Mike Higgins of Mike Higgins Auto, left, installs a splash field on a vehicle in Kittery on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A group of independent Maine auto repair shop owners, their employees and supporters filed an application for a citizens initiative with the Secretary of State’s Office announcing their intentions to seek a statewide referendum in 2023 that would protect their right to repair new cars and trucks.

The Maine Right to Repair Coalition contends that more than 90 percent of new cars are equipped to wirelessly transmit real-time diagnostic and repair information only to vehicle manufacturers. Right to Repair advocates say this practice threatens consumers’ right to choose to get their cars fixed at an independent repair shop or to even do the work themselves.

“Cars are like rolling computers now and automakers are using a loophole in the national Right to Repair agreement to try and prevent us from fixing the next generation of cars,” said Mike Higgins, who owns Mike Higgins Auto Repair in Kittery. “We already can’t access Tesla repair and diagnostics, and more brands are moving in that direction. This hurts our shops and all Maine consumers.”

The Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that supporters of the Right to Repair Coalition filed paperwork, including proposed legislation, on Wednesday.

Emily Cook, a spokesperson for the secretary of state, said the group’s application is under review by the Maine Revisor’s Office, which will have 15 business days to provide a draft of the initiative for the applicants to review.

If the draft is acceptable, the state will provide a copy of the draft to the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, which has another 15 days to develop a fiscal note. The final step will involve the Secretary of State’s Office preparing petition language.


Once the petition has been issued, Right to Repair supporters will conduct a petition drive to gather signatures with the goal of having the initiative placed on the November 2023 ballot as a referendum question. Right to Repair will have until Jan. 26, 2023, to file its petitions – the deadline for getting the question on the November ballot, Cook said.

A citizen’s ballot petition in Maine requires signatures from registered voters equal to 10 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Petitions circulated in 2022 needed 63,067 signatures, according to Ballotpedia.

If Right to Repair is unable to meet the filing deadline, it would have another 18 months to collect signatures to qualify for the 2024 ballot, Cook said. The citizens’ initiative would not go to referendum next year if the Legislature decides to enact the legislation that has been proposed by the Right to Repair group.

Mike Higgins of Mike Higgins Auto adds power steering fluid to a vehicle while working in his garage in Kittery on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

A national agreement reached in 2013 between automakers and the auto repair and auto parts industries forced automakers to provide access to repair and diagnostic codes and information, but left out the rapidly expanding wireless technologies that are being installed in new vehicles.


If the Maine ballot initiative is successful, it would give Maine car and truck owners access to all of the diagnostic and repair data generated by their car, and allow them to give it to any dealer, repair shop or automaker that they choose during the lifetime of their car.


Higgins, 54, has operated his Kittery repair shop for about 10 years. He specializes in basic auto repairs involving brakes and suspension systems to name a few, but when he is asked by a customer about an issue involving wireless technology, Higgins feels like his hands are tied.

He signed on to advocate for the Right to Repair Coalition’s campaign because he believes the people of Maine need to be made aware of the issue.

“The corporations, the car manufacturers want to stiff-arm any competition away,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “The bigger picture here is that it’s a fight between David and Goliath.”

Tim Winkeler, the president and CEO of VIP Tires & Auto Service in Auburn, said the wireless technology issue is impacting customers at the private, family-owned company with 35 shops in Maine stretching from Madawaska to Sanford.

Mike Higgins is one of a number of independent auto repair shop owners who have signed on to a petition calling for a ballot initiative that would allow independent repair shops to work on newer cars on Wednesday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“Maine needs to pass a Right to Repair law because wireless technologies are removing the car owner’s right to get their vehicle repaired at their local, independent shop because the automaker would rather steer them towards their expensive dealer,” he said in a statement by the Right to Repair Coalition. “Automakers are increasingly using technology to try to shut us out from repairing the newest models of cars and trucks.”

In a telephone interview Wednesday night, Winkeler said a customer recently brought his vehicle in for repairs after the engine warning light came on. He had to be sent to the auto dealership because VIP technicians did not have access to the vehicle’s wireless technology. It was a loose gas cap that caused the warning light to come on, Winkeler said.



A ballot initiative similar to the one being proposed by the Maine Right to Repair Coalition was approved by Massachusetts voters in 2020. Automakers spent millions of dollars in an attempt to defeat the initiative. The law still has not been implemented after automakers filed a suit to prevent it from taking effect. Their suit is pending before a federal judge.

According to the national Auto Care Association, vehicle data used to assist in maintenance and repair of the modern car is wirelessly transmitted directly, but only to vehicle manufacturers. Wireless transmission of data, also known as telematics, allows vehicles to be diagnosed and in some cases, repaired without ever going to a shop.

The ACA warns that unless a national right-to-repair law is enacted, vehicle owners could be faced with increased repair costs and limited choices as to where they can take their vehicle for repairs or maintenance.

A message left with the Maine Automobile Dealers Association in Augusta seeking its reaction to the Right to Repair initiative was not returned Wednesday.

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