Modern Cars Are Complicating the Debate Over the Right to Repair

Advances in technology have led to some unexpected challenges

Car repair
Car repair has changed a lot over the years.
Getty Images

If you’ve ever been frustrated by not being able to repair certain popular electronic devices on your own, you’ve probably been paying attention to the debate over right to repair laws. In May, one such law went on the books in Minnesota. In an article in The Verge, Adi Robertson wrote that it repair shops and individuals to purchase the materials that they might need to repair certain devices. (Cellphones are often cited, for obvious reasons.)

In the article, Robertson noted that the bill did have a few notable exclusions, citing “farm equipment, game consoles, medical devices, and motor vehicles” as examples. It’s the last of these that seems especially intriguing; given that many modern cars have what are effectively on-board computers, it can be head-spinning to realize that your phone and your car are a lot more similar than they were at any previous point in history.

That does open the door to some confusing legal and practical questions, however. In a recent article at WIRED, Aarian Marshall explored a recent Massachusetts right to repair law, and the pushback it’s received from the automotive industry.

Massachusetts’s law requires automakers to allow car owners access to the data collected by their vehicles — but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has pushed back against this, arguing that it would make these vehicles vulnerable to hackers. As the article details, this also represents a contradictory position for the federal government, as the Biden administration has historically supported the right to repair.

Hackers Won a Tesla After Successfully Breaking a Tesla
Kind of the opposite of “you break it, you buy it”

Reactions to Massachusetts’s law, WIRED notes, has also led to certain carmakers disabling features within the state, including Subaru’s Starlink. The whole article is well worth a read, and gets to the heart of the complications within clashing laws and policies.

It seems as though the technological advances happening in the automotive space have complicated matters — and finding a middle ground so that drivers can repair their own vehicles without feeling like they’re at risk of being hacked is that much more important.

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