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Right to Repair gains momentum in Maine

by | May 9, 2023

The state motto of Maine, “Dirigo,” Latin for “I lead,” is being embraced by the members of the Maine Right to Repair Coalition who find themselves at the vanguard of a movement to ratify legislation that protects independent repair shops. Last February, a referendum campaign spearheaded by the Coalition submitted 74,686 signatures in just three weeks from registered Maine voters, about 7,500 more than required to qualify for a November 2023 ballot.

After a public comment portion that ended in April, we now also have the final language that should appear in the referendum: The initiative question entitled “An act regarding automotive right to repair” in November will be,

“Do you want to require vehicle manufacturers to standardize on-board diagnostic systems and provide remote access to those systems and mechanical data to owners and independent repair facilities?”

The ballot initiative would give Maine car and truck owners access to all of the diagnostic and repair data generated by their vehicles so that they could opt to provide access to any dealer, repair shop, or automaker that they choose during the lifetime of their car.

“More than 90% of new cars are now equipped to transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information wirelessly only to vehicle manufacturers, threatening the rights of consumers to choose to get the cars they own fixed at trusted independent repair shops or do the work themselves,” claims the Coalition.

A national agreement in 2013 between automakers and the auto repair and auto parts industries forced automakers to provide access to repair and diagnostic codes and information but seemingly didn’t anticipate nor cover access to the rapidly expanding wireless technologies now installed in new vehicles.

According to the Coalition’s website, the ballot initiative is necessary to update existing right to repair laws. The official wording for the Maine ballot initiative was approved by the state legislature and announced by Secretary of State Shenna Bellows on April 24.

Photo: Mike Apice.

The Coalition asserts that independent repair shops will be at a disadvantage when it comes to repairing newer vehicles that are increasingly reliant on sophisticated electronic systems and require specialized tools and software to diagnose and repair. It claims the initiative would benefit consumers by giving “Maine car and truck drivers access to all of the diagnostic and repair data generated by their own vehicles…it gives you the right to have the repair data that your own car is generating.”

Patrick Horan of Autoworks, located in Kittery, Maine, one of several Coalition supporters quoted in the organization’s press releases, said, “Now that cars are more computerized, automakers are using technology to prevent us from fixing the next generation of cars and trucks. The only way to protect our shops and our customers’ right to get their car fixed wherever they want is to pass this law.”

The initiative has received support from environmental groups, who argue that it would help to reduce the carbon footprint of the automotive industry. By making it easier for independent shops to repair and maintain vehicles, the initiative would reduce the number of vehicles that are prematurely scrapped and promote the use of more sustainable repair practices.

The ballot initiative has been met with significant opposition from automakers represented by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI), who argue that it would compromise their intellectual property, and lead to substandard repairs and security risks for vehicle owners. The AAI is pushing back hard on the legislation pending in Maine, as it did when a similar ballot initiative passed by a 75% to 25% margin in Massachusetts in 2020.

Implementation of the law has been on hold pending a decision by a federal judge after automakers sued to prevent it from going into effect. More recently, however, newly elected Massachusetts Attorney General Andrea Joy Campbell stated that her state will start enforcing the right to repair law on June 1, 2023, despite the ongoing legal challenge to it.

Photo: Mike Apice.

How all this plays out in Maine is anyone’s guess but may ultimately be moot, since the right to repair movement is now gathering serious steam in Congress. Three different pieces of legislation that essentially mirror the mandates pending in Maine and Massachusetts have been introduced or reintroduced over the last few years. The Fair Repair Act, Saving Money on Auto Repair Transportation Act (SMART Act) and the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair Act (REPAIR Act) were recently endorsed by the attorney generals of 28 states in a letter written to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The letter requests that lawmakers step up their efforts to pass those bills into law, which could supersede state legislation.

Stay tuned to Shop Press for more updates and insights on this developing story.

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