compatible with a standardized J-2534 diagnostic interface by model year 2018, says Daniel Gage, director of communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (Alliance).

In January, the Alliance, Association of Global Automakers, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), and Coalition for Automotive Repair Equality (CARE) agreed to a national Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to prevent other states from pursuing Right to Repair actions while the Massachusetts model is implemented across the country. Gage says passage of additional bills—which were being considered in Maine and New Jersey—“would only weaken the effectiveness and clarity” of the Massachusetts law, which is meant to be the basis of Right to Repair infrastructure on a national scale.

Supporters say Right to Repair will level the playing field for shops, but some in the industry are concerned about manufacturer compliance and whether the impact of the bill will be significant, since repair information is already available through several other sources.

Informational Access and Enforcement

Although shops previously had access to OEM information, it wasn’t a requirement for all auto manufacturers to provide—and there were several circumstances when shops couldn’t find what they needed,  says Aaron Lowe, vice president of governmental affairs for AAIA. All repairers can now subscribe to manufacturer websites for any length of time necessary, which will offer all information required to fix any vehicle model.

An enforcement protocol has been put in place to address and resolve issues caused by noncompliant OEMs. Lowe says independent repairers can submit direct requests to auto manufacturers about the need for information when they can’t access necessary information online, and manufacturers are required to respond within 30 days. If the outcome isn’t satisfactory, repairers can submit the issue to a new dispute resolution panel—composed of two manufacturer representatives, two aftermarket representatives, and one independent representative—to make a ruling.

The MOU guarantees that the information will be obtainable, but it still won’t be free, Gage says.

“It’s not going to change the fact that shops still have to identify the right information and make investments to access it,” Gage says. “Auto manufacturers are bound by franchise law; we can’t offer the information for free to the aftermarket. The MOU is not going to adjust the prices for the information.”

Automotive Service Association (ASA) chairman Darrell Amberson says that though the organization supports voluntary agreements and nonlegislative solutions, the Right to Repair effort will likely not make much difference as far as repair information is concerned. The information has been available to shops for more than a decade through resources such as ALLDATA, Identifix, National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF), OEM websites and other information providers.

Gage says auto manufacturers have always believed that all diagnostic and repair information is provided to the aftermarket and they support the MOU as a way of demonstrating that.

Standardized Diagnostics

The most significant impact of the MOU, Gage says, is that auto manufacturers are required to transition all diagnostic information from proprietary systems to the J-2534 standard diagnostic interface by vehicle model year 2018, which means shops will only need one diagnostic portal for every vehicle starting that year. Gage says shops will still incur costs associated with diagnostic information because the interface will require software updates, but tool costs should be reduced.

J-2534-compliant devices are common, Gage says, and the switch “is going to make [diagnostics] much more uniform, and less of a proprietary system compared to how things stand right now.”

The ASA, however, believes the J-2534 standard could prevent adoption of improved diagnostic options in the future, Amberson says. There are concerns that it’s not realistic for all auto manufacturers to comply with the standard, the interface might not be able to do everything that has been proposed, and it could restrict future technology advances.

Gage says the legislation the MOU is based on ensures future innovation of diagnostics and enhancements beyond J-2534.

Lowe says each manufacturer will be on its own timeline to meet the standard. He anticipates most companies will be compliant sooner than 2018, and some, such as Toyota, already are.

“All shops will be able to perform every repair that a dealership can do,” Lowe says. “This is going to increase the capability and affordability for independent shops to work on multiple makes and models of cars.” 

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