Cars

Subaru is limiting features on Mass. vehicles to comply with ‘right to repair’ law

A federal judge could rule next week on the fate of the Massachusetts "right to repair" law that gives owners access to their vehicle's internal data.

Subaru of America wrote it “has determined that it is no longer able to offer StarLink Safety & Security subscriptions to Massachusetts residents beginning with model year 2022.” (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Thinking about buying a new Subaru? Don’t be surprised when the wireless diagnostic systems are turned off — and it all has to do with the 2020 “right to repair” Massachusetts ballot question.

A federal judge could rule next week on the fate of the Massachusetts “right to repair” law that gives owners access to their vehicle’s internal data, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last year. The law, which was supposed to take effect for new vehicles beginning in 2022, is intended to allow vehicle owners to access the diagnostic information via a wireless connection, allowing repairs to be completed by any mechanic, not just the dealer.

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The Alliance for Automotive Innovation quickly challenged the legislation in court, saying it violates federal law and raises safety concerns, but now the ruling could be delayed due to Subaru’s actions, The Boston Globe reported.

Attorney General Maura Healey is seeking to introduce new evidence showing that Subaru is deactivating the wireless diagnostic systems, or “telematics,” as a way to comply with the new law. During the summer trial, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation said vehicle makers couldn’t redesign the digital systems in time, according to the Globe, but Healey told the judge automakers could just switch off the systems until they can make the data available to owners and other repair shops.

Healey wasn’t aware that Subaru was already doing just that. According to court documents obtained by the Globe, a consumer told Healey’s office that when he bought a 2022 Subaru in North Reading, he was told he couldn’t get the telematics information. The dealership allegedly told him those services weren’t being provided to Massachusetts customers, to avoid violating the law. In a memo to the attorney general’s office, Subaru of America wrote it “has determined that it is no longer able to offer StarLink Safety & Security subscriptions to Massachusetts residents beginning with model year 2022.”

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This, Healey says, means vehicle makers can just shut off the systems while they develop models that comply with the “right to repair” law. Therefore it’s unnecessary to overturn the law entirely.

The alliance, however, said switching the service off doesn’t bring companies into compliance and can reduce driver safety, since turning off the diagnostic systems would prevent safety-related software updates and automatic crash notifications.

The federal judge could rule as early as next week on whether “right to repair” violates federal law.

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