Driving a rugged Subaru through snowy weather is a rite of passage for some New Englanders, whose region is a top market for the Japanese automaker.
So it was a surprise to Subaru fans when Massachusetts dealerships started selling its line of 2022 vehicles without a key ingredient: the in-car wireless technology that connects drivers to music, navigation, roadside assistance and crash-avoiding sensors.
“The dealer didn’t bring it up,” said Joy Tewksbury-Pabst, who bought a new Subaru Ascent without realizing she’d be missing out on the remote start and locking features she had before trading in her 2019 model. She also lost the ability to check wiper fluid levels, tire pressure and mileage from her phone.
What’s happening in Massachusetts mirrors a broader battle over who has the “right to repair” increasingly complex electronic products — from iPhones and farm tractors to the family car.
About 75% of Massachusetts voters sided with the auto repair industry in 2020 by passing a ballot initiative that’s supposed to allow car owners and their preferred auto shops to more easily peek into a car’s trove of online data. Automakers have been fighting it in court ever since.
And two of them, Subaru and Kia, said that rather than run afoul of the new law, they would disable their wireless “telematics” systems from new models in the state. Car buyers and dealerships have been feeling the effects.
“It’s certainly a bummer,” said Joe Clark, general manager of the Steve Lewis Subaru dealership in the western Massachusetts town of Hadley. “People are calling back after the fact, realizing they’re missing out.”
Tewksbury-Pabst was one of more than 2.5 million people who voted for the ballot measure in Nov. 2020, after an expensive electoral fight marked by dueling TV commercials. She believes it will help independent auto shops compete with dealerships’ in-house repair shops.
She’s mostly frustrated with Subaru, describing its reaction to the law as “like a child that didn’t get their way and took their ball and went home.”
Cars already have a diagnostic port that mechanics can access for basic repair information, but independent…