The streets of Washington DC. The halls of the Capitol. This is the latest battleground for Right to Repair—the right for consumers to have access to their vehicle’s data…and decide who gets access to it. Right to Repair is an industry issue that’s as big as the Beatles in the mid-60s or Taylor Swift right now. It has the power to change the automotive aftermarket for generations to come. And one Congresswoman at the forefront of the Right-to-Repair fight is Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.
Marie, as she likes to be called, is a Democrat representing Washington’s third district and co-owner of Dean’s Car Care with her husband in Portland, OR. She knows the pain points of running a successful auto repair business. That’s why after being elected to her seat this year, she joined GOP Rep. Neal Dunn of Florida and two other lawmakers in introducing The REPAIR Act. This bill would require automakers to share the data, tools and instructions needed to repair their vehicles—giving access of that data to the consumer and the independent aftermarket nationwide.
“I think REPAIR Act is, is important because, turning it back a little, the automotive industry is an ecosystem,” Marie says. “Consumers are going to turn away from owning their personal vehicles if we don’t make it affordable and durable. So you need the aftermarket side if you want the dealership side to prosper. I think that more and more manufacturers are moving towards disposable cars. It’s really shortsighted.”
Aside from stuffing automaker’s pockets, Marie believes that the right to repair our own stuff is an essential part of the American culture.
“For the short-term health of the enthusiast and gearheads, you really need like a 14-year-old taking apart a lawnmower if you want to have a technician in their twenties. That is the lifecycle of a mechanic. As we box more and more people out of accessing and be able to work on their own cars, you are cutting that lifecycle off at the knees.
“This is about the long-term health [of our technicians] because in 20 years our shop [Dean’s Car Care] is going to start seeing those vehicles that we will be locked out of. And so it’s like it’s this is about having generational engagement,” she says. ‘It’s also a social thing. I’m really uncomfortable using technology I can’t fix or maintain myself. I think that’s the American ethos and that’s what’s so destructive about manufacturers locking us out of the lifecycle of goods. It’s terrible for our culture, it’s terrible for the long-term health of our industry, and it’s also terrible for the environment.”
So, how did we get to needing a Right-to-Repair mandate in the first place? Well, it dates back years, but we’ll start in 2012 with the first successful implementation of a Right-to-Repair law in Massachusetts. This required OEMs to sell the same service materials and diagnostics directly to consumers or to independent technicians. It was followed up by a Memorandum of Understanding in 2014, which multiple industry associations advocated for and signed. In the MOU, car companies agreed to abide nationwide by the requirements of the Massachusetts Right-to-Repair law.
But fast forward to today and not all automakers have complied with this. This led to a second right to repair law, in the form of a ballot referendum, which was overwhelmingly passed by Massachusetts voters in 2020. This most recent Right-to-Repair law gives repairers and consumers access to a vehicle’s telematics data, which was not included in that original agreement.
However, the 2020 Massachusetts law has been held up in courts, leaving the aftermarket to take federal action so that independent automotive repair businesses can continue to thrive for generations to come. This also allows more options for affordability when consumers look to repair their vehicles.
Read the latest about where The REPAIR Act stands here.
“If we don’t get access to the [vehicle’s telematics and diagnostics] data, it’s a loss of jobs and really good jobs. Viable jobs,” Marie says. “Consumers are just being nickel and dimed, and there’s going to be a breaking point. I just think it’s really shortsighted to cut off independent shops from the equation.
When we asked Marie what she thought it would take to get the REPAIR Act passed this legislative session, she turned to the industry she loves for help.
“Really, most of my colleagues here [on Capitol Hill] do not understand the lifecycle [of a technician],” she says. “We do not have a lot of folks here who have, in my opinion, worked for a living. So, I think we need to build a Congress that looks like America — not just doctors and lawyers and people with trust funds, no hate on them. You know, we need them all. But we need more people who have tried to run a small business. You know, I’ve never bought a new car in my life. A lot of a lot of people are like me. So, building a Congress that’s more representative and educating the people that are in Congress now. We have to let them know about the bigger cultural implications of not acting on this, and how it impacts constituents.
“We also need more co-sponsors,” she continues. “We need more people who see the value of this and see this as something that is worth fighting for.”
In a next step for The REPAIR Act, a subcommittee part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the bill, otherwise known as HR 906, on Sept. 27 this year. This happened just days after the Auto Care Association’s Leadership Days & Legislative Summit in which members met with congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.
At the hearing, more than a dozen members of Congress inquired about the legislation. It marked one of the first times the REPAIR Act was highlighted in the legislative process.
Next, the bill went for a mark-up in the subcommittee, which voted to approve the legislation. Now, it goes to the full House Energy and Commerce Committee for a vote. But Marie says that sparking change on the federal level will come when each of us in the automotive aftermarket takes action.
“This has got to be a grassroots issue,” she says. “This has got to be something that our industry is elevating and talking about to their legislators… We need more normal people showing up and advocating. It does also go back to the cultural values of our people– we need to be proud that we’re driving a 40-year-old car and that we have the skills to keep it running.”