Massachusetts Voters To Decide If Car Dealerships Have Exclusive Rights To Necessary Repair Info

Earlier this year, the Massachusetts state Senate passed a “Right to Repair” bill that would allow your local mechanic to have access to info that is now only available to car dealerships. But the legislation has stalled in the state House. Sick of inaction, 16,000 Bay State residents petitioned the state, and everyone will have a chance to vote on it come November.

In case you’ve never had your car repaired at a dealership, it’s often quite expensive. And with each new model that rolls off the line representing another leap in technology, dealerships are sometimes the only placed that is both fully trained and equipped to handle a repair.

But the legislation would compel automakers to make the information and tools needed for these repairs available for purchase at a reasonable price to both independent mechanics and car-owners who decide to go the DIY route.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says the bill as-written would put automakers’ intellectual property at risk. The Boston Globe reports that the AAM claims it has been working on a compromise, but that it will put up a fight if the measure goes before the voters of Massachusetts.

“Automakers have a responsibility to the safety of our consumers, the longterm integrity of our products, and the jobs of eight million American workers who rely on us for their livelihoods,” an AAM rep tells the Globe.

The group that pulled together the 16,000 signatures says a legislative compromise could be acceptable, but that it was important to get the matter on the November ballot because, “one way or another, Massachusetts consumers will soon be able to take their vehicle where they want for repair and maintenance.”

Whether this is legislation is passed in the state house or in the voting booth, we expect it will ultimately end up being resolved in a court of law.

Supporters submit enough signatures to place ‘Right to Repair’ on November ballot []


Edit Your Comment

  1. Blueskylaw says:

    Check out the curves and lines on that body model.

  2. Bladerunner says:

    “The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says the bill as-written would put automakers’ intellectual property at risk”

    Fuck you guys. I should be able to know, if I choose, literally everything about this vehicle that propels me at ludicrous speeds on tiny bits of rubber.

    • Jawaka says:

      You should be able to take apart your car and do what even you want to it but the auto makers shouldn’t be required to release information and tools to help you do it.

      • DeeJayQueue says:

        If the automakers use proprietary tools and equipment to assemble the car, then yes, they should be compelled to provide the tools (or the information with which to create the tools) to disassemble the car.

        • aerodawg says:

          With what other “thing” that you can buy is the manufacter required to provide you the tools to tinker with it? They can’t stop someone else from providing said tools but there’s no way in hell they should be required to provide them.

          • KyBash says:

            Automakers stop people from providing tools by patenting tool designs. They then remodel a large number of parts so they can only be installed or removed using those ridiculous tools.

            The sockets to remove 99% of spark plugs made before 2010 costs $2.89 at most parts stores.

            The tool to remove the spark plugs on one particular make and model of new car: $129.95! It’s only available from the dealership, of course, and they’ve been on backorder for sixteen months.

            • shepd says:

              Sounds like patents are the problem and we could fix this not by creating new legislation, but rather, removing old and tired legislation.

        • Skyhawk says:

          So, should Apple be forced to provide all of their intellectual property and furnish tools to every electronics repair company?

  3. Marlin says:

    Yea when I was a tech and ran my own shop if someone had an ABS light on all I could do is check the basic stuff and then send them to the dealer.

    The equipment would have cost indi shops so much they would have to used it 1000times to break even, well if they were honest as I was.
    When OBD2 came out the only way I could afford it was to buy a Palm pilot and software that ran off it. This was more than just the code reader but could read each sensor and such.

    Even as I work on my own cars and families I worry that the airbag light will come on in my wife Mercedes, or has a programming issue in the trans, etc…
    So for those that even have the skills like myself; repairs can still be out of our range. I hope more states pass bills like this as many drivers will skip maintaince and safety repair as its to costly.

    • Claire says:


      I have the unfortunate disadvantage of being a girl who knows how to work on cars. Dealers and many indy shops try to screw me over, thinking I don’t know what I’m talking about, so I end up doing most of my own work. The problem with this is that I drive a newer BMW, which still requires trips to the dealership for things as mundane as replacing a battery (has to be coded so the car recognizes it). Ridiculous. BMW also uses proprietary “special tools” for routine maintenance. Need to change your spark plugs? BMW Special Tool required for that, available from the dealership, and with a dealership price tag.

