The automotive industry has actively lobbied against Massachusetts’ latest automotive Data Access Law, investing substantial amounts of money in their efforts. Their opposition even included a controversial advertisement depicting a sexual predator attacking a woman in her car. However, when Massachusetts residents voted on the extension of the Data Access Law to include the wireless OBD era, a resounding 75% voted in favor. President Biden had repeatedly pledged to support the right to repair vehicles.
Despite the approaching deadline in June 2023 for compliance with the Massachusetts Data Access Law, automakers made no adjustments. It turns out they had a trump card up their sleeves.
On June 13th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), under President Biden’s administration, bypassed the citizens of Massachusetts by directly addressing automakers in a letter. The letter essentially conveyed that if automakers were concerned about potential hacking of their wireless OBD systems, they need not comply with the law. The archived wording of the letter, as reported by WBUR.org based in Boston, reads:
“Because the Safety Act conflicts with and therefore preempts the (Massachusetts) Data Access Law, NHTSA expects vehicle manufacturers to fully comply with their Federal safety obligations.”
The letter argues that wireless OBD and telematics play a crucial role as manufacturers or the government may require monitoring of vehicles or the dissemination of updates. It expresses concerns that automakers might disable their entire telematics system to comply with the new law, a scenario the government wants to avoid.
Nathan Proctor, Senior Director of the PIRG.org Campaign for the Right to Repair, provided a compelling counterargument. He stated, “If it is impossible to provide secure access to me, the car owner, for the data transmitted by my car, then the car is insecure, and the automaker needs to fix that [sic].”
One could argue that it would be prudent for the President to encourage automakers to stick with the established and reliable wired OBD ports if the new wireless technology is insecure. This approach would be reasonable until a more robust solution is developed. Perhaps remote modifications of our vehicles by external entities can wait for now.
The “Right to Repair” movement is a global phenomenon encompassing not only OBD code readers but also owners of various vehicles, ranging from John Deere Tractors to Harley-Davidson Motorcycles. This movement has emerged because manufacturers have imposed limitations on owners’ ability to maintain and repair their own products.
According to Proctor, “Consumers are tired of having the things we’ve paid for tethered to distant manufacturers who can tell us what we can and can’t do with our stuff. The data generated by my car should belong to me.”
This movement extends beyond OBD readers; it delves into the fundamental concept of vehicle ownership. It questions whether our world and the machines necessary for our mobility belong to corporations or individuals like us. Moreover, the outcome of this battle will shape the experiences of future automotive owners and enthusiasts.
Next, find out whether, in an electric future, your kids will be allowed to restore old cars and trucks. Or learn about the Right to Repair movement in the video below: