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Right to Repair bill awaits Patrick’s signature

The “Right to Repair” question that will be on ballots in Massachusetts in November may be irrelevant after legislators late Tuesday approved a compromise to settle a long-running dispute over whether automakers must provide independent repair shops with computer software codes needed to diagnose complex car problems.

If Governor Deval Patrick signs the bill within the next 10 days, Massachusetts will become the first state to have such regulations. It would also head off what promised to be costly campaigns by both sides leading up to Election Day.

The ballot question would require auto manufacturers to make available diagnostic and repair information through a universal software system that could be accessed by dealers and independent shops.


Supporters of Right to Repair — which was first introduced on Beacon Hill in 2008 — said it would allow consumers to have their cars repaired wherever they choose. Opponents said individuals and independent mechanics can already get the tools and software needed to repair most vehicles. Such a law might force manufacturing design changes that would result in higher sticker prices on cars, they said.

Under the deal worked out by lawmakers, manufacturers will have until 2018 to satisfy the requirement that they provide easy access to onboard diagnostic and repair information — three years more than called for by the ballot initiative. The law passed Tuesday also gives automakers the option to use a wider range of technologies to deliver repair information and data.

Representatives from both sides — including the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Global Automakers, and the Massachusetts State Automobile Dealers Association — signed a letter Wednesday in support of the compromise.

‘‘We believe that this bill ensures an acceptable agreement that will safeguard all of the stakeholders,” they said. “It will preserve choice for ­Massachusetts vehicle owners, protect manufacturers’ intellectual property, preserve the integrity of the role of the dealer in the repair process, and continue innovation in motor vehicle diagnostics.”


Art Kinsman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition, said he is pleased by the resolution.

“We got everything we asked for,” he said. ‘‘Consumers who pay for a car should be able to get it repaired where they want. We’re satisfied that this legislation gives them that right.’’

Opponents of the ballot initiative also applauded the compromise.

“The ballot language tied us to using an outdated and limiting technology to provide repair information. The compromise doesn’t tie us to one particular technology, and it allows us to advance to new technologies as they develop,” said Daniel Gage, director of communications and public affairs for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, one of three industry groups that opposed the ballot question.

Gage added that the three-year extension for implementation is also important “because that’s a date that auto manufacturers can comply with.”

Bonnie McGilpin, a spokeswoman for Patrick, said the administration is still reviewing the legislation.

The governor’s signature on the bill would not remove the Right to Repair question from the November ballot, but all the organizations involved said they will work together to inform voters about the compromise and urge them to reject the initiative.

If the ballot question does pass, however, it would trump the legislation approved Tuesday and become law. Spokesmen from both sides of the issue said they have been assured by legislative leaders that in that event, the House and Senate would quickly move to pass new legislation reflecting the compromise law, voiding the voter-approved version.


Material from Globe wire services was used in this report. D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.