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On Dec. 17, the Alliance of Automotive Service Providers of New Jersey (AASP/NJ) welcomed industry representatives from Massachusetts via a virtual meeting to inform its membership of the efforts behind the recently passed Massachusetts Right to Repair Law ballot measure and advise how grassroots actions can be taken to help pass industry-related legislation in the Garden State.
Tommy Hickey, director of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, and Evangelos “Lucky” Papageorg, executive director of AASP/MA, began by giving AASP/NJ members a history of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Law. Originally passed in 2012, the law was enacted to establish a level playing field by ensuring that independent auto body and mechanical service shops had access to the same diagnostic and repair information as dealerships and car manufacturers.
Thanks to the recently voted-in ballot measure, consumers and independent shops now have access to telematics information as well. This was originally carved out of the 2012 law by manufacturers at the 11th hour before the law was passed. Hickey explained that the use of telematics back then was nothing like it is today and was not a major concern at the time. That is no longer the case in 2020, as about 90% of current vehicles on the road have this technology.
“We wrote the ballot initiative as a way to close that loophole but also with a twist,” said Hickey. “We wanted to allow the car owners – not the car manufacturers – to be the gatekeeper of their diagnostic repair information and codes. Through a mobile-based application, the car owner would get the information directly and allow an independent repair and body shop to have access to information for a period of time the owner allows them to have it […] We made this about consumers and getting their cars fixed.”
According to Hickey, major manufacturers spent $30 million to fight against the coalition’s movement to get this law revised. However, a strong grassroots campaign geared toward consumers helped solidify victory at the polls last November with more than two million votes.
“Technology will change, but technology shouldn’t take away your right to choose where to get your car repaired,” Hickey said.
While Right to Repair has largely been viewed as a mechanical issue, it has become a major concern for collision repairers in recent years as vehicles become more computerized.
“A major concern for collision repairers is the increased cycle times,” said Papageorg. “Not having access to collision-related repair information and codes stored in a damaged vehicle forces repairers to send vehicles to an OEM dealership for repair, adding to cycle time and administrative expense. Also, the OEM could be a potential competitor. The vehicle would be far from a priority at the dealership. Additionally, there is the factor of trusting that the work was properly performed at the off-site location while having to accept the full liability. We voiced strongly that it should be the consumer’s right to have access to their information and to have the final say who gets to fix their vehicle and at what price. It’s their car; it’s their right.”
Although the automotive manufacturer-comprised Alliance for Automotive Innovation is currently suing Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to block the ballot measure’s aims from going through, Hickey is confident that this effort will not succeed.
“We feel good, and we don’t think we will get struck down.”
The ballot question received 75% of the vote in its favor, all thanks to the strong messaging Hickey and his coalition team sent out to consumers by way of visiting shops, distributing materials to them and asking them to make their customers aware of the Right to Repair Law.
AASP/NJ President Jerry McNee commended Hickey and Papageorg for their efforts and reminded attendees that AASP/NJ is an example of similar “strength in numbers” closer to home. He advised members to consider making a contribution to the AASP/NJ Legal Fund and informed them that the association recently hired an attorney to assist with legislative efforts, including the New Jersey Insurance Fair Conduct Act (A1659/S1559), which would create a private cause of action for first-party claimants regarding certain unfair or unreasonable practices by their insurer.
For more information on AASP/NJ, visit aaspnj.org.