There are times when a mechanic or road hobbyist with a complete toolbox and the right knowledge can fix any type of car. In Massachusetts, the ballot initiative may soon make the case again, with one major difference – mechanics will need to add a software subscription to the toolbox.
The ballot initiative is called “the right to improve.” Because car guts are becoming less mechanical and more digital, diagnostic software and scanning tools are increasingly needed even for basic repairs. However, car makers are reluctant to provide these tools widely, instead of ordering complete information and software for their franchise dealers. The Massachusetts Initiative will require car makers to make their complete range of repair software available through a single universal interface system, where individuals and independent mechanics can subscribe for daily, weekly, monthly or annual fees.
Supporters of the “right to improve” have collected enough voter signatures to place the issue in the November ballot if the Legislature does not pass its own law. The version of the bill was passed in the Senate on May 17, but the fate of the steps in the House is uncertain. Similar laws have been discussed in other states, including New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, but independent car makers and repair shops see Massachusetts as the main battleground.
Proponents argue that the law will increase customer choice and reduce costs through additional competition by opening the way for non-dealer workshops to do work that can only be done by dealers. Opponents say the law will force car makers to disclose proprietary information, potentially allowing others to duplicate their parts – claims that are difficult to understand, because the software needed to improve existing parts will not include much of the information needed to produce new parts. The main concern of …