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Lawmakers propose changes in stalled right-to-repair law

The law requires carmakers to provide consumers and independent mechanics with wireless access to diagnostic data generated by most new cars.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/David L Ryan, Globe Staff

Enforcement of the state’s controversial automotive right-to-repair law has already been delayed a year by a federal court fight. But legislation that is now pending would slow the process even more, by giving carmakers three more model years to comply.

The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure held a hearing this week on bills filed by Democratic State Representative Michael Finn of West Springfield and GOP State Representative Steven Howitt of Seekonk that would delay enforcement of the right-to-repair law.

Enacted by the state’s voters in a 2020 referendum, the law requires carmakers to provide consumers and independent mechanics with wireless access to the diagnostic data generated by most new autos. Since many car repairs are impossible without this data, the law seeks to ensure that independent repair shops can compete against new-car dealerships.

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But carmakers and dealers complained that the law was to take effect with the 2022 model year. Some 2022 models went on sale in mid-2021, just a few months after passage of the law. The automakers said it would take years, not months, to modify their vehicle software and data networks to comply with the law.

This is one of the key arguments they made in federal court in Boston, as the car companies sued to strike down the law. The case went to trial last year and a ruling could come at any time.

Finn’s bill would give carmakers until model year 2025 to comply with the right-to-repair law. Howitt’s bill includes similar language, and adds a requirement that the car manufacturers will be responsible for providing information to consumers about their rights under the Massachusetts law. Howitt said that in its current form, the law penalizes car dealers rather than manufacturers for not providing this information.

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“I take the onus off of the dealers and put it on the manufacturers to supply the information,” Howitt said.

Bob O’Koniewski, the executive vice president of the Massachusetts State Auto Dealers Association, said that his organization had drafted both bills. “We’re not looking to overturn the law,” said O’Koniewski. “There are some compliance issues that need to be addressed.”

But Tommy Hickey, director of the Right to Repair Coalition, said carmakers and dealers can easily comply with the current law. “This technology has been in vehicles since 2014,” Hickey said during a virtual hearing on the bills held on Monday, “and there’s no reason why this law cannot be implemented right now.”

Hickey also said that car dealers already provide hundreds of pages of documentation to their customers, so including information about accessing the car’s digital data would not be difficult.


Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.