In a formal letter committing to a set of repair principles that independent repair experts say would do very little, a Tesla executive wrote that “Tesla’s history of supporting vehicle owners’ right to repair is well-documented,” despite the company’s well-documented history of doing the exact opposite.
The executive goes on to note that the company will agree to a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in which it agrees to broadly support a 2013 auto industry agreement that experts say is outdated, has no legal force, and is weaker than a new right-to-repair law that Tesla and its industry partners, including a group called the Automotive Service Association, lobbied against and are now fighting in court. The agreement then vows that the auto industry will “commit to working together against any legislation that is in conflict with the tenets of this commitment.”
The Tesla letter is seemingly a response to a 2020 Massachusetts law that requires auto manufacturers to make repair and diagnostic information available wirelessly to consumers and independent repair shops. The auto industry, including Tesla, has vociferously fought this legislation, which was passed by voters by a margin of 75-25 percent, both before it was passed and during an ongoing lawsuit seeking to prevent it from going into effect.
In 2020, Tesla sent a letter to customers in Massachusetts asking them to vote against the legislation, saying that it “goes well beyond what is necessary.”
"I think a lot of the other manufacturers look to Tesla for ideas on how they can control the aftermarket"
While the auto industry continues to fight against that law in court, it has offered this new MOU, which right to repair advocates say is not what they want and which they believe doesn’t do much to protect consumers.
Tommy Hickey, a spokesperson for the Right to Repair Coalition in Massachusetts that helped pass the 2020 law, told me in an email that “of course they back an MOU that has no penalty and is based off of the 2013 MOU that doesn't help the aftermarket!”
“We do NOT support the MOU with the manufacturers and ASA because frankly it doesn't do anything to advance right to repair to deal with telematics and wireless diagnostic data which is why we went to the ballot in 2020,” he added. Reached by phone, he said that Tesla “agreed to an agreement that the aftermarket no longer agrees to. They’re one of the worst manufacturers. I think a lot of the other manufacturers look to Tesla for ideas on how they can control the aftermarket.”
Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of the Repair Association, told me “Tesla is just a particularly egregious purveyor of smoke and mirrors.” A core aspect of that 2013 MOU is that consumers and repair shops have to be able to get access to diagnostic information through a wired port under the steering wheel called an OBDII port. Teslas do not have this port at all.
Tesla notes in its letter that it has a “comprehensive library of publicly available manuals and guides,” and that it “already provides extensive information for independent and do-it-yourself repairers.”
While searching for evidence of Tesla’s supposedly “well-documented” history of supporting right to repair, I remembered that it lobbied against the 2020 Massachusetts law, asked its customers to vote against it, has had hundreds of FTC complaints about repair filed against it, and is currently facing two class-action lawsuits from customers who say the company has a repair monopoly.
“Tesla leverages its market power in the Tesla Repair Service market to maintain its monopoly in the Tesla-Compatible Parts market, and vice versa,” one of those lawsuits alleges. “As a result of this anticompetitive course of conduct, Tesla has prevented independent providers from entering the Tesla Repair Services market, prevented its OEM parts manufacturers from producing Tesla-Compatible Parts for anyone other than Tesla, and prevented market entry by non-OEM, Tesla-Compatible Parts manufacturers. This, in turn, has caused Tesla owners to suffer lengthy delays in repairing or maintaining their EVs, only to pay supracompetitive prices for those parts and repairs once they are finally provided.”
While Tesla does offer a few token things that support specific types of repair, the reality is much different. Tesla charges a $3,000 per year subscription fee for access to a diagnostic program it calls “Toolbox 3.” In the past, independent Tesla shops have complained that they faced long wait times to become “authorized” by Tesla to get access to genuine parts and manuals.
Authorized Tesla parts can be hard to come by for independent repair shops and consumers, to the point where YouTuber Rich Benoit has become famous for the extreme lengths he goes to in order to fix Teslas, including salvaging water damaged Teslas for their parts. Benoit has also gone repeatedly viral for performing DIY repairs for tens of thousands of dollars less than Tesla wanted to charge consumers.
Tesla itself managed to avoid being subjected to the 2013 MOU because it only applied to cars sold at dealerships; Tesla famously doesn’t use a dealership model and thus didn’t have to comply with that agreement, which, as Hickey said, is now outdated.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for the ASA directed me to a press release that called its new MOU a “landmark agreement on automotive right to repair.” The spokesperson said they could not comment on why it is continuing to fight against the Massachusetts law in court “because of pending litigation.”