The Battle to Preserve a Competitive Repair Industry is Once Again Going Through Massachusetts

Monday, August 12, 2019

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

You may have read that there is an increasing number of late model vehicles with the potential to transmit huge amounts of data including vehicle health data, geolocation information and driving habits. This data holds the potential to provide significant benefits to a vehicle owner through improved safety, more efficient and effective repairs, and the availability of new on-road services. For example, imagine the benefits to consumers, the shop and the entire supply chain of being able to obtain a customer’s diagnostic codes before the car arrives in the shop; ordering the right parts, tools and information so that the vehicle can be back on the road with only a short wait time for the customer.

Unfortunately, as currently configured, the manufacturers are harvesting all of the vehicle data and are placing themselves in the enviable position of gatekeeper, allowing them to dictate the terms and limits to access to this critical data. While the independent auto care industry has clearly thrived over the past several years despite the growing technological sophistication of vehicles, their ability to compete has been based on full and unlimited access to the vehicle’s diagnostic system, as well as the tools, information and software needed to provide repairs. The growing number of connected cars and the controls being put in place by the manufacturers over data available from connected cars may be slowly changing the competitive dynamics in the repair industry.

The First Pass in Mass

In 2012, the Auto Care Association and Coalition for Auto Repair Equality (CARE) successfully obtained passage of the Massachusetts “Right to Repair” law, when the voters in that state approved a ballot measure by a 86-14 margin to require equal access for independent repairers to the same service information, tools and software that manufacturers provide to their franchised dealers. In 2014, the vehicle manufacturers signed a Right to Repair Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) whereby they agreed to abide by the Massachusetts Right to Repair law nationwide. While the Massachusetts Right to Repair law and subsequent MOU have been successful for the most part in ensuring independents have the ability to work on late model vehicles, new challenges to competition in the repair industry are quickly emerging as car companies seek to lock down access to the on-board diagnostic system in the name of “cybersecurity.”

The industry only needs to look as far as Fiat Chrysler (FCA), which, beginning with its model year 2018 vehicles, requires shops, the technician and the tools to be authorized by the manufacturer before they can access the on-board diagnostic (OBD) system for many repairs. Other car companies are looking at similar systems or are considering their own approach to cybersecurity that could force shops to access diagnostic codes for a customer’s vehicle through the manufacturer’s cloud.

Justifying the Means?

Clearly, due to the security issues related to the connected vehicle, the days are numbered when a technician can plug into the OBD port and pull off all the data needed to repair the vehicle. Car companies will argue that the ends—a secure vehicle—are worth the means (i.e., a locked- down port). It is critical to understand that with control of data comes market power, whether it is now or sometime in the future.

It is not just the independence of the repair industry that is currently threatened. The ability to control data will provide the manufacturers with a significant leg up on other entities including fleet owners, car rental companies and insurance companies, all of which could become beholden to the manufacturer for the data that they need for their operations. Think about a fleet of vehicles and being forced to rely on the vehicle manufacturer to obtain the logistics and health data for the vehicles that you own.

Standardizing Cybersecurity

While cybersecurity is clearly an important issue, the independent auto care industry cannot let the manufacturers argue that they now must control access to that vehicle from factory to junkyard. Instead, it is important that the issue of cybersecurity be addressed in a manner that is standards-based and ensures that the control of the data is with the owner of the vehicle. The Auto Care Association has shown that this can be done through what is called the Secure Vehicle Interface (SVI). SVI offers a common language and set of interfaces for securely communicating vehicle information to third parties. SVI will be demonstrated in the Technology of Tomorrow section at AAPEX 2019 and more information can be found on the Auto Care Association website. AAPEX also will have a panel discussion, Your Car Your Data, on Wednesday, Nov. 6, from 1:30 – 2:30. To attend, make sure to register for AAPEX.

The Next Round of Right to Repair

Which brings me to the latest action by our industry to ensure our competitive future. The Auto Care Association and CARE, working with the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, has introduced legislation in Massachusetts that would amend the state’s Right to Repair law in order to require that the vehicle owner has the ability to control where the repair data on their vehicle is sent. The legislation also seeks to take on actions by FCA to lock down the OBD port by prohibiting manufacturers from restricting access to the on-board diagnostic system unless access is standardized across all makes and models and that control over access is independent of the manufacturer.

The coalition also recently filed a referendum, similar to the bill under consideration by the state legislature with the state attorney general, that if approved, would appear on the 2020 ballot should the legislature fail to act on our data access bill. Similar to the effort in 2012, this ballot measure would give the citizens of Massachusetts the ability to vote on the issue of whether they or the vehicle manufacturers should be able to control the repair data from their vehicle.

The time has come to allow the innovations and competitiveness of the independent repair industry to continue to serve the motoring public. By removing the manufacturer as the gatekeeper for access to on-board diagnostic systems and the data that shops need to service their customers, the industry can do what it does best: provide affordable, convenient and effective repairs for vehicles. That battle is on for the industry’s future.

Additional information on the Massachusetts Right to Repair effort can be found at

Aaron Lowe, AAP, is senior vice president of regulatory and government affairs for the Auto Care Association. With the Association for more than 35 years, he currently oversees Auto Care’s federal and state legislative and regulatory efforts, focusing on a wide range of environmental, vehicle safety, workplace-health and safety and international trade issues.