And there are some weighty forces at war here. According to Ballotpedia, more than $47 million has been spent by supporters and opponents to sway public opinion so far. The Right to Repair Coalition contributed $21.4 million, reportedly receiving large seven-figure donations from organizations like the Coalition of Automotive Repair Equality, Auto Care Association, Auto Zone, O’Reilly Auto Parts and Advance Auto Parts.
Meanwhile, the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data has shelled out at least $25.8 million to oppose Question 1, reportedly receiving large seven-figure donations from General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Honda and Nissan. Go figure.
Lobbying aside, the fact that groups are spending millions of dollars to oppose one another on a pro-consumer change boils down to two very important questions. First, should a consumer have a legal right to self-diagnose and self-repair a product that they purchased or otherwise own? We can all generally agree that yes, they should. We’ve highlighted what’s on the other side of that before: the modern tractor industry, which lacks such a standard, is a maze of data gatekeepers and propriety repairs that actually drives farmers to seek out old, computer-free models instead.
But second, it’s fair to ask why Massachusetts—a state which houses two percent of the U.S. population and where no major automaker has built vehicles since GM shut down its Framingham Assembly Plant in 1989—should dictate legislation with potentially far-reaching ramifications. Beyond the fact that a failure here could make it harder for future, larger-scale efforts to get off the ground, it’s not clear that automakers will actually be able to get a secure, open-access portal off the ground in the next year and a half should the amendment pass. What happens then?
Vehicles are getting more complex as time goes on—there’s no question about it. Many mechanical operations of vehicle controls have been computerized, and in order for consumers to properly troubleshoot problems, complex technical tools and in-depth understanding is often required. And as vehicles move away from internal combustion engines as a whole, it will become more important than ever for consumers to have access to important data about their vehicle, especially as the cost for repairs is driven up as reliability improves.
I know there will be other distractions, but keep your eyes on Massachusetts on November 3rd. The future of your next repair bill could depend on it.
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