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Portland Press Herald: Maine’s Right-to-Repair Law Now in Effect, but Its Full Impact Won’t Be Felt until Next Year


Source: Kay Neufeld, Portland Press Herald

The state still needs to create a database for repair data and an oversight board to ensure manufacturers are sharing that information. Until that happens, mechanics and consumers may not see any changes.

Mainers voted overwhelmingly last year in favor of establishing automotive right to repair, which is designed to let any vehicle owner go to an independent repair shop to get work done.

But the measure, which became law this month, won’t go into full effect for at least a year. That’s because the state still needs to establish a database for the advanced diagnostic repair data and create an independent oversight board to ensure car manufacturers are sharing that data.

In the meantime, mechanics and consumers are likely to see minimal impact.

“Nothing’s changed, and I don’t see anything changing in the near future,” said Ryan Lund, shop manager at Bernie’s Auto Repair in Westbrook.

The immediate impact of the law is that car manufacturers are now required to share access to advanced repair data that independent mechanics said was being withheld. If manufacturers don’t, they face at least a $10,000 fine for each infraction.

However, even though the data is technically available, the cost to access it remains prohibitive for some mechanics because they have to purchase individual subscriptions for each manufacturer. A statewide database will make it easier, and less costly, for independent shops, but that work won’t be done until early 2025.

“The Office (of the Maine Attorney General) has been meeting with industry stakeholders as we work towards implementation, including the creation of an independent entity to carry out the functions set forth in the law,” spokesperson Danna Hayes said. She declined to say who has been involved in those conversations.

Tommy Hickey, director of the Maine Right to Repair Coalition, says he has been among those meeting with the attorney general’s office to help create the platform. He also leads the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee, where he helped pass a similar referendum in 2020.

Hickey said the roll out will require working with experts who can provide guidance on best practices to ensure the platform is cyber-secure, accessible to consumers and effectively enforced.

“We are putting every resource in front of the attorney general showing the technological, already existing infrastructure in order to implement this,” Hickey said. “It’s like putting a research paper together. You need to get every piece of information there and then decide how you’re going to dissect that and piece it all together.”

Mainers voted to pass the right to repair ballot initiative in November.

The law requires manufacturers to give vehicle owners and independent shops the same access to their diagnostic tools that they give to their authorized repair shops, including software, information, capabilities, tools, parts and miscellaneous components. It also standardizes the digital platform owners and repair shops use to access this information.

ACCESS TO DIAGNOSTICS AT ISSUE

The ballot initiative stemmed from concerns about car manufacturers changing the systems that mechanics use to obtain the data they need to make repairs. Newer models wirelessly send diagnostic data about the vehicle’s performance and systems directly to dealerships and manufacturers.

Independent repair shop owners, DIY-repair owners, and aftermarket parts companies have been concerned about car manufacturers increasingly moving essential repair data to these wireless systems that they couldn’t access.

Some say they can’t access this repair data altogether, while others say they are able to access the information but cannot afford to buy subscriptions to each manufacturer’s repair applications.

The auto industry, however, has been concerned about how the law could pose cybersecurity and consumer privacy threats.

Voters weren’t swayed by the industry’s concerns and overwhelmingly approved the referendum with 84% support.

Whether manufacturers have been limiting access to the wireless data is up for debate. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the trade group representing all major auto manufacturers, says that access to the data has always been available. Some independent mechanics disagree.

At Bernie’s Auto Repair, shop manager Lund said he can’t rely on manufacturers like Honda, BMW and Mercedes to offer all telematics information in their subscription programs. Some of that information is limited, which means that in some cases Bernie’s has to send cars to the dealerships to be repaired.

Even so, many independent repair shop owners say that it’s not financially sustainable to purchase individual subscriptions for each manufacturer.

That’s where a standardized platform will come into play.

Until that happens, the impacts of the law aren’t that noticeable.

There is still a chance the law could be challenged in court. In Massachusetts, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation sued the state just three weeks after voters approved their law in 2020. That case is ongoing, although last summer the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates vehicle safety, came out in support of that Massachusetts law after previously telling car makers not to comply.

No lawsuits have been filed in Maine, and a spokesperson for the alliance would only say that there are no updates to report.

Hickey, meanwhile, has been doing outreach to make sure that independent repair shop owners know their rights – and what to do when those rights have been violated.

SKEPTICISM REMAINS

But independent repair shops haven’t felt any differences just yet. And they are skeptical about whether they’ll find any benefits in the future.

“I don’t think it’s going to change your life, though it might change some stuff,” said Lund, the Westbrook repair shop manager. “But so far, I haven’t seen or heard of any change.”

Lund believes that change can only come on the federal level.

“I could be wrong, but you can’t tell me that Ford, for example, is going to change all their diagnostic setups and their programming just for the state of Maine,” he said.

Even so, Lund supported the referendum and encouraged his customers to vote for it. He has seen the impacts that restricting access to repair data has had on Bernie’s Auto Repair and other businesses in the independent sector of the industry.

Josh Coron, co-owner of Adventure Autoworks in Turner, also supported the referendum campaign. He said the current system is untenable for most small independent repair shops, although his shop is hanging on.

But Coron, too, has reservations about whether this law can truly save Maine’s many small repair businesses.

“If they actually do come up with a database that allows me to have all the information that the dealer has, that’s fantastic. It hasn’t been that way in a long time,” he said. “I just don’t see that happening.”

With their rights expanding in the last two weeks, Coron and Lund haven’t yet needed to request manufacturer data. Lund said he might try soon, though.

“I doubt I’d be successful, but I’ll give it a shot,” he said.

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