Biden Administration Changes Mind, Says Car Companies Shouldn't Ignore Overwhelmingly Popular Car Repair Law Anymore

The Biden administration pre-empted a repair law voters passed by a 3-1 margin. Now it says it "strongly supports the right to repair."
Biden Administration Changes Mind, Says Car Companies Shouldn't Ignore Overwhelmingly Popular Car Repair Law Anymore
Image: Jason Koebler

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will no longer instruct car manufacturers to ignore a landmark car repair law in Massachusetts, according to a letter obtained by 404 Media. This means the overwhelmingly popular right-to-repair law will seemingly finally be allowed to go into effect nearly three years after voters passed it by a 75-25 percent margin.

The Massachusetts law updated 2013 legislation that fundamentally allows independent repair pros and car owners to access car diagnostic data and repair codes. The new law was designed to allow for wireless access to that data, something that could become necessary as car companies propose to do away with wired ODB2 diagnostic ports, which are usually located beneath steering wheels.

The law had been set to go into effect earlier this summer, until NHTSA instructed all major car manufacturers to ignore the law, which they had spent tens of millions of dollars fighting against and scaremongering over. NHTSA argued that the Massachusetts law conflicted with federal safety legislation and was therefore preempted and void. This put NHTSA, which is part of the Biden administration, at odds with the President’s stated position.

NHTSA claimed in its initial letter that repair was somehow dangerous, and that wireless diagnostics posed an “unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety” and would make cars less secure. This is exactly what car manufacturers argued in fear-mongering commercials that said ‘sexual predators’ would use wireless tools to stalk women in parking garages.

Tuesday, after widespread outrage from voters and consumer rights groups, NHTSA walked back its position in a letter to Massachusetts Assistant Attorney General Eric Haskell, stating that it had found a way to “advance our mutual interest in ensuring safe consumer choice for automotive repair and maintenance. NHTSA strongly supports the right to repair.”

The letter goes on to say that car manufacturers should sell devices to independent repair shops that do diagnostics “from within close physical proximity to the vehicle, without providing long-range remote access.” This was, of course, the plan all along, as no one was proposing that random repair shops be able to access people’s car from miles away.

Nathan Proctor, senior director of consumer advocacy group US PIRG’s Campaign for the Right to Repair, said in a statement that the letter is a good start, and that NHTSA “admits that the security problems in cars are not created by independent repair access—if there are security issues with car data, they are already there.”

Proctor added, however, that NHTSA’s initial position—that repair is dangerous–did harm.

“We strongly support the goals the agency puts forward—to protect repair choice and maintain safety. However, as it stands, the agency has achieved neither goal,” he said. “Instead, it has allowed a proliferation of serious safety and monopolization issues to continue without meaningful resistance. Let’s hope this new letter signals a change in approach. We don’t plan to stop our work until cars not only are safe, but also enjoy the full slate of Right to Repair protections.”