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Nearly $2 Million Spent in Fight Over Auto Repair Law

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Groups on both sides of the so-called "right to repair" ballot question have spent a combined $1.98 million as the debate over the auto repair law continues in the final weeks before Election Day, even after the state legislature passed a compromise bill this summer.

According to reports filed with the Commonwealth's Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee has spent $1,786,805 over the past two years in its efforts to see Question 1 pass on the Bay State ballot this November. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) has been a big supporter, contributing a total of $907,500 to the committee in 2011 and 2012.

Their opponent, the Citizens Committee for Safe and Fair Repair, has spent $195,288 and has received a total of $128,139 in in-kind contributions from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers.

Both sides have run radio ad campaigns, and the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee also ran television ads in favor of the law during the month of July.

The Law In Question

The proposed Availability of Motor Vehicle Repair Information law would prohibit manufacturers from selling or leasing new motor vehicles without allowing the owner to have access to the same diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturer's dealers or in-state authorized repair facilities starting with the 2015 model year.

Under the law, electronic access to the diagnostic and repair information would have to be provided to owners or designated independent repair facilities on a subscription basis and at fair market value. For vehicle from model years 2002 through 2014, manufacturers would be required to make the same information, as well as any diagnostic repair tools, available for purchase by vehicle owners or independent repair facilities.

If Question 1 passes, the Availability of Motor Vehicle Repair Information law will go into effect on January 1, 2013.

"Our basic premise is: you bought the car, you ought to be able to get it fixed where you want," said Art Kinsman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee.

In a statement against the measure, presented by David Martin, the treasurer of Citizens Committee for Safe and Fair Repair, the group argues that such repair information and tools are already available for purchase by anyone under a 2002 national agreement.

"This measure would negatively alter how repair information is provided and mandate the redesign of all cars, trucks, 18-wheelers, public transit and school buses, fire engines, ambulances, motorcycles and RVs," Martin said, adding that the backward redesign could increase sticker prices for consumers.

A survey of 600 likely Massachusetts voters conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center last month found that 79 percent of voters supported the law proposed under Question 1.

A Legislative Fix

In August, Governor Deval Patrick signed off on a bill, passed during the final day of this year's state legislative session, which will allow vehicle owners and independent repair shops access to the diagnostic and repair information for passenger vehicles from manufacturers. The law represented a compromise between automakers and consumers and independent repairers by allowing manufacturers until 2018 to install mandated onboard diagnostic and repair systems in new cars, rather than the 2015 roll-out date specified in the ballot measures.

"There are good things about the ballot question, but overall we're very happy with the bill the legislature passed," said Aaron Lowe, Vice President of Government Affairs for the AAIA.

However, by the time the legislation passed, it was too late to remove Question 1, the "right to repair" measure, from the November ballot. Both sides tentatively agreed to skip or vote no on Question 1 following the bill's passage, but the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee said its members still believe it is important that the ballot measure is approved.

Still an Open Question

Kinsman said the feedback the group has received from its coalition, which includes consumers as well as 2,000 independent repairers, has been overwhelmingly in favor of the original measure.

"Really without exception, everyone still wanted to vote for the ballot," he said.

"There were some additional types of vehicles, and the people who represent them have a legitimate argument that they ought to be covered too."

Kinsman said the negotiated compromise with legislators and car manufacturers did not address other types of vehicles such as motorcycles, larger trucks and RVs, which would be covered under Question 1. He also noted that the ballot measure contains additional, tougher penalties than the bill passed this summer including prohibiting manufacturers and dealers from selling cars in Massachusetts if they are out of compliance.

"We still are saying skip Question 1," said Annemarie Pender, Communications Director for the Association of Global Automakers.

Pender said the group feels that the ballot measure is unnecessary and that the negotiated agreement that was passed by the Commonwealth's legislature was in the best interest of all the parties involved.

If Question 1 passes, it would supersede the recently passed state law.

Kinsman said he did not think the Right to Repair Committee would be planning any big last-minute radio or television ad blitzes.

"We feel pretty good about our chances of the question winning," he said.

"At this point, we'd rather not add to the election clutter." 


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Iron Mike Farquhar

The issue is not strictly one of 'fairness' – as my dealer – a man I trust with my life – explained.

New cars are entirely computer controlled – even the gas pedal has no direct linkage.

So, an untrained person – given access to the codes – could inadvertently reset many of your car's functions – quite literally to the point that by stepping on the gas your car could lurch forward at high speed, - or your breaks could come on suddenly.

[I was suddenly relieved to be still driving an older model!]

Edward Saucier

The days of the backyard mechanic are over. Cars are now too complicated and the parts are buried so deep it becomes a federal case to perform what was once a simple repair. So vehicle owners have no use for the information and will not ask for it.

Auto manufactures and dealerships have been trying for decades to make it harder for independent repair shops to fix cars. These shops have qualified mechanics and should be allowed any and all information available to the dealerships, who, by the way, have no conscience when hitting the consumer with an extraordinarily high repair bill. Many dealerships include repairs that are not necessary and sometimes not even performed.

If cars are made so the manufacturers and dealerships think it is unsafe for anyone other that themselves to work on them they shouldn't make them that way in the first place. If sensors automatically control the braking system, throttle and fuel systems what happens when the sensor fails? Runaway Toyota's happen and no one knew why. Sure they didn't.

Ralph Nader should write another book: Unsafe at any speed - Part II

I vote to pass the bill because I don't want to be at the mercy of unscrupulous dealerships. Independent mechanics are capable enough to screw us at a much cheaper cost.

By the way, safety is the least of their worries. If they want safety, things like directional lights, horns, windshield wipers, four-way flashers, headlight on/off and dimmer switches would all be in the same location for all vehicles.

Iron Mike Farquhar

Once again Edward, you write without the facts...

Car manufactures are REQUIRED to make cars that way because of all the STUPID regulations issued by the EPA. Remember your buddy Al Gore - the global warming guru? He pioneered all the regulations - pushed them through Congress. Now cars are REQUIRED to have lots of useless - and EXPENSIVE - computer-controlled stuff on them.

Don't like it? Thank Al Gore and your 1992 - 2000 era Democrats in Congress.

Edward Saucier

Iron Mike - they do not you moron - the EPA is about polution. You wouldn't know a fact if it crawled up your leg and bit you in the you know what. Crawl back in your hole and don't bother me any more.

Stephen Quist

Just another fan of michael........and his made up facts he utilyzes in all his posts........lmao
michael, your personal opinions are not at all based in facts and that you would even consider yourself to be the arbiter of all issues is really quite laughable.......
you might want to re-visit the educational foundation your life was built on because quite frankly its been an abysmal failure by your posts.......
Ed Saucier again makes michael look foolish......

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