      Woe unto me if my airbag light ever comes on. These cars have so many sensors, it’s hard to keep up with all the coding and diagnostic equipment required for even basic service. Tasks that should take even a modestly-equipped DIYer minutes to do end up taking hours, or being skipped entirely at the price of potential safety concerns.

      • Jawaka says:

        Isnt that something that should be factored in when you decide which vehicle to purchase?

        • Claire says:

          True. And for me, it was, to an extent. These cars are finicky and do require specific maintenance intervals, which I was prepared for. What I wasn’t prepared for was how possessive the dealerships would be with these “proprietary tools.” I bought the service manual for the car shortly after I purchased it, so I can do about 90% of any required maintenance on my own. The 10% that remains is really just ridiculous, pointless reasons to take it in to the dealership. So it’s more a matter of principal I guess. For example: Need to change a water pump or dismantle the top end of the engine? No problem. You can do that in your driveway. Battery died? That’s an unavoidable trip to the dealership. Just doesn’t make much sense to me.

      • dcatz says:

        And this is why I buy Hyundai cars.

        Hyundai makes their entire litany of technical documents for all cars available online for free :

        The BMW battery nonsense can be bypassed but it requires hacking the onboard computer which is not for the uninitiated.

      • Kuri says:

        Think of how much of that wouldn’t be needed if people didn’t steal our vehicles.

    • wombats lives in [redacted] says:

      :( I loathe the new airbag systems being set up in a series system. I understand the added benefits of the working parts but when one part fails it shut down the entire system on our car. Even analyzing the issue cost over $100. Fixing it was $1,500.

      • Claire says:

        My airbag light came on one night in my Jetta. I traded it in 2 days later. Figured that would be the easiest route….

        (only partially kidding).

  4. MCerberus says:

    Intellectual property at risk?
    Oh yes, THAT’S the route you want to take when appealing to the public.

    Oh no, the corrupt system that nearly drowned the modern world in corporate censorship is in danger! BETTER NOT LET PEOPLE REPAIR MY CAR

  5. BigHeadEd says:

    Two outcomes I would expect if the automakers are “compelled”: OEM parts will become much more expensive and warranties will be modified in the future to exclude any car that has been serviced by a non-dealer during the warranty period.

    • Marlin says:

      Well they would have the repeal the Magnuson-Moss Act to make that happen.

      • hotpocketdeath says:

        ^^ This.

        It’s too bad most people don’t know about this Act and how it protects them from Dealerships trying to deny warranty claims.

      • BigHeadEd says:

        Never heard of it, but thanks for the information.

        • Marlin says:

          Yea many have not, like hotpocketdeath was pointing out. I always tell people that get any warranty denied to look that Act/Law up and then the states lemon law.

          • RvLeshrac says:

            What? I thought this was common-knowledge? The single most important piece of consumer legislation to be passed in the last 100 years.

      • BurtReynolds says:

        Well who has more money? The NADA or indie shops? Consider the Act repealed!

  6. Guppy06 says:

    What will they threaten to do, pull all those car manufacturing jobs out of Massachusetts?

  7. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    …the legislation would compel automakers to make the information and tools needed for these repairs available for purchase at a reasonable price…

    And who determines what is reasonable? Some bureaucrat? Some politician lobbied by the industry? Joe the mechanic?

    • limbodog says:

      How about if you make a new screwdriver, it should cost about the same as another screwdriver and not 30x as much. Because that’s what I’m seeing now.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        About the same as determined by who? Who makes that determination? Is 2x as much for a special screwdriver ok? 3x? Who says? Is the law going to say that a screwdriver company isn’t allowed to price screwdrivers however it wants and it must price them all the same regardless of cost of production and supply/demand considerations?

        • RvLeshrac says:

          “About the same” as determined by the average market price for a screwdriver.

          Don’t be a stupid fuck just to be a stupid fuck.

  8. existent80 says:

    I suspect this is tied in with the who have model legislation and are trying to push bills through state legislatures. I think it’s a great movement and sorely needed.

  9. Charles Edward Winthrop III, Esquire, Investigator of the Unknown Music says:

    Here’s an idea. Don’t talk to the dealership about repair work, period.

    When I bought the Lady, I called up several Ford dealerships in my area, just wanting to get her checked out, so I could set up a list of repairs she’d need. The cheapest price just for a checkup was over $300.

