I’ve been in the business of fixing cars for more than 40 years. Same city, same street, and have customers that have been coming to me for decades, mainly because they trust me.
Some are customers who came to me at first because of having a bad experience at the dealer. Others simply came to me from the start. These are people I know. I mean, I really know. They’ve told me about the joys in their lives — marriages, kids and grandkids. And we’ve shared sorrow over sickness and deaths. In many cases we’ve participated in these events together, because we’ve become friends.
It’s because of the relationships I’ve built and the services we have provided, throughout the years, on their cars, their children now come to me.
But that could soon change if the current Right to Repair law isn’t updated. That’s because as of this year, 90% of new cars will be equipped to transmit mechanical information wirelessly and directly to the dealers, bypassing us and shutting out independent car repair shops from being able to access the information we need in order to fix your car.
Advancements in technology are good, no doubt. But let’s be very clear, car manufacturers have one goal here, and one goal only — to steer you to their dealerships where you will pay more for the services.
They may tell you otherwise but the bottom line is this; that without access to their “secure gateways,” we will have no way of accessing the diagnostic information we need. And it is prohibitively expensive to gain that access. In addition, the gateways aren’t standardized — each manufacturer has a different one, and each one requires a different scanning tool.
Take, for example, the experience one of my employees had. He was working on a car that was misfiring, and couldn’t get the information he needed. With the tools he had, he could only access limited information and thus couldn’t get to the root cause of the problem.
That’s why we, along with roughly 4,000 independent car repair and auto parts shops, drivers and trade associations across the state, have joined the Right to Repair Coalition urging you to vote YES on Question 1 in November’s election. Voting YES on Question 1 will ensure that you continue to get the choice of where you can take your car for servicing.
A little context might help. Back in 2012 the issue went to a ballot initiative during which 86% of Massachusetts drivers voted overwhelmingly to update the law allowing car repair shops to access the information needed to fix cars. The next year, lawmakers enacted a law to do so.
It’s that law that needs updating due to the wireless technology.
Fixing cars is our livelihood. We are small businesses and if we get shut out of doing the work that allows us to hire others and put food on our tables, there’s no question it will result in many of us closing our doors. That would be a shame on so many levels.
The big auto industry has poured $25 million into the campaign so far. You’ve no doubt seen the ads trying to scare you by saying your personal security is at stake. They did that in 2012 as well. But here’s the thing, the information we’re talking about is limited to mechanical information only. It’s the exact same information the 2012 law gave us access to. That’s important context.
This is a matter of commonsense. Updating the law is necessary to stay true to its intent. It would allow me and the thousands of other independent car shops, access to what we need and allow future generations to continue servicing cars. This is about protecting consumers’ choices.
And frankly, you own the car. Shouldn’t you own the mechanical information about it?
Brian Johnson owns Brian’s Auto Repair & Tire in Fitchburg.