Automakers v. Auto Repair Shops: Whose Right to Repair? | Rules of Life |

Written by: John Yarbrough


If there’s one thing all car owners complain about at least once, it’s driving your car to an auto shop and being taken by the auto repairman.

“They can make up anything, nobody knows,” George Costanza once railed in an episode of Seinfeld. “‘By the way, you need a new Johnson rod in there.’ ‘Oh, a Johnson rod. Yeah, well, you better put one of those on.’”

But now it’s the auto repair shops that say they’re being cheated – and they don’t think it’s funny. And at least one state legislature agrees with them.

What are auto shops complaining about? The automakers. For years independent shop owners have accused automakers of withholding the tools and information necessary to diagnose and repair their increasingly computerized cars. In turn, they say, the automakers hold the key to fixing those cars, leaving auto shops in the dust. This denies the auto shops their so-called “right to repair,” they say. And they are throwing another wrench in the mix: They are calling for what some have termed a “common diagnostic interface” across the industry.

On both counts, automakers are trying to slam on the brakes. They say providing such information would jeopardize their intellectual property. And they say a common diagnostic interface would require them to redesign vehicle software.

Enter the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act, being proposed in Congress and several state legislatures. The bills would require automakers to provide the same information to independent shops that they give to dealer shops.

Versions of the bill have been around for years, but have died in Congress and in state legislatures. But Massachusetts – believed to be the first state in the nation to issue license plates for vehicles (in 1903) – passed its version of the bill this summer, and it will take effect in November. Its provisions include calling for the adoption of a standard diagnostic interface by model year 2018 – giving manufacturers enough lead time to comply. Some say the Massachusetts law could become the model for a nationwide standard.

So score one for the independents, for now. And hold off on getting that Johnson rod.





H.B. 4632, 187th Gen. Court (Mass. 1012). Protecting Motor Vehicle Owners and Small Businesses in Repairing Motor Vehicles


H.R. 1449, 112th Cong. (2011). Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act of 2011


Right to Repair Coalitions 2012


“Small Mechanics Score as ‘Right to Repair’ Bill Passes”