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Right to Repair

Computer technology has become a more and more integral part of modern motor vehicles. In order to properly repair a modern car when there is a problem with it, the technician needs to have access to certain codes which allow him/her to interact with the car’s onboard computer technology.

However, major car manufacturers continue to deny small independent facilities the codes necessary to repair modern computer-managed vehicles. They want to restrict the consumer’s ability to use the free market in order to get the lowest available price.

By ensuring that independent mechanics do not have access to the codes, they are forcing consumers to get their vehicle repaired at the dealership, and pay whatever the dealership wants to charge them. Right to Repair legislation would allow mechanic shops to buy, at a fair price, the same data that car manufacturers give to their dealerships.

In October 2008 New Jersey got closer to enacting Right to Repair than any state had up until that point when the General Assembly passed it 49-22-8. Unfortunately, the effort was jammed up in the state Senate despite there being majority support for it.

While several other states have had fights over Right to Repair, it was not until 2012 that one saw success—Massachusetts. Supporters were able to get more than 100,000 signatures to put the issue directly before the people to be voted on. With polls showing the ballot initiative had the overwhelming support of the public, the car manufacturers agreed to compromise, and Right to Repair was signed into law. It was, however, too late to remove the question from the ballot.

In November, over 2.3 million voters voted in favor of Right to Repair, an astounding 86% of the vote and the largest landslide ever for a public question in Massachusetts. There are some differences between the two laws which need to be straightened out and legislators and stakeholders are currently working them out.

A federal version of Right to Repair has been introduced in every Congressional session since 2001, including the current session. Now that Massachusetts has Right to Repair, representatives from the manufacturers, dealerships, and independent repairers are negotiating the possibility of a national Right to Repair agreement. In order to protect both the American consumer and the functioning of the free market, New Jersey must pass “Right to Repair” legislation.

After Massachusetts passed Right to Repair, the car manufacturers and aftermarket advocates agreed to meet and try to come together on a national agreement that would enact the same Right to Repair standards everywhere.  In deference to these negotiations, the various state groups including NJGCA held back until the agreed upon deadline of July 31, 2013.  Once that date had passed, there was still no agreement.  An informational hearing on the issue was held by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee on June 6, 2013.

On November 18, 2013, the first meeting of the Consumer Affairs Committee since the July 31 deadline, the Committee passed Right to Repair by a vote of 3-1.  Then in December, The General Assembly passed Right to Repair by a 58-15-6 bipartisan margin.  In January 2014, that bill expired, but was reintroduced in both houses.

In mid January 2014, it was announced that the national groups representing the manufacturers and independent repair facilities had come to an agreement on a national Memorandum of Understanding that would enact a version of Right to Repair throughout the US.  You can read this MOU by clicking here.  Unfortunately, it does not cover heavy duty vehicles over 14,000 pounds, even though the Massachusetts law does.  It also is not as permanent or strong as a law would be.