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Auto 'right to repair' group says it has enough support for Maine ballot referendum this year

Nicole Ogrysko
Maine Public
Tim Winkeler, the president of VIP Tires and Service and one of the leading Maine voices behind the "right to repair" citizens initiative, prepares to deliver boxes of more than 70,000 signed petitions to the Maine Secretary of State.

A coalition of auto repair shop owners and others says it has collected enough signatures to advance a potential ballot referendum.

The group, known as the Maine Right to Repair Coalition, presented more than 70,000 signatures to Maine's secretary of state Thursday afternoon.

The proposal would require automakers to make repair and diagnostic information collected through wireless technology available to independent shops in Maine.

New car models increasingly use this technology to transmit manufacturer updates and access to the vehicle's systems. Older models use plug-in diagnostic systems that can identify a problem.

But Tim Winkeler, president of VIP Tires and Service in Maine and one the leading petitioners, said independent shops often struggle to access the information they need to diagnose and fix a problem as wireless technology becomes more prevalent.

The coalition believes that without access, it forces drivers to take their vehicles to a dealership for repairs.

"It's about getting the consumers the ability to work on their own vehicles if they so choose down the road, and to allow independent repairers like those of us to continue to work on those vehicles," Winkeler said the citizens initiative. "As technology progresses that's being threatened.

Dan Brooks, who owns a repair and used car shop in Augusta, said he has a vehicle that's been sitting in his garage for 10 days because he can't access the information he needs from the original manufacturer.

"With today's cars, it's constant," he said. "There's so many different pieces of equipment, so many modules. We do this two, three times a week, and we're just one garage here in Augusta."

The Maine secretary of state must first certify the signatures before sending the "right to repair" initiative to the Legislature. State lawmakers could take up the measure on their own or send it to the voters for November's ballot.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group representing carmakers, argued that independent shops already have the information they need for most repairs, and that the initiative poses cybersecurity risks. The group is fighting a similar measure in federal court that Massachusetts voters approved back in 2020.