Massachusetts seeks to strengthen “Right to Repair” law

2004 Dodge Viper repair under hood

The added complexity of modern cars can make repairing them seem daunting, but that very same complexity includes diagnostic software that can help pinpoint problems. Unfortunately, in a bid to safeguard their software and prevent would-be mechanics from doing more harm than good, many original equipment manufacturers have made it difficult for the average DIY mechanic to get access to much of that data.

Right to Repair advocates will be celebrating if Massachusetts’ House Bill 293 becomes law. The legislation, one of many similarly intentioned bills recently proposed in Massachusetts’ House of Representatives, aims to guarantee consumers’ ability to work with vehicle diagnostic systems and reinforces the state’s 2013 Motor Vehicle Right to Repair Law. It also adds a right to decide who can view the telematics, vehicle data sent wirelessly from the car.

Computer motherboard
S Sjoberg

The bill defines a “telematic system” as, “any system in a vehicle that collects and stores information generated by the operation of the vehicle utilizing wireless communications to transfer that information electronically.” That can mean anything from remote diagnostics to alerts when an airbag is deployed.

The addition to the 2013 law would allow vehicle owners and independent repair shops access to a standardized on-board diagnostic system without additional authorization from the manufacturer, “unless that authorization system for access to vehicle networks and their on-board diagnostic systems is standardized across all makes and models sold in the Commonwealth and is administered by an entity unaffiliated with a manufacturer.”

The open access would begin on 2022 model-year vehicles with the bill adding that, “Access also shall include the ability to send commands to in-vehicle components if needed for purposes of maintenance, diagnostics and repair.” The suggested interface points to a mobile phone app.

Rover underhood repair
The Toms

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that unless automakers selling cars in Massachusetts all get together and come up with an industry-wide successor to OBD-2, each will have to provide their respective customers with an app.  With so many things that can go wrong, I can understand a company’s desire to safeguard both their proprietary software and their products’ reputation. Going forward, manufacturers should nonetheless come up with ways to allow consumers to see diagnostics and run tests in a manner that safeguards the vehicle from interference during normal operation. But unless there’s pressure from the public pushing for such outcomes, the industry’s lobbyists will inevitably be successful in protecting automakers’ intellectual property and future repair-driven profits.

What are your thoughts on this? Will this make car repair easier, or will manufacturers come up with their own solution to keep their software secrets?