Local car repair shop owners turned in more than 70,000 signatures to the state Thursday in an effort to require vehicle manufacturers to turn over information to help them fix cars.
The so-called “right to repair” initiative by vehicle repair shops and parts suppliers is a bid to get access to wireless technology that stores information they say is necessary to make repairs.
“This citizens’ initiative is really just about consumer choice,” said Tim Winkeler, president and CEO of VIP Tires & Service. “It’s about giving consumers the ability to work on their own vehicles if they so choose down the road and to allow independent repairers like those of us to continue to work on those vehicles.”
However, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents manufacturers who produce 98% of the cars and light trucks sold in the U.S., called the initiative “entirely unnecessary.”
That’s because the industry entered into an agreement with repair shops and parts suppliers in 2013 that guarantees access to diagnostic information, according Brian Weiss, vice president of communications for the alliance.
“Mainers already can have their car repaired by any repair shop they choose,” the alliance said in a statement. “And all the information needed to diagnose and repair a vehicle today is also already made available to all vehicle repair shops.”
That hasn’t been the case for Dan Brooks, owner of Brooks Boys in Augusta. He told reporters gathered outside the State House Thursday that one vehicle has been sitting in his shop for 10 days while they await the information they need to repair it.
“We’re having troubles getting that,” he said. “I will guarantee you if I was an (original equipment manufacturer) dealer, that would get straightened out in 10 minutes. But because I am a second-hand vendor going through a vendor to get this information, it’s a continual roadblock.”
As it is now, repair shops can plug an onboard diagnostics scanner — which looks like a tablet — into a port on most vehicles to see why something like a check engine light is on, Winkeler told Spectrum News in October.
But newer vehicles push more of that information to a wireless system that consumers and his repair technicians cannot access, he said.
The automotive alliance, which represents major manufacturers such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda, warns that consumers should be worried about how repair shops and parts suppliers will use their data.
“Unlimited access by national aftermarket manufacturers and retailers to your vehicle telematic data is not right to repair,” according to the alliance.
Winkeler said they are seeking only “repair and diagnostic data,” which would be uploaded to a platform they can access with a consumer’s permission.
The state has 30 days to review the signatures and if enough are valid, the initiative will go to the Legislature for consideration. Lawmakers can pass the bill as is or send it to voters in November.