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October 20, 2012

Suddenly, battle lines drawn over auto repair question

BOSTON — In a pre-election surprise, the committee behind the ballot question governing access to auto repair information has abruptly reversed course, announcing it will now urge passage of Question 1 despite a previous agreement with auto makers to encourage voters to skip the question in light a compromise law that’s already on the books.

Automobile manufacturing groups responded by announcing they have no plans to drop an advertising campaign urging voters to skip the ballot question when they go to vote on Nov. 6, adhering to the spirit of the agreement struck in the final days of the legislative session in July.

“Right to Repair” allows garage owners to get access to computer codes and information that can be vital to quickly diagnosing problems with cars. Car manufacturers have been hesitant to allow this access, which has given a competitive advantage to auto dealer service departments. The independent garages argue that auto dealers charge higher rates for repairs, and so customers are paying more than they should.

The Right to Repair Committee over the summer had backed away from its proposal after reaching a deal with automobile makers over a compromise law, which passed when it was too late to pull the question off the ballot. The Legislature in late July whisked the compromise through to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk and he signed it, making Massachusetts the first state to pass a law on an issue that’s been fought over nationally.

Part of that compromise was an agreement to inform voters that the ballot question was no longer necessary, but over the past two weeks that pact has eroded starting with AAA breaking away from the coalition and making the argument that the compromise law left too much room for auto makers to avoid sharing all repair information.

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