Driving Today

Will the 'Right to Repair' Bill Increase Auto Theft?

Thorny issue in the auto industry stirs up new controversy.

As electronic engine controls and diagnostics came on stream, independent auto repair shops found it more and more difficult to repair customer vehicles because the auto manufacturers and their dealers zealously guarded access to data they considered proprietary. The independents fought back by proposing Right to Repair laws in many states that would give them the right to access that info on behalf of their customers. Now, the latest controversy surrounding Right to Repair is unfolding in Massachusetts, where a group called the Massachusetts Auto Coalition is opposing a proposed Right to Repair law, claiming it would compromise the data and security information of all vehicles.

“The release of this information would allow persons considerable advantage when stealing not only Massachusetts vehicles, but any vehicle utilizing this technology,” wrote the National Insurance Crime Bureau in its letter of opposition submitted to the Massachusetts legislature.

Car theft, though still a widely committed crime, has become more difficult in part because of the rise of electronic keys and alarm systems over the past three decades. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the number of car thefts each year is declining. At its highest level in 1975, Massachusetts motorists experienced 91,563 vehicle thefts. By 2009, only 11,735 vehicles were stolen in the state, and Massachusetts currently ranks 36th in the nation in vehicle theft rates. Critics say, if passed, Right to Repair would reverse that progress by making valuable software and immobilizer information -- which underlying the electronic systems that have thwarted crime -- more readily available.

Opposition to the new Right to Repair bill notes there is already a secure system in place for providing this sensitive information to repair shops, locksmiths and other professionals who need it for legitimate vehicle repairs. The Secure Data Release Model (SDRM) was developed years ago by automakers, the independent repair community, the insurance industry, and law enforcement to allow secure access to key codes, PIN numbers and immobilizer reset information, while protecting the safety of consumers and integrity of vehicle security architecture. Right to Repair would upend this system.



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