    So I called Ford directly. Explained the situation to them, and a couple of days later I got a package through FedEx. The complete service manual AND build log (she’s a factory custom job, since she was built to be an ambulance originally)! Cost? Free of charge!

    Daughter did the same thing with GM for her car. They charged her shipping ($8) for the service manual.

    tl;dr version: Dealers are scum, but manufacturers are willing to help!

    • Marlin says:

      Service manuals only go so far and don’t have the programming or other items needed for today’s cars.
      For my 1973 Corvette the factory manual goes a long way. But for my wifes Mercedes it only covers the basic as most systems are computer controlled so being able to trace wires back to a box does little good if I can’t see inside the box to see what its doing and/or seeing.

      • Charles Edward Winthrop III, Esquire, Investigator of the Unknown Music says:

        Between the manual and the build log, I could get an exact duplicate of the Lady built, with a decent supply of parts. EVERY nut and bolt is listed, and she’s old enough that she doesn’t have a full ECM.

        It’s always fun to take her to a new mechanic. They pop the hood and go “WTF is this?” Then I hand them the books. :)

        • Marlin says:

          Oh I agree that for cars like yours and my classic Chevy service manuals go a long way. I could strip my Corvette down and back with just the factory manuals.

          Of course if you go far enough back factory manuals use to cost a arm and a leg and sometimes were hard to get.

          So different time but same BS from car makers.

    • dolemite says:

      That works…for now. Many manufacturers have encrypted codes/logic pertaining to the car’s CPU. A mechanic can’t do anything if they can’t talk to the computer. Right now it’s mostly high-end cars like BMW, Audi, etc, but if every company made it so only their dealerships could communicate with the brains of a car, we’d all be locked into taking our vehicles to them.

  10. Taylor Rolyat says:

    As someone who likes high quality Mexican food, I’ve never so much as set foot inside a Taco Bell…BUT as a food truck fan & twitter follower of many such food trucks (both in NYC and DC), this…is…AWESOME.

  11. SirWired says:

    AAM, exactly how are safety, integrity, and car manufacturer jobs at risk because you have to sell Special Tool 3579 to Joe’s Garage?

  12. LorgSkyegon says:

    Now if only they applied this to Apple too…

    • Worstdaysinceyesterday says:

      Can you be more specific? Most Apple stores do not even have a repair shop. You either send in or go to an authorized repair shop for warranty work, or have your nephew/little sister/retired dad fix it if out of warranty and you cannot do it yourself.

  13. limbodog says:

    Standard anti-competition. It should be illegal due to the close relationships between the manufacturers and dealers. Either break up the relationship or make the tools and info available to all (and stop gouging on the tools made specifically to thwart repairs at non-dealerships).

    If we had a real government interested in our welfare, it would never have gotten this far.

    It should not require a $500.00 tool to replace a headlight for “safety reasaons” (looking at you volkswagen)

    • aerodawg says:

      And how pray tell do you break up that relationship when the whole business of making and selling cars is predicated on that relationship due to franchise laws?

      • bar_foo says:

        With laws like this. You enable consumers to choose their provider for different services, fostering competition.

  14. pgr says:

    They ain’t called “Stealerships” fer nutin’

  15. Rick Sphinx says:

    If stuff didn’t break, we wouldn’t need this info. GM should know this well.

  16. Rick Sphinx says:

    I once had to replace my DIC (Driver Info Center) on my Pontiac Grand Prix. Was dim on one side, thought I just needed a light bulb. Dealership said “have to replac the whole unit, cost $450”. Thanks to the internet, found someone who had the same issue, documented the procedure to replace the bulb, like I originally though. Cost to me $4.00 for the 3 bulbs (did all 3 since I had it opened up), and 2 hours of my time. Thank you internet. Dealership, go F yourself.

    • BurtReynolds says:

      That is everywhere though. Even non-dealer shops have the “replace until you fix it” mentality.

      A co-worker had a hole in her exhaust. 1st shop – Replace everything for $500. Dealer – Replace everything for $700. 2nd shop – Fix hole for $100. The car is a 13 year old Subaru, it doesn’t need everything to be new and shiny, just fix the problem.

      That reminds me, I need to get the courage to turn a wrench on my own car one of these days. I have the books and common sense to follow directions and put 2 and 2 together. I just wish I had someone to go “looks good!” when I was all done before I ruin something.

