A right-to-repair measure in Massachusetts passed in a landslide victory last Tuesday. “Question 1,” as the measure was called on the ballot, will force car manufacturers to ensure independent repair stores have access to the same diagnostic tools as manufacturer run repair stores. That will change the automobile repair landscape in Massachusetts, especially for Tesla, a notoriously secretive company that has made it hard and expensive to service its electric vehicles.
Rich Benoit, a YouTuber and mechanic who specializes in rebuilding busted Teslas, said that this right-to-repair bill is a game-changer, but that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Benoit has repeatedly run into issues sourcing parts and accessing certain aspects of Tesla’s software, as he detailed to Motherboard in a 2018 documentary.
“For us, that means that starting the model year 2022, manufacturers have to give the same tools that they use at the dealerships available to a lot of third parties,” Benoit told Motherboard on the phone.
Benoit is excited, but he knows that getting information and diagnostic tools is going to be a fight. He knows because Tesla has pushed back against these kinds of laws before. A similar law passed in 2012, one that said dealerships had to make service manuals and diagnostic information available to repair stores. Notably, Tesla also wasn’t part of a memorandum of understanding signed by car manufacturers nationwide that effectively made the Massachusetts legislation a national law.
“They got it around it by saying…they don’t have dealers,” Benoit said. “So technically, they didn’t have to do anything.”
But Tesla did make some information available. “Out of the kindness of their heart, they made a portal so that you could log in and access their diagnostics,” Benoit said. “It’s available, but it’s only available to Tesla certified shops.”
The Tesla Service and Repair Information Portal allows body shops to sign up and get certified for “complimentary account access.” Anyone else looking to get repair and diagnostic information out of Tesla has to pay for a subscription. $100 buys you 24 hours of access. An annual subscription costs $3,000.
“They’re very clever,” Benoit said. “Hopefully, this time they give us a little bit more.”
Tesla, like other automanufactuers, didn’t want Question 1 to pass in Massachusetts. Ahead of the vote, it sent an email to Tesla owners in the state urging them to vote no.
“Tesla has long applied an open source philosophy to our patented intellectual property for electric vehicles. In this spirit, we provide public access to our service, parts, and body repair manuals, wiring diagrams, service bulletins, labor codes and times, and other information used to perform mechanical, electrical, and collision repair work on our vehicles,” Tesla said in the email.
Some of this is true, but Tesla has also repeatedly, for example, used software to lock consumers out of certain aspects of their cars. Tesla has also fought against independent repair companies, and has at times refused to certify them.
“Question 1 goes well beyond what is necessary to perform this work, and it potentially jeopardizes vehicle and data security,” Tesla said. “The requirements, pushed by two national auto shop lobbying groups, would make vehicles more vulnerable to cyberattacks and would make successful attacks more harmful.” This fear of a cyber attack is the same one the Alliance for Automotive Innovation used in its blitz of television ads in the state. It didn’t work.
The right-to-repair is important for the automotive industry and Tesla specifically because repairing a Tesla can be a costly nightmare. “There’s only two repair locations in the state,” Benoit said. He said Tesla sales are through the roof but “their repair infrastructure just isn’t there.”
The two biggest problems with repairing a Tesla are the wait time and cost. Owners often wait weeks and even months for simple jobs to be finished. When an owner does get their car repaired, the costs are often outlandish. Benoit said that some shops charge upwards of $200 an hour for labor alone. “A cheaper model 3 Teslas costs $35,000,” Benoit said. “That’s like a top of the line Nissan Maxima. Imagine coughing up $200 an hour for a diagnostic fee. That’s McLaren prices.”
Benoit knows there’s more work to do and he knows that Tesla will fight every step of the way to hold on to its repair secrets, but he’s hopeful about the future. “It’s just a matter of having another place,” he said. “Another option for people. Because who wants to pay $600 for a three hour break job?”
Tesla recently disbanded its public relations team, so Motherboard could not ask for comment.