'Right to Repair' Advocates Eye Maine's 2023 Ballot

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Maine could become the latest battleground in the national "right to repair" fight over expanding consumer access to wireless motor vehicle diagnostic data.

A coalition of auto repair shops launched a campaign for a statewide referendum in 2023 that would, if approved by voters, require manufacturers to provide software and diagnostic data to small repair shops and vehicle owners.

The groups have received a green light from the Maine secretary of state's office to begin gathering more than 63,000 signatures by a January deadline, the first of several hurdles to make next year's ballot.

Under a nearly decade-old settlement between industry groups, auto manufacturers in Maine and other states are required to provide software and diagnostic data for new vehicles.

But critics say the requirement doesn't include real-time vehicle data, called telematics, which uses wireless technology to transmit data about a vehicle to certified dealerships.

"We see this as a national issue that impacts every state," said Tommy Hickey, executive director of the Maine Right to Repair Coalition. "We believe that every independent repair shop, and more importantly every car owner, should have the right to take their car wherever they choose."

Hickey, who led a similar and successful campaign in Massachusetts two years ago, said he believes that Maine voters will wholeheartedly support the proposed changes.

Under the proposal, manufacturers that sell cars made after 2002 in Maine must include an "standard access platform" that can be accessed by the owner, car dealerships and independent repair shops.

If approved, auto dealerships would be required to provide information about vehicle telematics systems to buyers through a notice to be approved by the attorney general’s office.

Independent shop owners frame the issue as one of consumer protection, claiming automakers fleece the public by using wireless technology to divert repair business to dealerships.

Critics argue the move is unnecessary and could compromise privacy and security for vehicle owners whose diagnostic data would be shared with third-parties.

To make the 2023 ballot, supporters would need to gather signatures from at least 10% of the state's registered voters. In 2022, that was 63,067 signatures, according to the secretary of state's office. The state Legislature could also approve the proposed changes.

Under the proposal, independent repair shops would be authorized to sue auto manufacturers if they are denied access to the mechanical data. Fines could run as high as $10,000 per violation under the plan.

The proposal is likely to face a legal challenge from the auto manufacturing industry, which has in the past sued to block similar referendums in other states.

Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly approved a similar law in 2020 but a coalition of auto manufacturers filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the referendum. The outcome of that legal challenge is pending before a federal judge.

Hickey said he expects a similar amount of opposition and possibly legal challenges to block the Maine proposal.

"Having a monopoly on this information is worth trillions of dollars in profits to car manufacturers, so I think they're going to continue to fight," he said. "But repair shops and consumers want these changes, so we're going to continue to fight for them."

We thank The Center Square for reprint permission.

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