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Massachusetts Bill Seeks to Make Diagnostic Code Data Available to Independent Mechanics

July 05, 2007

BOSTON --- A proposed Massachusetts state bill seeking to give consumers more options for car repair has stirred considerable controversy among auto mechanics, dealerships and automakers. At issue is access to the diagnostic codes for the tiny computer chips inside today's cars. Auto manufacturers and car dealers argue that these codes are trade secrets and should not be made available to independent auto mechanics. But independent auto mechanics argue that this secrecy is unfairly restricting consumer options for car repair work. If passed, the Motor Vehicle Owners' Right to Repair Act (HB 296) would become the first bill in the U.S. to address this issue, reported Last week, several representatives from both sides testified during debate before the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Licensure. Representatives with the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers argued that the bill is unnecessary, counterproductive and fails to protect vehicle security information. "AIAM members wholeheartedly agree with the intent of HB 296. Consumers should be able to have vehicles serviced at the repair shop of their choice, and repair technicians should have the ability to access the same information available to franchise dealers," said Paul Ryan, director of government affairs for AIAM. "There is only one important exception --- data on vehicle security systems. Automakers recognize the concerns our customers have in this area and we are addressing it." Ryan said that vehicle security information must be carefully controlled to make sure it stays out of the hands of potential car thieves. He asserted that under HB 296, any auto repair shop technician would have access to this sensitive information, compromising the security systems that have been found to reduce auto theft by more than 50 percent. Those testifying in support of the bill included Stan Morin of New England Tire. "House Bill 296 addresses a growing concern among Massachusetts state legislators who have heard constituents' complaints about the inability of the independent repair industry to fully and completely repair their vehicles due to the computer repair information lock-outs by the car companies," Morin said. "They don't have a choice in auto repair shops because they're told to return to the car dealerships."
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