‘Right to repair’ proposal touted as major cost saver for truck owners

Voters in Massachusetts will decide in November whether independent after-market dealers should eventually be given access to crucial vehicle telematics data — a change that could drive down the cost of maintaining and repairing heavy-duty trucks.

The “Right to Repair Law” Vehicle Data Access Requirement Initiative, which is on the ballot in Massachusetts for the Nov. 3 elections, requires manufacturers that sell vehicles with telematics systems in the state “to equip them with a standardized open data platform beginning with model year 2022 that vehicle owners and independent repair facilities may access to retrieve mechanical data and run diagnostics” through a mobile device such as a smartphone.

The initiative would “update and protect” the current law, enacted in 2013, which exempts telematics systems from wireless accessibility by vehicle owners and independent repair facilities. The law would apply to both automobiles and heavy-duty trucks.

According to the bill’s language, each denial of access to telematics data would result in an award of triple damages or $10,000, whichever is greater,  to the vehicle owner.

“Truck manufacturers are not yet doing away with diagnostic ports, so if you buy a new truck, you don’t necessarily need access to telematics to determine what’s wrong with a truck in order to repair it,” Mark Karon, legislative affairs director at the Commercial Vehicle Solutions Network (CVSN), told FreightWaves.

“However, as technology progresses, truck OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] will be doing away with the diagnostic ports that allow us to do maintenance, and instead everything will be done through [wireless] telematics. So we made sure to piggyback trucks onto this legislation even though we won’t see it affect the heavy-duty trucking sector for a couple years down the road.”

Karon is also president of Total Truck Parts, which has several heavy-duty truck repair retail outlets in Florida. He said that the issue comes down to fair competition with OEMs, and that there’s no reason that telematics information should not be made available to independent after-market repair shops.

“Not allowing us access to that information will at some point limit the truck owner in his ability to get a competitive quote for getting his truck repaired versus being locked into having to go to a dealership.”

Karon also noted that requiring owners to go to a dealership effectively decreases the amount of available repair capacity. “An average truck can generate $1,400 in revenue per workday. Each day a truck is down it’s losing revenue, and if a dealership can’t work on the truck for a week, that’s a week of lost revenue.”

Those who oppose the proposal contend that the more third parties can access data, the more likely it is to be misused, and that it would pose a cybersecurity risk.

OEMs point to cybersecurity risks

“With real-time, remote access to your vehicle, strangers, hackers and criminals can see where you go and learn personal details,” asserts the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, whose top donors include GM, Toyota, Daimler and Volvo, according to the group’s website.

“They will know which coffee shop you stop at each morning, the routes you take to avoid rush hour, how often you go to your gym, and how fast you drive to pick up your kids on time. They will know which neighborhoods you drive in, and what time of day.”

A spokesman for the coalition was not immediately available to comment.

“There are a lot of commercials being shown in Massachusetts about why they don’t want telematics as an option for independents repairing vehicles, using scare tactics that just aren’t true,” CVSN Executive Vice President Angelo Volpe told FreightWaves.

“But we’re pretty confident it will get passed, and once it does and gets signed into law in Massachusetts, we think we have a good chance of getting other states to follow on.”

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