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‘Right to Repair’ question qualifies for Maine’s fall ballot

Bill Duncanson, lead technician at D&M Auto Repair on Congress Street in Portland, works on a car in the shop Tuesday, June 19, 2012.
Troy R. Bennett
Bill Duncanson, lead technician at D&M Auto Repair on Congress Street in Portland, works on a car in the shop Tuesday, June 19, 2012.

State elections officials said Tuesday that a referendum campaign spearheaded by independent auto repair shops has collected enough signatures to qualify for the ballot this fall.

The proposed ballot initiative aims to ensure that independent car repair shops can access the high-tech diagnostic systems that are built into modern cars. The proposal is part of a broader, nationwide "Right to Repair" campaign that advocates contend is needed to protect consumers’ rights to either repair products themselves – whether cars, smartphones or other gadgets – or turn to someone other than the manufacturer to make the repairs. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said proponents of the “Automotive Right to Repair” proposal turned in 74,686 valid signatures from registered Maine voters, which was roughly 7,000 more than needed.

Tim Winkeler, president and CEO of VIP Tires and Service and one of the leaders of the referendum campaign, said today's cars often use wireless technology, known as telematics, to transmit diagnostic information.

"Unfortunately, many of these newest vehicles, that wireless data is fed automatically back to the car manufacturers and is not available to independent shops like ourselves,” Winkeler said. “So that's all that we are asking for is a level playing field so that independent repair shops can have access to the same data as the car manufacturers and their network of dealerships has."

The citizens’ initiative now goes to the Legislature, which can either approve it as written or allow it to go to voters this fall, which is what typically happens.

But the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing car manufacturers and industry suppliers, argued in an October 2022 memo that independent shops already have access to diagnostic information and repair tools. Instead, the alliance portrayed the ballot initiative and similar efforts nationwide as “a monetizable data grab from national aftermarket part manufacturers and retailers masquerading as consumer protection.”

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation said the ballot initiative could pose a cybersecurity risk by giving those manufacturers and retailers access to car owners' private data that is potentially valuable for marketing but is unrelated to any repairs.

According to campaign finance reports filed with the Maine Ethics Commission, the Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee has received nearly all if its $1 million from the Coalition for Automotive Repair Equality, a national organization that represents such automotive aftermarket companies as NAPA, AutoZone and Advance Auto Parts.

At least two other ballot initiatives – one to create a consumer-owned utility from Maine’s two largest electric utilities and other created by opponents of that initiative – have also qualified for the November ballot.