Right to repair needs a tuneup

Manufacturers circumventing 2012 voter-approved law with WiFi tech

WHEN I GOT OUT OF THE ARMY IN 1969, I got a job at a tire wholesaler. After about four years, I was able to open my own shop: Direct Tire and Auto Service in Watertown.

I focused my business around excellent customer service, telling my employees that they must treat every customer like they’re their grandmother. This successful business model enables me to pay my team members a great salary while giving them incentives to provide top notch service.  

But now our local business and the livelihood of our 90 employees is at risk. The Right to Repair law, passed overwhelmingly at the ballot here in Massachusetts in 2012, is becoming obsolete because new automobiles and light trucks increasingly transmit repair and diagnostic information wirelessly and aren’t required to provide that information to the car owner or an independent repair shop like ours that they might choose for service. 

When we opened in the 1970s, it was an entirely different industry; people took their vehicles to the local Mom and Pop shop for repair and there was virtually no computer technology. But now, because of the advance of technology, vehicles are more complex than ever. We have spent a great deal of money over the years training our technicians on new technology and buying the latest scan tools to diagnose vehicles.  

As technology advanced, so did the efforts of car manufacturers to make it hard for local car repair shops to access computer codes and diagnostic reports they needed to repair the vehicle. They wanted to keep repairs all within their network. 

We fixed the access problem with Right to Repair in 2012. Car manufacturers were required to provide access through a data port we could plug our wire into so that we could repair your car, providing you more choices on where to get service. We thought this fight was over. But now, with new WiFi technology, these car manufacturers are once again trying to keep repair data away from you and the local repair shops you might choose.  

Car manufacturers are including technology called telematics in new cars.  If you have purchased a new car in the last few years, it’s very likely you already have this technology installed.  These systems send repair and diagnostic information wirelessly from your car directly back to the manufacturer.  If independent repair shops like mine aren’t able to get access to this information, the consumers won’t be able to shop around and will have no choice but to take their car to the dealership for repairs.    

Independent repair businesses in Massachusetts aren’t able to compete with giant car manufacturers. We need fair access to diagnostic and repair data and so do you—it’s what we all voted for in 2012. 

Meet the Author
Our slogan at Direct Tire is “we’ll fix it so it brakes.” We need the Legislature to fix the Right to Repair law to put a brake on car manufacturers’ attempts to crowd out independent repairers in Massachusetts through wireless technology. 

Barry Steinberg owns Direct Tire & Auto Service, with locations in Watertown, Norwood, Medway, and Peabody.