BOSTON -- After losing big at the ballot box, automakers are suing to overturn a voter-approved referendum updating the state’s “right to repair” law.

Question 1, which was soundly approved by voters in the Nov. 3 elections, will modify the law to allow auto repair shops to access “telematics” data from vehicles. A costly ballot fight pitted the nation’s automakers against small repair shops backed by the retail parts industry.

But automakers are making a last ditch effort to block the new law from taking effect.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, the trade group Alliance for Automobile Innovation says the “data law” is unenforceable because it runs afoul of federal law and the Constitution. The group asks the court to block the law.

Automakers contend a 2013 voter-approved “right to repair” law already allows for sharing of mechanical data. The companies say the voter-sanctioned update will allow “unprotected access to vehicle data that goes far beyond what is needed to repair a vehicle.”

“If the data law is allowed to take effect, years of manufacturers’ work and billions of dollars in investment to protect and secure vehicle data will effectively be obliterated,” the lawsuit states.

The legal challenge revisits many of the arguments made against the referendum in the campaign, including that it risks safety and compromises personal data.

The lawsuit also claims the referendum “sets an impossible task” for updating car computer systems that could prevent automakers from selling vehicles in Massachusetts.

“The extraordinary changes required by the law, combined with the multi-year lead time needed to develop future model year vehicles, mean automakers face impossible compliance obstacles,” the alliance said.

Backers of Question 1 brushed off the legal challenge and predicted it will fail.

“Many of their arguments are the same ones that the state’s voters overwhelmingly rejected,” said Tommy Hickey, director of the Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition and Yes on 1 coalition. “They’re trying to overturn the will of the people.”

The Yes on 1 coalition said the law needed updating because it unfairly allows car makers to use wireless technology to steer business toward dealerships, cutting out small shops and driving up consumer costs.

The new law will be defended by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which certified Question 1 for the ballot. A Healey spokeswoman declined to comment.

Spending on Question 1 broke records, with committees on either side pouring nearly $50 million into TV and digital advertising.

While opponents of the measure out-spent supporters, the question still passed by a landslide, 75% to 25%, according to preliminary results.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at


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