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Don't tinker; `Right to repair' is wrong.

COLUMN: In our opinion

At first glance, the "right to repair" bill under consideration on Beacon Hill sounds like a good deal for consumers and independent auto repair shops. By mandating that auto manufacturers must provide independent shops with the same information authorized dealers and repair shops have, vehicle owners will continue to have the freedom to have their cars repaired at their neighborhood garage, which often means saving money over repairs done at the dealership.

What's not to like?

Upon closer inspection, a lot: "Right to repair" practically lights up the dashboard with warning lights.

For starters, independent repair shops already have access to most or all of the information they need to do repairs. A 2002 agreement between auto manufacturers and the Automotive Service Association provides "information equity" to independent shops. Indeed, to compete in today's marketplace, such shops need to have at least one advanced diagnostic tool covering the most common makes of cars they service, and can expand diagnostic capacities by subscribing to online information services that pay for themselves after just a couple repairs.

In fact, a 2006 Consumer Reports analysis concluded that only 0.2 percent of customers ever face a situation in which their local mechanic is unable to complete a repair for lack of information. A national database set up to receive and process complaints about such situations has garnered only about 200 complaints in the last seven years - nationwide. That's a vanishingly small percentage of the repairs completed each day in the U.S.

Pushing this new mandate onto the automotive market is not only unnecessary, but unwise. While trade secrets are specifically exempted from the proposed disclosure rules, all other information must be shared. That raises the danger that vehicle security codes - everything relating to keys, anti-theft devices, ignition locks and the like - could be compromised.

"Right to repair" has been proposed - and defeated - in several other states in recent years. It has passed nowhere. That's because legislatures recognize that the automotive repair market isn't broken. Massachusetts' Legislature should not become the first to begin tinkering with it.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:May 15, 2010
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