Editorial: Vote ‘Yes’ on question 1

Published: 10/20/2020 9:59:06 AM

Anyone who has owned a used automobile knows that car repairs can be a real drag — it’s usually a financial strain and breakdowns always seem to come at the worst possible time. For those who aren’t mechanically minded, having a car repaired by a stranger can be a stressful ordeal. Getting to know the local mechanic or learning basic repair techniques can help to alleviate some of that uncertainty.

But in order to fix a car, the first step is to diagnose what’s wrong with it.

That’s why this newspaper’s editorial board supports Question 1 on this year’s November ballot. Known as the Massachusetts Right to Repair Initiative, if successful, the question would expand a 2013 law that allowed small-town shops and do-it-yourself mechanics the same access to mechanical data that’s available to car manufacturers.

The 2013 law (back then, Massachusetts was the first state to pass such a law) required that manufacturers give independent mechanics and vehicle owners the ability to read vehicle computer data via a physical port (usually located near the steering wheel). These days, because of the law, whenever there’s a check engine light illuminated, mechanics and technicians such as those at auto parts stores are able to connect to the port using a handheld code-reading device and accurately diagnose what’s going on.

But technology is changing and, in newer cars, mechanical vehicle data (notably, it’s not personal information) is stored digitally and sent remotely, via the cloud. The 2013 law does not allow vehicle owners to access cloud-based mechanical data, only that which is accessible through the OBD port. A favorable vote on Question 1 would update the previous 2013 law, giving independent repair shops and do-it-yourself mechanics the right to access the digital mechanical data of newer cars — such as, what exactly is causing that loud clunking sound in the engine and why the check engine light is still on — by using a mobile-based application.

If the question doesn’t pass, as technology continues to evolve, dealerships could box out independent repair shops and at parts stores, creating a monopoly on the car repair industry. Without access to digitally-stored mechanical data, independent repair shops won’t be able to accurately diagnose or repair modern cars. They won’t be able to adapt to tomorrow’s technology.

“It’s certainly going to limit us in the very near future,” said Jeremy Ainsworth, owner of Triton Automotive on High Street in Greenfield. “It’s going to make our lives very difficult.”

From Whately in the south to Northfield in the north, Rowe in the west and Athol in the east, local mechanics are an intrinsic part of every Franklin County and North Quabbin community. Generations of local families have put their trust in reputable shops that, through years of honest labor, have earned a strong customer base. With their business on the line this Nov. 3 election, they deserve our support. Vote “Yes” on question 1.




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