WASHINGTON, D.C. — When his new combine harvester broke down, farmer Danny Wood estimated it would cost around $80,000 a day in lost work. The total wait for parts and service from the manufacturer would have been around two weeks.
"A severe storm could come in any day and wipe out your whole crop, so we can't risk waiting around," he recalled in October during a right-to-repair roundtable hosted by the White House.
Wood did the repair himself despite potentially voiding his warranty and exposing himself financially if serious issues arise later with the combine.
A new Colorado law is designed to fix that problem.
From Colorado farms to electronics in California and Minnesota to automotive service in Maine, there are several initiatives changing the landscape. Advocates for right-to-repair hope the groundswell of state initiatives will push the passage of legislation at the federal level.
At both state and federal levels, right-to-repair has largely had bipartisan support. Proponents argue right-to-repair laws increase competition, allowing consumers faster service at a better price. And consumers' ability to hang on to products longer is ultimately good for the environment.
Opponents describe the legislation as a "solution in search of a problem" that poses data security risks and infringes on intellectual property rights.
Generally, right-to-repair legislation is about promoting fair competition and consumer choice by guaranteeing access to the information, tools and parts needed to make proper repairs of a product.
In the automotive service industry, a key point of right-to-repair is accessing vehicle data.
"We're hearing from so many members who can do the repair, but then they can't get the check engine light to come off. … And they have to then take it back to the dealership, which in turn costs more money for the consumer," Roy Littlefield, Tire Industry Association (TIA) vice president of government affairs, said. TIA held a forum on the subject Oct. 30 prior to the start of the SEMA Show and AAPEX in Las Vegas.
Littlefield noted that independent shops perform around 70% of all vehicle repairs.
"All we're asking for is the information and the tools," he said. "We just want to continue to do what we've always done: service the general public and continue to fix these vehicles."
Adding to the issue, electric vehicles aren't required to have an on-board diagnostics port. The OBD-II system was introduced via the Clean Air Act in 1996 to track vehicle emissions. As vehicles have evolved, the OBDs have become an invaluable tool for service technicians to track error codes in every part of the vehicle. Since the purpose of OBDs was to track emissions, and EVs don't have tailpipes, they are exempt.
While there is not a national standard, California will require EVs to have on-board access to diagnostics starting in 2026.
"It is increasingly harder for independent repair shops to service newer, more technologically advanced cars without the same wireless access to car data that dealers have," Donald Jones, senior vice president, claims design and delivery at Allstate Insurance, said during the White House event. Allstate, he said, supports both the REPAIR Act and the SMART Act.
The Save Money on Auto Repair Transportation (SMART) Act would protect aftermarket parts makers from design infringement after a period of 30 months — versus the current 15 years — for exterior motor vehicle parts such as hoods, tail lights, side mirrors, fenders and quarter panels.
Eric Schneider, SEMA senior director of federal government affairs, said the auto service industry is leading a global movement.
"We're really the tip of the spear," he said at the TIA event. "We've seen some really aggressive anti-competitive things done by some of the auto makers."
On the federal level, the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act — H.R. 906 — has been gaining momentum.
The REPAIR Act would require motor-vehicle manufacturers to provide to a vehicle's owner access to data related to diagnostics, repair, service, wear and (re)calibration of parts and systems of the vehicle. It also states manufacturers "may not impair an owner's access to such vehicle-generated data or impair an aftermarket parts manufacturer from producing or offering compatible aftermarket parts," according to the text of the bill.
The bill also would mandate a "standardized access platform" for vehicle data. Outside of a recall or warranty work, manufacturers would not be able to dictate the use of a particular brand or manufacturer of parts, tools or equipment.
The bill seeks to have the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issue standards for access, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) establish an advisory committee to "provide recommendations on the implementation of this bill, and assess and report on existing and emerging barriers to vehicle repair and vehicle owners' control over their vehicle-generated data."
The REPAIR Act has 48 co-sponsors and passed out of sub-committee Nov. 2.
"We cannot allow the repair industry to be vertically integrated at the expense of American jobs and the expense of losing the right to repair your own car," Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.), a lead sponsor of the bill, said during a Nov. 2 hearing of the House Subcommittee on Innovation, Data and Commerce. "Now as technology continues to evolve faster than consumer protection laws, it's time for an update."
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), a lobbying group for franchised new car dealerships, has been advocating against the REPAIR Act. In a Nov. 3 statement, the group said the bill "raises serious vehicle privacy, security and safety issues for consumers."
NADA argues the bill also undermines intellectual property rights and "unfairly promotes the interests of aftermarket companies."
NADA and 10 other automotive organizations submitted a coalition letter Nov. 2 to the ranking members of the House subcommittee on Innovation, Data and Commerce. The groups argue that independent repair shops already service 70% of out-of-warranty vehicle repairs without right-to-repair legislation.
"Contrary to its stated purpose, the REPAIR Act does not advance consumers' ability to have their vehicles repaired by the repairer of their choice or ensure they will receive a safe repair. Instead, it is a mandate for a complex technical 'solution' in search of a problem. What the REPAIR Act actually does is create new privacy, safety and cybersecurity risks and open the door to expand the scope well beyond vehicle repair," the letter stated.
Littlefield hopes for a vote by the Energy and Commerce committee early in the year. The bill could then move to the full House.
"With all the money being spent by the car manufacturers, we've been able to track up to $80 million that has been spent trying to kill this right-to-repair movement," Littlefield said at the TIA event, "the only way we're going to beat it is if our legislators hear from you — hear from their constituents."
He said they are also considering a companion bill in the Senate.
"I would say we are still in the early stages, but passing the subcommittee was a huge step as the legislation in the last Congress never got a vote or hearing," Littlefield said via email in December. "We hope that Congress moves on this legislation quickly in the first half of 2024. My fear is that the closer we get to the election, the less legislation will be considered and passed."
The current Congress (118th) ends January 2025.
In November, 84% of Maine voters approved vehicle right-to-repair. Maine became the second state — along with Massachusetts — to approve such a law. The Massachusetts law, after years of litigation, was given approval by the NHTSA (who previously told manufacturers to ignore the order) to proceed in August.