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Mass. sets example for ‘right to repair’

Nearly two years ago, Massachusetts voters upheld the “right to repair” with 75% support, protecting small businesses and consumers alike.

In doing so, Massachusetts provided a blueprint for the rest of New England to follow and similarly protect not only independent auto repair shops, but also the drivers who rely on them. Across our country, “right to repair” has yet again emerged as a hot-button issue, with vehicle manufacturers attempting to shut out competitors and their customers from the auto repair process.

To stop them, independent businesses like VIP Tires & Service and other auto repairers in Maine recently filed an application for a citizen’s initiative with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office. Our goal is a statewide referendum in 2023, reaffirming our right to repair. We are collecting signatures to make the case for business competition and consumer choice, highlighting the real costs associated with a dealership-driven monopoly on auto repair. Our end goal is asking Maine voters to require car manufacturers to make real-time diagnostic and repair data accessible to others. This includes telematics repair data (wireless).

Mainers are looking to Massachusetts for inspiration. Consumer choice is a fundamental component of the U.S. economy. Competition is what provides consumers with that choice, and there’s a reason why 75% of Massachusetts voters believe in the “right to repair.”

It’s the option to choose the best auto repair option at a given time—from dealerships and independent service providers to DIYers. Ultimately, that choice rests with the individual. Some may choose a dealership, while others may opt for a small business alternative. The point is the choice, with no special interest or monopoly controlling what consumers can and cannot do.

In today’s climate, auto repair affects people in different ways than before. Not only are drivers dealing with higher prices across the board, but recent technological trends make it more difficult to get vehicles serviced. Therefore, it is wrong for automakers to limit the servicing options available to consumers. It will only drive prices higher while worsening the customer service experience, given that a monopoly on repair by vehicle manufacturers would result in dealerships having less of an incentive to provide people with the best possible service at competitive prices.

Technological innovation comes with a cost. Over 90% of new cars and trucks are equipped to wirelessly transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information exclusively to vehicle manufacturers, preventing individual drivers or independent repair shops from servicing those vehicles. Wireless technologies are effectively removing the car owner’s right to get their vehicle repaired at a local, independent service provider because the automaker would rather steer that car owner to one of their dealership outlets.

Fortunately for people in Maine and other states, Massachusetts is a success story that can be replicated. All New Englanders should learn lessons from the Bay State, choosing competition, choice, and the right to repair across our region.

Tim Winkeler is president and CEO of VIP Tires & Service, which operates shops in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

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