BOSTON — More than 18 months after Massachusetts voters soundly approved an update to the state’s “right to repair” law, the changes have yet to go into effect.
That’s because a lawsuit filed by automakers to block the law has been grinding on in a U.S. District Court in Boston amid a mountain of legal filings and several delays in a ruling in the case, which seeks to undo the voter-approved changes.
In a new legal brief, lawyers representing the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition call for a “prompt decision” in the case and accuse automakers of using “delay tactics in order to avoid and prevent the implementation of right to repair laws.”
“Undoubtedly, delays are an inevitable part of litigation,” they wrote. “But delay has also been an integral part of auto manufacturers’ strategy in frustrating the ongoing efforts of consumers and independent repair shops to obtain fair and equitable access to diagnostic data needed to maintain and repair vehicles.”
In April, U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock delayed a long-awaited verdict in the case for the fifth time. He cited a “demanding” criminal trial schedule, the resumption of “long delayed in-court non-trial proceedings” and other responsibilities for the delays.
Woodlock has pledged to wrap up his findings and legal rulings in the case by July 1.
Question 1, which was approved by more than 75% of the state’s voters in the Nov. 3, 2020 elections, calls for modifying the law to allow auto repair shops to access “telematics” data from vehicles. A costly ballot fight pitted the nation’s automakers against small repair shops backed by the retail parts industry.
Two weeks after the vote, automakers sued to block the new law from taking effect. A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court by the trade group Alliance for Automobile Innovation argues that the changes would violate federal laws.
Automakers contend a 2013 voter-approved “right to repair” law already allows for sharing of mechanical data. The companies say the voter-sanctioned update would allow “unprotected access to vehicle data that goes far beyond what is needed to repair a vehicle.”
The lawsuit also claims the referendum “sets an impossible task” for updating car computer systems that could prevent automakers from selling vehicles in Massachusetts.
The legal challenge revisits many of the arguments made against the referendum in the campaign, including that it risks safety and compromises personal data.
Backers say the law needed updating because it unfairly allows car makers to use wireless technology to steer business toward dealerships, cutting out small shops and driving up consumer costs.
Lawyers wrote that the impact of the delay in implementing the law are being felt not only by the repair and aftermarket industry, which employs about 40,000 workers, but also consumers.
They pointed to 2020 study of repair costs in Massachusetts show that dealers are 36.2% more expensive, on average, than independent repair shops.
The lack of access to the diagnostic information has created an “urgent” situation where vehicle owners are forced to turn to dealerships for vehicle repairs, “doing irreparable damage” to relationships between repair shops and their customers.
“Owners are being turned away by repair shops that simply cannot fix their cars,” lawyers wrote in the legal brief. “The result is that the viability of the independent repair market is already being significantly harmed, and this harm will only be exacerbated by the passage of time.”