Breaking Down the Ballot: Question 4 and the right to repair

Published: Nov. 3, 2023 at 1:41 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - Election Day is Nov. 7.

Question 4 on the ballot is an Act Regarding Automotive Right to Repair.

The question reads:

“Do you want to require vehicle manufacturers to standardize on-board diagnostic systems and provide remote access to those systems and mechanical data to owners and independent repair facilities?”

“I don’t think the complaint so much is with the local dealers, they are business owners, they are operating a business just like anybody else. It is more the corporate,” Dan Brooks said.

Brooks is co-owner of Capital Car Repair in Augusta.

He says he’s had issues in the past accessing information needed to fix a car.

“In a lot of cases, they don’t want to just hand that information to their competitors. It might give them a competitive advantage to be able to just do something one way or another, so they don’t want other people to have that information,” Brooks said.

The information is within the OEM, or Original Equipment Manufacturer, that would provide access to onboard diagnostic and repair information.

“Every one of these blue boxes is a module in this vehicle that controls something, whether it be the engine, the transmission, which is these two modules,” Brooks said.

He says he’s had to turn away a few cars, a problem he says will likely get worse as more cars turn electric.

“We want to be able to get in and read all these modules. There are vehicles out there, as a I said, Tesla’s, I can’t even get into it,” Brooks said.

Beyond the need for third party mechanics is the right for owners to do as they please, including working on their vehicle themselves.

“Do you own the car, or are you just kind of borrowing the car? If you don’t have any way to get into the information of what’s wrong with the car, or your ability to fix it yourself, or decide where it is going to get fixed, are you truly owner of that car or you just use it until you have to take it back to the dealers to get repaired,” Brooks said.

Aaron Schulenburg, executive director for the Society of Collision Repair Specialists, says they support the right to repair, but not Question 4.

He says the right to repair already exists, contrary to how the referendum question is being billed.

“It comes with some presumption that if you answer yes, you want your shop to have access to it, and if you answer no, then they won’t have access to the information they need any longer, and fundamentally, it is written in a way that presumes that that does not already exist today,” Schulenburg said.

Schulenburg says the referendum question should include protection for consumers.

“There should be a right to repair, but the conversation should also talk about the responsibility to repair vehicles properly, and that’s something that is being missed in this question,” Schulenburg said.

He says Maine voters should be educated on what the question means and that answering no does not change what already exists.

“Consumers often gravitate towards the vehicle that they’re driving because of the safety they provide to their family and their friends. I think it is very important that we start talking more about how to ensure safe and proper repairs, how to make sure that Maine consumers are protected in that manner. And if we’re talking about right to repair, we should also be talking about the responsibility to repair properly,” Schulenburg said.