Who’s allowed to fix your car when your car is part computer?


Massachusetts is currently the only state with an active right-to-repair law, ensuring third-party vendors can access materials and data they need to fix some modern tech. That measure is one that companies like Apple, John Deere and many others oppose because they’d like to keep those repairs in house.

Part of the Massachusetts law requires automakers to make a car’s internal data system available to independent repair shops. So Kia and Subaru disabled those systems on new cars sold in the state.

Aaron Perzanowski teaches law at Case Western Reserve University and is author of the book “The Right to Repair: Reclaiming the Things We Own.” He explained existing and proposed legislation aimed at giving car owners greater control of their own data. The following is an edited transcript of his conversation with Adams.

Aaron Perzanowski: Part of what we’ve seen is the increasing introduction of software, network communications into devices that used to be fairly straightforward mechanical devices. And that makes the data all that more important for people who want to engage in these sorts of repairs. That means that access to software code and data more broadly are really crucial in the repair landscape.

Kimberly Adams: I guess an example of this seems to be what’s happening with Kia and Subaru dealers in Massachusetts. Can you lay out that situation for me?

Perzanowski: So back in 2012, Massachusetts passed a law that mandated that consumers and independent repair shops be given access to data necessary to engage in the repair of automobiles. More and more of that information is being transmitted using telematics systems — these are wireless communications, where data generated and recorded on the vehicle can be sent to the manufacturer or the dealer. And so Massachusetts updated its law to include these telematics systems. And so we’ve seen litigation from the car manufacturers challenging that law, saying they can’t possibly comply with its requirements in the given time frame. And so some car manufacturers have responded by simply shutting off their telematics systems for vehicles sold within the state of…

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