FILE: Right to repair

The Maine Right to Repair Coalition submitted more than 70,000 signatures on Jan. 19 for a ballot initiative to allow car owners and independent repair facilities to have access to vehicle on-board diagnostic systems.

The initiative targets automobile diagnostic data that is transmitted wirelessly to vehicle manufacturers. According to the Maine Right to Repair Coalition, more than 90% of new cars are now equipped to wirelessly transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information. However, this information is only available to vehicle manufacturers.

Tim Winkeler, CEO of VIP Tire and Service and member of the Maine Right to Repair Coalition, said, “If we don’t do something about ‘Right to Repair’ right now, then what’s going to happen is down the road, these vehicles are gonna have to go back to the dealerships and independent repair shops won’t be able to work on cars. Consumers are at risk of being forced to take their car back to only the dealerships, and not have freedom of choice.”

The campaign seeks to allow consumers and independent shops to have access to diagnostic tools and data to allow for individuals and independent shops to make repairs. According to the Repair Association, an advocacy group promoting right-to-repair policies, two states, New York and Colorado, have passed a right-to-repair bill, while 10 states, not including Maine, have active right-to-repair legislation being considered in 2023.

Massachusetts was the first state to pass right-to-repair legislation in 2013, but this did not include wireless accessibility by vehicle owners and independent shops to telematics systems. In 2020, Massachusetts voters approved Question 1, which would require vehicle owners and independent repair facilities to access this information. However, a group representing automakers filed a lawsuit, arguing that the 2020 law is unenforceable because it conflicts with federal law and the U.S. Constitution and “makes personal driving data available to third parties with no safeguards to protect core vehicle functions and consumers’ private information or physical safety.” The lawsuit is still ongoing.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the group representing automakers in the lawsuit against the Massachusetts measure, said that independent shops can already get the data they need with permission and that allowing the information to be automatically accessible can be dangerous.

For the Maine initiative to be certified to the legislature, it will need 67,682 valid signatures. These signatures are validated by the secretary of state. If the valid signature requirement is met, the initiative will first go to the state legislature. If the legislature passes the initiative, it becomes law. If the initiative is not passed, it will go on the Nov. 2023 ballot for Maine voters to decide.