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Two organizations petition FTC for standardized ‘right to repair’

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Public comment closed Feb. 2 on a petition for rulemaking regarding “right to repair” to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (PIRG) and iFixit with more than 1,600 comments, including continued backing from two automotive trade associations.

The petition broadly asks that the FTC create rules around protecting consumers’ right to repair the products they purchase across several industries, not solely automotive.

“Manufacturers are increasingly restricting the ability of consumers and independent shops to repair products,” the petition states. “Manufacturers do so in a number of ways, including requiring the use of specialized tools, implementing software locks, and withholding repair information from the public.

“Using these tactics, manufacturers force consumers to use manufacturer-approved repair shops and manufacturer-approved parts. Manufacturers can also cease supporting older devices, forcing consumers to purchase new devices prematurely. These tactics harm consumers by driving up the price of repairs and shortening the lifespan of products they buy. Additionally, manufacturers are creating unnecessary e-waste, harming the environment in the pursuit of profit.”

Manufacturers are limiting independent repairs by “employing tactics such as requiring the use of specialized tools, implementing software locks, and withholding repair information from the public, manufacturers increase their revenue by forcing consumers to continue using their business or that of their repair networks, or to give up and buy from them a new device,” the petition states.

Alleged OEM restrictions listed in the petition include:

    • Product designs;
    • Information, instructions, and manuals;
    • Remote services and updates;
    • Competing repair options, such as aftermarket parts versus OEM parts; and
    • End-user license agreements that require monitoring, management, and restriction of product use.

PIRG and iFixit argue that limits on independent repairs increase costs for consumers, and negatively impact small businesses, including independent repair shops, in addition to environmental harm and causing monopolization.

In response, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators), which represents the automakers that produce most of the cars and pickup trucks in the U.S., wrote that all industries can look to the automotive industry as the “gold standard” for right to repair.

“We share the belief that consumers should have the right to repair their vehicle at a location of their choosing, whether inside or outside an automaker’s authorized dealer network,” Auto Innovators wrote. “…In 2021, the Commission labeled the auto industry as a ‘model’ for providing consumers [with] widely available options for repairing their vehicles when it released its report ‘Nixing the Fix.’ For the auto industry, this assessment was not a surprise: automakers have long been supporters of consumer choice in vehicle repair and already provide all the service information, parts, and tools necessary to diagnose and repair a vehicle.

“In the same report, the Commission noted that, unlike other industries, ‘the car manufacturing industry has taken important steps to expand consumer choice,’ noting that ‘manufacturers agreed to sell the diagnostic and repair information that manufacturers make available to their dealers to car owners and independent repair shops.’ The report added that these efforts have ‘been raised as a model of self-regulation that could apply in the broader right to repair context.’ The Commission’s conclusions are still applicable today and underscore the effort being put forward by the auto industry to support consumer choice.”

Lastly, after noting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) reached between automakers and the automotive aftermarket in 2014 for independent repairers to have the same access to OEM repair information and tools as dealers, Auto Innovators wrote, “…independent repairers and automakers are not at odds when it comes to right-to-repair. Rather, we are in lockstep on this fundamental principle: consumers should have choice when it comes to repair options and maintain the ability to have their vehicle serviced anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

The Auto Care Association (ACA) also filed comments on the petition, though taking a different approach than Auto Innovators in supporting R2R, stating that the 2014 MOU and a 2015 MOU specific to commercial vehicles aren’t enough.

Across industries, products increasingly contain embedded electronics that remain under OEM control after purchase, ACA wrote.

“That control allows manufacturers to implement repair restrictions, such as software locking tools that prevent repairs from being performed outside authorized channels,” ACA wrote. “In addition, consumers are being bombarded with messaging that warns them that obtaining repairs outside authorized channels or using non-original equipment parts might jeopardize a product’s safety and functioning or void warranty coverage.

“…Unfortunately, the existing automotive and commercial vehicle right to repair MOUs have not solved the problem. The MOUs lack a binding enforcement mechanism; manufacturers can exit the MOUs without penalty; and their participation is voluntary in any event.”

ACA argues that part restrictions and dealership service and repair warranty requirements cause repairs to be less affordable and convenient for consumers, and affect vehicle safety, the environment, and the supply chain.

ACA asked the commission to support the re-introduced Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR Act), which supporters have said will ensure access to “all tools and equipment; wireless transmission of repair and diagnostic data; and access to on-board diagnostic and telematic systems needed to repair a vehicle.”

In response to R2R developments across the U.S. and Canada, ASA, Auto Innovators, and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS) reaffirmed the 2014 MOU to Congress in July.

The groups stated in a letter to Congress that, “…independent repairers and automakers are not at odds on automotive data access but rather in lockstep on this fundamental principle: consumers should have choice when it comes to repair options and the ability to have their vehicle serviced in well-equipped shops by well-trained technicians anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

In November, Maine voters approved an R2R referendum making LD 1677 a new state law, which requires the standardization of on-board vehicle diagnostic systems and remote access to those systems as well as mechanical data to owners and independent repair facilities.

The referendum was the result of a petition in support of a standardized access platform circulated by the Maine Right to Repair Coalition last year. The coalition bypassed the legislature and applied a citizens’ initiative and a draft of proposed legislation with the Secretary of State’s Office in August 2022. It was approved the petition later that year in October.

Now, Maine legislators are considering a bill that was initially intended by Auto Innovators to compete with the R2R ballot question.

The Portland Press Herald reports that legislators are considering changes to Maine’s new R2R law because they believe the law, as it’s currently written, could cause the state to face litigation similar to the ongoing lawsuit against Massachusetts over its Data Access Law, and puts consumer privacy and safety at risk.

The proposed changes would eliminate requirements for an independent oversight entity, a standardized database platform, and equipment to track repair data going into the standardized platform that car manufacturers would need to install in cars sold in Maine moving forward, according to the Press Herald.

The Maine Committee on Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business tabled the bill during a Jan. 26 work session.

No action has been taken on the petition for rulemaking.


Featured image: Stock photo of technicians working in a shop. (Credit: Matthew Ng/iStock)

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