In a Technology Tsunami, the Time Is Now to Step Up and Protect the Aftermarket’s Future

In a Technology Tsunami, The Time Is Now to Step Up and Protect the Aftermarket’s Future

By Aaron Lowe, senior vice president , Government and Regulatory Affairs, Auto Care Association

Aaron Lowe
Aaron Lowe

The auto care industry is in the midst of a technology tsunami.

Current vehicles on the road today are software-driven computers on wheels, with nearly every aspect of the vehicle controlled by software. Add technologies like Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology to the equation, which is found in some capacity on most late-model vehicles, and you have a repair scenario that currently is challenging to today’s technician and is sure to be even more difficult for tomorrow’s. This does not even take into account the expected growth in electric vehicles that will certainly mean further changes to how vehicles are repaired.  

Technology in the automotive aftermarket

We Had an Understanding …

While training today’s and tomorrow’s technician will be key, that is only part of the equation. The shops in which technicians work must also be fully equipped to repair vehicles with advanced technology. For this reason, Auto Care Association and the Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) successfully fought in 2012 to obtain passage of a law in Massachusetts that mandated the aftermarket’s access to the same service information, tools and software that the manufacturer provides to their franchised dealers so that they can service these high-tech vehicles. That law led to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) being signed by the Auto Care Association, CARE and the vehicle manufacturers’ trade groups, where the car companies agreed to abide by the Massachusetts law, nationwide.

But Will It Be Enough?

Notwithstanding what was a major victory secured by the independent auto care industry nearly a decade ago, technology is advancing and manufacturers are rapidly building measures into their vehicles that impose proprietary restrictions on access to on-board diagnostics systems; and are equipping their vehicles with wireless communication technology capable of sending a vehicle’s diagnostic information directly to the vehicle manufacturer. In short, the victory that the aftermarket won with right to repair in 2012 could, in the very near future, be mitigated if the manufacturer is successful in their efforts to control the diagnostic data generated by the vehicle.  

So, We Took It to the People…

For this reason, the aftermarket went back to Massachusetts in 2020, scoring another major victory when voters in that state approved a ballot initiative by a 75-25 percent margin that required manufacturers to provide owners with control of their repair and diagnostic data. Specifically, it required all vehicles to be equipped with a standardized platform capable of wirelessly communicating the repair diagnostic data to a repair shop of the owner’s choosing. The ballot initiative also prohibited manufacturers from restricting access to the on-board diagnostic port, unless it is done in a standardized manner, across all makes and models.  

The aftermarket’s victory came after strong opposition from the vehicle manufacturers, who spent over $25 million fighting the Massachusetts Right to Repair ballot initiative. However, instead of listening to the voters, who are also their customers, the manufacturers decided to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the voter supported law.  

The judge in the court case had stated that he wanted to have a quick verdict and expedited the consideration of the case, holding a trial in June 2021, and promising a decision in August of that year.  However, he has delayed the verdict five times, the last being April 15 when he promised a verdict before July 2.. The delay has been extremely frustra