Residents across the state rely on Maine’s 700 or so independent auto repair shops to keep their cars on the road, year after year, without busting their wallets or opening themselves to risk.

However, rapid changes in the automotive world are putting that most important relationship – the one between a Mainer and their mechanic – in peril.

The next generation of cars and trucks will be almost completely computerized, able to record reams of information on the vehicle’s movement and performance, and send all of it, wirelessly, wherever it’s needed.

Mike Higgins of Mike Higgins Auto adds power steering fluid to a vehicle while working in his garage in Kittery in 2022. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer, file

The auto dealers who sell these vehicles want to keep that information to themselves. Without that information, no other auto mechanic will be able to properly diagnose and fix a problem when it arises.

In time, those limitations would put a lot of independent auto repair shops out of business – and take from Mainers an affordable, reliable option for vehicle maintenance.

That’s why we endorse a yes vote on Question 4, the right-to-repair referendum.



Question 4 asks, “Do you want to require vehicle manufacturers to standardize on-board diagnostic systems and provide remote access to those systems and mechanical data to owners and independent repair facilities?”

If approved, the law would require that Maine’s attorney general work with auto repair shops and car manufacturers to create a streamlined way for independent shops to access performance and maintenance data now available only to manufacturers, as well as standardized tools for fixing problems.

It’s not the first time that independent auto repair shops have fought for the right to access this information. The same thing happened a decade ago, as computerized components in cars and trucks started becoming the norm. Access to on-board data was necessary to fix newer cars, but manufacturers held tightly to the diagnostic codes needed to make sense of it.

In 2013, however, Massachusetts became the first – and so far only – state to pass an auto right-to-repair law, forcing manufacturers to make the performance and information produced by the vehicle accessible through a standardized port on the car.

Automakers the next year signed a memorandum of understanding saying it would honor the Massachusetts law across the country. Critics of this move see it as a means of discouraging other states from passing their own right-to-repair legislation.


In any case, it was soon clear that the 2013 policy would be outdated in no time. New cars coming out of factories now don’t have a standardized port; they send data wirelessly directly to the manufacturer, once again giving the car manufacturers exclusive control of the necessary data.

In response, Massachusetts passed, with 75% of the vote, an updated version of its right-to-repair law in 2020, this time including the right to access wireless data. Put on hold by a lawsuit from a manufacturers industry group, federal authorities said recently that the law can now be enforced.


Opponents of the right-to-repair law say that allowing wider access to the wireless information would put the privacy of drivers at risk.

No doubt, whatever system the right-to-repair law produces must put security first. But the information available to independent shops – which, critically, first becomes available to the car owners themselves – can be limited only to what’s necessary and protected throughout the process.

Opponents also argue that independent shops already have access to all the information they need. Mainers who work on cars and trucks throughout the state, however, say otherwise – and that while it may be relatively rare to encounter a problem they can’t fix today, it won’t be like this for much longer.



There’s a lot to say about getting your car serviced at a dealership, where mechanics tend to know the brands and the parts they use better than anyone else.

But when Mainers find a mechanic they trust to do good work at a fair price, or quickly, they want to keep going back to that shop, regardless of its affiliation.

Without the right to repair the new cars and trucks coming out of the factories, independent auto shops will fade away. When Mainers a decade or two from now are trying to keep their cars on the road as long as possible, they’ll have fewer places to bring them, and those places will have less incentive to keep things affordable.

Mainers have always enjoyed the ability to take their vehicle where they like for repairs – or to have a shot at repairing it themselves. They should vote yes on Question 4 to keep it that way.

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