The fight over giving independent repair shops the same access to diagnostic information as dealerships is intensifying in Massachusetts, where proponents of so-called Right to Repair legislation are pushing to put the issue on the ballot in November.
The proposed law would force automakers to make all the latest repair and diagnostic information available to nondealership service shops, including those at chain retailers, such as NAPA Auto Parts and Meineke Car Care Centers, through one common interface and for purchase on the Web at a "fair" price via a subscription.
If passed, car manufacturers would need to comply by the 2015 model year. Those that don't wouldn't be able to sell or lease cars in the state.
The legislation's backers say it would help lower repair costs and give consumers more choices when fixing their vehicles.
Automakers and dealers say the bill is heavy-handed and would require them to re-engineer existing models or risk not doing business in the state. Manufacturers also argue that they already give repair shops this essential information at the same price and format offered to dealers.
The industry's top trade groups, including Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, are mounting their own counteroffensive and last week testified at a hearing before Massachusetts lawmakers.
One major sticking point: The bill would require automakers to relay repair codes and other data through one standard interface tool, using a technology opponents say is outdated, ineffectual and would require significant design changes to make work.
"You think this bill is about consumer choices," said Daniel Gage, a spokesman for the Alliance, which represents 12 manufacturers, including Toyota, Volkswagen and the Detroit 3.
"But it's really saying, "If you want to sell cars in Massachusetts, you're going to have to redesign your vehicles around this outdated component.'"
The bill's backers say a one-stop shop for this diagnostic information is needed, especially as vehicles become increasingly computerized.
Right now, independent service shops have to buy their diagnostic tools from each manufacturer separately or in the aftermarket, which can be expensive when working on more than one brand, said Arthur Kinsman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition.
They also miss out on real-time updates and other technical downloads available to dealerships and authorized repair shops, which puts them at a disadvantage, Kinsman said.
"All we're looking for is a level playing field, where the dealer can compete with the independents based on good prices and good service, not on who owns the information," Kinsman said.
Among those backing the bill are a host of aftermarket trade groups, parts retailers, tire manufacturers and chain service shops, including AutoZone, NAPA, Midas and Meineke.
This isn't their first legislative fight, either, but they've gotten further in Massachusetts than any other state, said Gage, of the Alliance.
The nationwide Right to Repair Coalition has pushed for similar bills in state legislatures in New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois and Connecticut. They've also backed other legislative proposals in Massachusetts, to no avail.
"We've been fighting this for six years in the legislature and we've killed it every time," said Robert O'Koniewski, vice president of the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association, which represents 410 new-vehicle dealers.
But this time the coalition is taking a new tactic.
In August, it filed a petition with the state to put the proposal on the ballot. If state lawmakers don't take up the issue by May 1, Massachusetts voters will have a chance to decide at the polls in November.
The coalition already has galvanized significant support for the measure. It collected close to 80,000 signatures last fall when petitioning for the referendum, exceeding the number required by the state, O'Koniewski said.
He added: "If it goes to the ballot, it's going to take a very aggressive campaign to expose the lies the Right to Repair people are promoting."