When mechanics at Ramstrom’s Service Center on West Boylston Street start work on a customer’s car, they reach first for the shiny blue tool chest.
But the tool chest doesn’t contain wrenches. It holds thousands of dollars of computers.
“We spend more time using this stuff than using wrenches now,” said Rick Ramstrom, the owner of the shop.
Welcome to the new world of auto repair, where computers shift gears and everything from keys to transmissions depends on the code.
But in this new world, there is a dispute over who controls the information that code details.
Independent auto repair shops interviewed, said they worry that the information needed to fix any problems with these codes may soon be unavailable, as wireless technology, called telematics, enables cars to communicate directly with manufacturers. The information available now also comes at a cost that some independent repair shops say may be prohibitive.
As a result, independent repair shops, parts stores and consumer groups are reigniting the Right to Repair coalition. The coalition successfully pushed a 2012 ballot initiative and 2013 legislation giving independent auto repair shops the same access to diagnostic information as car manufacturers. The new push is for an update to the law to include telematics.
The Legislature is also getting involved.
Bills pending in the Legislature would require manufacturers to give vehicle owners access to all the wireless information, which consumers could then share with the independent shop of their choosing through a mobile-based app.
But the auto industry is pushing back, saying an update is unnecessary.
“Automakers are already required under the Right to Repair law passed in 2012 to provide all the information needed to diagnose and repair a vehicle,” said Wayne Weikel, senior director of state government affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, in a statement. “So, the issue at hand is not at all about where you can take your car for repairs; it’s about who has real-time, remote access to your driving information. Automakers have and will continue to trust independent repair shops with the data they need to diagnose and repair vehicles that are in their shops. But there is simply no scenario in which real-time, remote access would be necessary for diagnosis or repair.”