Can ‘Right To Repair’ Stay Fixed?

Don’t you hate it when you have to keep bringing your car back to the shop because the problem you thought was fixed didn’t stay fixed?

Most of us do. That’s why we want the shop to fix it right the first time. But in order to do that, the shop must have the information and tools required for the job.

The Right to Repair law reminds me of those aggravating multiple-trip repairs. Supposedly, the problem of providing independent shops with necessary information was solved more than a decade ago. In 2002, automakers agreed to start sharing at least some of the information necessary to access new diagnostic systems in vehicles, allowing independent repair shops a chance to compete on reasonably fair terms with dealerships for car repair business.

Except that the problem wasn’t really solved in 2002, in light of reports that not all manufacturers were genuinely forthcoming with that information. Fed up, voters in Massachusetts passed a ballot initiative in 2012 designed to more strictly require automotive companies to offer diagnostic information to those willing to pay for it. In a failed attempt to head off that initiative, the Massachusetts Legislature approved a compromise bill the same year, leaving the Bay State with not one, but two right to repair statutes on the books. (The Legislature quickly passed yet another bill to reconcile the laws.)

Now here we go again. Last month four associations – two that represent automakers and two that represent independent automotive repair shops – signed an agreement promising that automakers would share nearly all information they provide to their dealerships with independent repair shops too. The voluntary agreement is supposed to give non-dealership repair shops the information they need to provide repairs, with such data to be provided on “fair and reasonable terms.” Oh, but proprietary data isn’t included. Neither is any data pertaining to security systems.

Carmakers and dealers are quick to claim that with all the data available in a car’s computers, thieves can defeat antitheft systems, entering and driving your car with a few mouse clicks and button presses. True enough. But thieves can already do that now. David Beckham’s car was stolen in Madrid using such remote entry methods; it reportedly turned up in Macedonia. A Johns Hopkins computer professor was able to simulate such theft using trial and error. It is hard to see what, precisely, automakers would have us believe they are preventing.

Nobody is asking carmakers for their source code. Consumers are just demanding all the data they need to maintain the property they bought in a condition suitable for its intended use. That is their right. In the end, the security claims hold no more water than the complaints that releasing proprietary data would allow automakers’ competitors to reverse-engineer their parts. This claim surfaced when Massachusetts’ law was under debate, and made no more sense at the time than it does now. In the end, automakers are reluctant to release too much of the information used to read a vehicle’s diagnostics because doing so will curb the ability of dealerships to charge higher prices while guaranteeing that they can fix drivers’ problems the first time – a claim independent repair shops have not always been able to match.

As I have observed in this space before, once a consumer buys a product, whether a smartphone or a car, that product should belong to its owner. Just because advancing technology gives manufacturers a greater ability to restrict consumer access, it doesn’t give them a right to such restrictions. Even if the days when a sufficiently motivated teenager could tinker under the hood and get results are gone, car owners have paid for their cars, and that entitles them to choose who to hire for repairs.

So is the problem all fixed? I hope so. But if the latest agreement doesn’t do the trick, it will be back to the shop floor, in Congress and in legislatures around the country.

About Larry M. Elkin 551 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

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