As July was just Right to Repair Awareness Month in the automotive aftermarket, there isn’t a better time than right now to spread awareness about the importance of preserving Americans’ right to repair their vehicles, especially as congress continues to debate the necessity of the federal Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act.
It doesn’t seem like that long ago in 2012, when I remember attending senate hearings in Boston for the very first right repair initiative. There, I was listening to both reasonable and outlandish arguments across both sides for why Right to Repair was good or bad for the motorists and the industry. I also remember talking to my OEM colleagues and aftermarket associations explaining why the right to repair concept of a universal diagnostics interface supported by SAE standards was so critical. Even more than 10 years ago, I felt strongly that the aftermarket needed to have the same access to vehicle diagnostics as dealerships if we were all going to be successful, and Right to Repair was a way to make that happen.
The Right to Repair strategy was actually quite smart. Pick a single state for the battle, get a law passed, and use that law to bring automakers, AutoCare (formerly AAIA) and the industry together to craft a National MOU that everyone could work with. A MOU that spread across the country but had the teeth of the Massachusetts law to support it.
Since my involvement began in the Right to Repair movement spanning over a decade ago, the topic has always been controversial, but it has laid the groundwork for independent repair shops and the collision repair industry as a whole to have the same access as dealerships. A great example is the published position statements on pre-repair and post-repair screening coming from particular OEMs that specifically direct the aftermarket to use their OEM Diagnostic scans to ensure a vehicle is safe after repair. Those positions ensure that complex vehicles can be verified safe after collisions, but that OEM position would have not been possible if not for Right to Repair enabling the entire market to have equal access to their diagnostic systems.
Many years after the first Massachusetts law and MOU, a second law was crafted, voted on, and passed in 2020. The second law aimed to address how service needs to change as vehicle technology changes. Specifically, the 2020 law extended right to repair to address concerns the industry has seen with onboard secure vehicle gateways, lack of access for heavy duty and motorcycle, and the coming wave of telematics powered by autonomous vehicles, EV, and ADAS Systems.
However, ever since Massachusetts voters passed that 2020 referendum this access has been called into question primarily around how the 2020 law specifies telematics access must be given to repairers and vehicle owners for diagnosing and repairing their vehicles. The law sits with a judge in Massachusetts for the final decision and many stakeholders have weighed in, even NHTSA. The aftermarket raises a valid issue that these shops may be missing the same level of diagnostic access that dealers have and be forced to find other ways to repair these cars which can ultimately increase costs and raise safety concerns. The Automakers raise an issue that they do not want to give complete telematics access, and they believe the specific method for telematics access is not secure.
The Changing Landscape With Right to Repair
With the Automotive Service Association (ASA), Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS), and Auto Innovators recently affirming a 2014 national memorandum of understanding (MOU) regarding Right to Repair, a new Right to Repair "Pact" has emerged, which signals progress, as any activity where automakers and the aftermarket are collaborating and cooperating is a positive thing.
Nonetheless, if this Right to Repair Pact is meant to replace the 2020 Massachusetts legislation, it simply falls short in mentioning how onboard secure gateway access will be granted and managed (gateways are already being employed by FCA, Mercedes, and Hyundai) and it doesn’t specifically grant the aftermarket the exact same access to telematics data as dealerships because it only covers the functions not supported by cabled-OBD access. Additionally, the Right to Repair "Pact” doesn't address heavy-duty vehicles, like trucks to repair aftertreatment systems, so more diagnostic information is needed as well.
As vehicles become more complex and technologically advanced, the proliferation of electronic systems, diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs), and aftertreatment systems, particularly in commercial vehicles, will pose unique challenges for repair shops. Commercial vehicle shops often require specialized diagnostics and repair procedures to effectively address these advanced systems.
The Role of the Right to Repair Pact in Automotive & Commercial Repair Shops
While the new Right to Repair Pact recognizes the evolving nature of vehicle repair and maintenance, not giving independent repair shops specific OEM telematics data will leave them with limited diagnostic capabilities, force them to rely on general knowledge and experience rather than specific data, and even reduce their competitiveness with authorized dealer networks.
For automotive repair shops, the Right to Repair Pact reaffirms parts of Right to Repair and the ability to obtain vital repair information, such as service manuals, wiring diagrams, and diagnostic procedures. However, without direct access to this information, repair quality will be reduced.
Just as mentioned previously, the Right to Repair Pact does not address commercial, heavy-duty vehicles, which presents additional complexities due to their specialized components. These systems require advanced diagnostics and specific tools to effectively identify and resolve issues to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the vehicles on the road.
Balancing OEM Concerns and Customer Needs While Exploring Potential Compromises
Even though the Right to Repair Pact falls short when it comes to direct OBD access, equal telematics access, heavy duty vehicles, and enforcement, it is still important to note that the OEM position papers and scanning activities that have been going on could not have been possible without right to repair, especially from a collision repair perspective. It’s a fundamental building block of just being able to enable repair technicians to repair vehicles safely, correctly, and quickly.
OEMs invest significant resources in developing proprietary technology, and protecting intellectual property of telematics data are crucial considerations for them, in which balancing these concerns with the needs of customers and independent shops is a complex challenge.
Finding a compromise that addresses the concerns of all stakeholders in the aftermarket is essential in order to promote the establishment of standardized protocols for sharing repair information while ensuring proper safeguards for proprietary technology. By promoting transparency and equal access,
Right to Repair could level the playing field between independent shops and OEM-affiliated dealerships to continue fostering competition and innovation in the market.
The new Right to Repair Pact represents a step towards addressing the evolving needs of automotive and commercial vehicle repair shops, but ultimately the outcome of the 2020 Massachusetts Ballot question 1 or an MOU involving AutoCare and the Alliance along with other key stakeholders in the long debated R2R topic has an even more potentially significant impact. By emphasizing transparency, access to repair information, and promoting healthy competition, Right to Repair aims to enhance repair quality and customer satisfaction. However, balancing the concerns of OEMs with the needs of independent shops and customers, specifically related to which telematics technology access methodologies are supported is a critical aspect that requires further exploration. A key debate in the Right to Repair battle hinges around whether automakers should grant direct vehicle telematics access thru a concept called SVI (Secure Vehicle Interface) or a digital twin of the data in a system called ExVE (Extended Vehicle) Through open dialogue and collaboration, a compromise that ensures fair access to repair information while protecting intellectual property rights can be achieved, benefiting all stakeholders in the industry.
While each party line holds strong to their position publicly, I know from the many conversations I continue to have around R2R that there are supporters within automakers and the aftermarket that see the good in a compromise, as long as the aftermarket has the same access as dealers, in the same ways dealers do. For me, that is what Right to Repair is really all about.
Brian Herron is the President and CEO of Opus IVS, a global diagnostics, ADAS calibration, programming, and remote services leader that is innovating the future of safe, complex vehicle repair.