Automakers now have to comply with MA's Right to Repair law

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said Tuesday automakers can comply with a Massachusetts Right to Repair law, reversing a previous directive to ignore the state legislation.

Massachusetts's Right to Repair law was a ballot initiative that passed overwhelmingly in 2020. The law requires auto manufacturers that sell cars in the state to equip vehicles with a standardized open data platform so that owners and independent mechanics can access telematics data for repairs, maintenance and diagnostics.

In June 2023, NHTSA told automakers they needn't comply with the law, citing hacking concerns. The agency claimed sharing vehicle data would enable criminals to steal data or take control of cars remotely.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey promptly wrote to NHTSA Deputy Administrator Sophie Shulman and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg accusing the feds of favoring Big Auto, which they said spent $25 million to oppose the initiative, and urging them to reconsider.

NHTSA now says the law can roll out, with some caveats. Automakers can safely share diagnostic data with independent mechanics using short-range wireless technology. Long-range wireless signals, though, could potentially allow hackers to send dangerous commands to moving vehicles.

The auto safety agency also said automakers should be allowed "a reasonable period of time" to put the technology in place.

Senators Warren and Markey said Tuesday's decision to allow the law to be enforced will help "ease the burdens and lower costs for Massachusetts drivers."

The White House competition council said it worked behind the scenes to help come to an agreement.

"[The U.S. Department of Transportation] strongly supports the right to repair and is eager to promote consumers’ ability to choose independent or DIY repairs without compromising safety to themselves or others on our nation’s roads," said Ben Halle, director of public affairs at USDOT. "The clarifications contained in the exchange of letters between state and federal partners ensure a path forward to promote competition and give consumers more options, while mitigating a dangerous risk to safety."

In the age of the software-defined vehicle, Right to Repair legislation will become increasingly relevant. Such laws -- which are growing in popularity with around 20 states filing similar bills in 2023 -- are meant to promote competition in the repair market, give consumers the potential to save money on repair options and prevent OEMs from monopolizing repairs and servicing.

Tesla, the EV-maker that's perhaps most well-known for its complex software-hardware-integration, is currently facing a pair of proposed antitrust class action lawsuits in San Francisco accusing the company of unlawfully curbing competition for maintenance and replacement parts for its EVs. Tesla owners often complain about being forced to pay more and wait longer for repair services, due to Tesla's use of proprietary technology and parts.