When Massachusetts residents overwhelming voted to pass updates to the state’s right-to-repair laws—including, among other things, allowing a common method of accessing over-the-air diagnostic data—in 2020, it was immediately clear that automakers weren’t going to let it happen quietly. Those companies and their lobbyist groups promptly fought back, but at least one has taken some new-car features off the menu as it reportedly seeks a way to comply with the law.
The company in question is Subaru. And what this means for buyers in Massachusetts is that wireless diagnostic systems have been turned off for 2022 model-year cars. Subaru’s StarLink Safety & Security subscriptions will not be available to buyers in that state, reports Boston.com and other outlets.
The new law covers model year 2022 and newer vehicles, some of which have already hit dealer lots, or will soon be on the way. This leaves manufacturers scrambling for a solution to comply with the state’s revised law—all except for Subaru, which has decided to completely disable those features entirely.
The Monroney label from a 2022 Subaru Impreza being sold in Florida.
A quick briefing on the referendum: In the 2020 general election, Bay Staters voted overwhelmingly in favor of the state’s right to repair law being modified to include access to wirelessly transmitted vehicle telematics data, should a vehicle be equipped to generate such information. While this seems perfect for the DIY-er, it also matters for independent repair shops not tied to a dealership by allowing access to the same data for diagnostic purposes, with owner authorization, of course.
Automakers and their lobbying counterparts, like the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, argued that it would be impossible to meet these demands without first rendering inoperative specific cybersecurity design elements that automakers installed in order to meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. The group also cited the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, noting that removing these safeguards could result in a broad recall of vehicles due to “uncontrolled access” to a vehicle’s software.
Most recently, the Massachusetts Attorney General suggested that automakers—wait for it—simply disable telematics altogether for vehicles sold within the state. The AAI, according to documents filed in a Massachusetts court, argued that the ask was a “practical impossibility.” Yet somehow, Subaru, a member of the AAI, did the impossible and disabled its telematics system for vehicles sold in Massachusetts.
To be clear, the Massachusetts law doesn’t outright ban telematics. Subaru simply made this decision to continue selling vehicles in the state. Now, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey is petitioning the court to enter Subaru’s limiting of telematics to non-Mass residents into trial evidence, as a direct contradiction to the AAI’s claim that doing exactly that was a “practical impossibility.”
Subaru’s StarLink features vary by model, but give a broad insight into vehicle health and services via remote telematics.
It’s clear that the fight for the right to repair isn’t over in Massachusetts. And even though the timeline to implement such software was quite short, automakers will undoubtedly reach a tough point in the state: comply with the law, or face the consequences.
Either way, the decisions made in this state’s courts will undoubtedly have rippling effects for the right to repair across the entire country. And if you’re in Massachusetts and wanted those features on your new Subaru, you’re out of luck for now.
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