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The Road to Auto Repair Equity: Vote Yes to Ballot Question 1

By Casey M. Allen
By The Crimson Editorial Board
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board.

On Election Day, in addition to selecting America’s next president, Massachusetts voters will vote on a ballot initiative that could determine what happens when your car breaks down in the state. How much is this outcome worth? At least $50 million.

Question 1 on Massachusetts ballots will ask voters to decide whether vehicle manufacturers should be required to make mechanical data transmitted wirelessly accessible to the vehicle owner and to independent repair facilities. This law will modify an existing 2013 “Right to Repair” law which mandates that mechanics get access to data stored inside vehicles in order to even the playing field between the repair services manufacturers (which tried to hoard this data) and independent repair shops can offer.

But what happens when the data isn’t stored in a car itself, but in the cloud? Increasingly, auto repair shops can’t just plug a cable into a car and extract all of the mechanical data that might be relevant to a repair; more and more of this data is wirelessly transmitted.

Advocates of Question 1’s proposed modification to the 2013 “Right to Repair” law claim it will allow auto service companies to compete fairly against auto dealerships when offering repair services in an increasingly cordless age. The law seeks to protect against a future in which auto manufacturers have an oligopoly on accessing wirelessly transmitted mechanical data and can consequently upcharge for superior service informed by data only they can access.

The battle between big car and big repair has been expensive, with at least $50 million spent on lobbying so far between both sides. In the war over telematics, the Coalition for Auto Repair Equity, backed by Jiffy Lube, Firestone, and AutoZone, among other big name repair companies, stands opposed to the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, funded almost exclusively by motor vehicle manufacturers, such as General Motors, Toyota, Ford, and Honda. Though the latter group has outspent the former, neither seems to be the messenger of the people. The scale of this financial battle speaks to the continued need for campaign finance reform in order to make our democratic processes, not least the direct democracy of ballot questions, more equitable and representative.

Still, when the rubber hits the road, we find the efforts of car manufacturers to be disingenuous. Through a coalition billed as advocating for data privacy, they are driving a fear-mongering campaign, hyperbolizing concerns over cybersecurity, and preying on voters’ data privacy worries, so that voters will relinquish their choices when it comes to getting auto repairs.

Inequitable access to mobile telematic data will further hinder the repair shops’ ability to compete with dealership repairs, not only hurting the repair shops, but also low-income drivers who rely on these shops to provide a less expensive alternative to dealership repairs. We encourage voters to put the brakes on the unfair advantage auto manufacturers will increasingly have by voting “Yes” on Ballot Question 1, guaranteeing the “right to repair” in Massachusetts.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.

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