Right to Repair - 2020 - Vote YES on Question 1

2020 Elections are coming up, and beyond the Trump vs Biden theatrics, in Massachusets we have a ballot referendum on the Right to Repair. TL;DR: Vote ‘Yes’ on Question 1.

Currently auto manufacturers must provide independent auto repair shops access to the same diagnostic and repair information about a vehicle as the manufacturers’ dealers have, but the current law doesn’t include telematics, defined by the state as “systems that collect and wirelessly transmit mechanical data to a remote server.” The ballot measure proposes increased accessibility to telematics via a mobile app, allowing vehicle owners and independent repair shops to read more vehicle information and run diagnostics.

As a Car Guy™, Right to Repair is a huge issue for me, personally. The manufacturers flat-out dont give any details on their engine managment units, they’re basically black boxes. So if i want to upgrade my engine, brakes, etc, i have to either hack the ECU, or find a 3rd party company who has hacked it. If the ECU was an open platform, then 3rd party companies could legitimately make verifiable upgrades. Some 3rd parties are super sketchy and make unsafe changes, while others are very well tested. Because there is no open access or transparency, its basically the wild west.

The other aspect of this, is that manufactuers can lock the car owner into buying parts only from the manufacturer, creating a monopoly on replacement parts. As cars become more electronic, this will become a bigger and bigger problem and deeper monopolies. As a race car builder, i’d love to see open platforms where people can created 3rd party parts and services that compete with the OEM manufacturers.

Case-in-point: after the 2008 economic crisis, many car companies disappeared (SAAB, Pontiac, Saturn, etc). Now, their cars weren’t heavily locked with electronic monopolies, but if they were owners would have no supplier for replacement parts because they’d be locked to a proprietary system that has shut down.

Open access and the right to repair means that 3rd party companies can always build replacement parts and alternative ECUs.

Finally, a big part of this is the misuse of the DMCA. Basically, if someone like me starts selling ECU “tunes” for my Subaru BRZ to other car enthusiasts, Subaru can sue me for “copyright infringement” for modifying the ECU of my own car and helping others modify theirs. This is about the right of the owner to repair, change and use their own vehicles as objects not services owned the the manufacturer.

The DMCA issue is particularly a problem in the automated tractor & farming industries. Companies like John Deere are now running “automated tractors as a Service” (ATaaS) and the farmers have to pay for it as a subscriptions service, and its hugely expensive. It means little-guy farmers can’t really afford it to compete with the big corporate farms. So the little farmers want to write their own software for John Deere tractors that is custom for their farm. The right to repair allows for that.

This is about people owning their personal property, and their ability to do with it as they see fit. This includes repairing, or changing these objects and data.