      • RvLeshrac says:

        The problem is that most jobs beyond the most simple of repairs, which are usually $20-50 or so, require tools that cost a dozen times more than the repair.

  17. Torchwood says:

    Did anyone ask how “proprietary interfaces” worked out for the computer manufacturers?

  18. Kuri says:

    Can only imagine how much of this wouldn’t be in place if people didn’t steal vehicles or vehicle parts.

  19. dcatz says:

    I would also like to point out that this exercise is futile because the second this law is passed, Massachusetts will be slapped with a federal lawsuit by one or more of the auto-manufacturers at which point the law will be unceremoniously struck down as being pre-empted by Federal Copyright and Patent law.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      Why? This law wouldn’t violate any copyrights or patents. It doesn’t require the manufacturers to give up any rights. Since it only affects companies who wish to sell products in the State of Massachusetts, it wouldn’t even be a viable federal lawsuit in the first place.

  20. Rhinoguy says:

    The only custom tool I have bought so far is a special twelve sided Torx-like wrench that removes head bolts from VW and some Porsche. It’s a funky Allen wrench. $35. But I sold it on Craigslist in a single day for $35 when I was done with it. Sold the wrench faster than the VW. Haven’t owned a VW since.
    As I told the VW dealer who bought the car outright this funky wrench is a form of disrespect for the customer. He agreed.
    The manufacturer is not obliged to make your life easy just because you bought his product. It is an idiot to do otherwise. And if they all do it then a remedy should be put in place. Can’t swear that the government is the right one to put the remedy there, but who else can?

  21. justgotwicked says:

    I am a master mechanic who has worked for Ford, GM and Dodge but have been working for an independent for the past three years. I say to let them keep their exclusivity on certain things such as ABS and airbag systems so that the ordinary jack off doesn’t find a way to kill themselves in the driveway. Sure, it sucks for the little guys like us who have to send cars to the dealership when we can’t diagnose it properly, but sometimes it’s for the best. However there are certain things such as the misfire monitor on Fords that should be made available on scan tools under 12,000 dollars.

    Working for an independent means that a lot of our repairs are from do it yourselfers who screwed up simple tasks like oil drain plugs, radiator stop leak, and canned freon in the first place and we are cleaning their mess. As one of many examples, if you can convince the ordinary person to change their own spark plugs in the 3 valve 5.4 Ford engine, we will be getting plenty of F-150s towed in for broken spark plugs that broke off into the head and a 400 dollar job from us becomes a 2,000 dollar engine tear down recovery mission.

    • shepd says:

      Fortunately, people have figured ways around the “for your safety” stuff like ABS and Airbags, which are entirely more unsafe than if the manufacturers weren’t jerks.

      To bleed ABS: Find a gravel road. Do several emergency stops to engage ABS. Bleed system. Do stops again. Bleed system. Should be OK then.

      Airbags: Find correct resistor size and throw away airbag.

      The spark plug issue on those engines is because Ford sucks. They chose a cheap two piece plug where a one piece plug was the obvious choice. Blaming the backyard mechanic who expects parts to be, well, at least slightly normal isn’t the right way to go about it. Of course, now that that issue is well known, hopefully everyone knows that this is about the only engine you’d ever use a (small!) impact wrench to remove plugs on (and only for the first change).

      Nothing wrong with canned freon if you have the rest of the tools to go with it (you don’t even need all that much to do the basics, just a vacuum pump and proper set of gauges–and of course, the correct oil). Personally, I cheaped out and used cans because there was still some pressure in the system after a winter of it never coming on. The cans here contain mostly propane, too, so for very small leaks, that alone fixes the problem (larger molecule).

      ‘course, then again, I’ve never had a mechanic suggest I shouldn’t do any of the work myself. Heck, last one complemented me on it. :)

  22. JonBoy470 says:

    Sadly, the days of tearing apart your old VW Beetle, hopping up its engine, and turning it into a dune buggy, using nothing other than your Craftsman tool set, are long behind us.

    No independent shop has the economy of scale to justify all the specialized tools unless they specialize in a specific brand of automobile, which then limits their market. Standardized engine and emission diagnostics have already been railroaded into our cars, thanks to the Clean Air Act. Similar standardization should be forced onto manufacturers for non-emission related systems, such as ABS, Airbags, keys, infotainment, anti-theft, etc.