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Question 4 overwhelmingly passes, protecting Mainers' auto right to repair

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.

An overwhelming number of Mainers voted to require car manufacturers to standardize and make a vehicle's diagnostics easily available. Nearly 85% of voters approved Question 4 as of 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, signaling the state's commitment to protecting the right to repair automobiles and open access to a car's onboard diagnostic data.

Up until this point, dealerships and their service centers have had sole access to telematics data used to repair vehicles.

"We all know that [since] we bought the car, we have to pay for the repair," said Tommy Hickey, the director of the Maine Automotive Right to Repair Committee. "We should have direct access to that data and be able to dictate who and what gets it."

Proponents of Question 4 have accused automakers of stifling independent mechanics by using wireless telematics to prevent access to onboard data critical to making repairs. Automakers have stated allowing access to telematic data would risk the information being hacked or stolen.

Massachusetts passed the first right-to-repair law in 2012, leading to car companies incorporating a physical plug-in port to access that data. Automakers began using telematics to transmit diagnostic information wirelessly, which rendered access via the physical port altogether. Massachusetts voted in 2020 to close the loophole and apply right-to-repair to telematics.

"We're not trying to get this law passed today just for independent repair companies and shops like ours," said Tim Winkeler, president and CEO of VIP Tire and Service. "We're also doing this [for] those do-it-yourselfers of tomorrow who are going to have these cars 15-or 20 years from now. If they want to be able to repair [their cars] themselves and do it economically, they need to have access to this repair data themselves."

More than 50% of dealership profits come from servicing vehicles, per the National Automobile Dealers Association. Hickey says whether automakers choose to challenge the legislation in court remains to be seen.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation representing automakers issued a written statement calling the decision "disappointing, but hardly surprising."

In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warned automakers to not comply with the Massachusetts right-to-repair law due to concerns over hacking. NHTSA later reversed its opinion in August and said employing short-range wireless methods for receiving telematics would mitigate risks.

"That," said Hickey, "is what we thought the spirit of Maine [as]: to be independent, to be free, and to be in charge of their own belongings. And this is just another exemplary showing of that in Maine tonight."

Nick Song is Maine Public's inaugural Emerging Voices Fellowship Reporter.

Originally from Southern California, Nick got his start in radio when he served as the programming director for his high school's radio station. He graduated with a degree in Journalism and History from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University -- where he was Co-News Director for WNUR 89.3 FM, the campus station.