Elon Musk’s car company is facing yet another set of lawsuits. This time, not about the CEO’s chaotic tweet habits, nor alleged civil rights violations at a California factory. Rather, Tesla is being sued over claims that the company has violated antitrust, right-to-repair laws.
The automaker has been hit with two separate class action suits, both filed this week in San Francisco federal court, as first reported by Reuters. The first, filed Tuesday, includes plaintiff Virginia Lambrix. The second, filed Wednesday, is led by plaintiff Robert Orendain. Both are Tesla Model S owners, according to the legal documents, and both are alleging that they’ve “been forced to pay supracompetitive prices and suffer exorbitant wait times to maintain and repair their Tesla vehicles.”
The suits further both claim that the reason for the inordinate cost and wait times is “Tesla’s monopolization...and restraint of the markets for compatible replacement parts (“Tesla-Compatible Parts”) and maintenance and repair services (“Tesla Repair Services”) for Tesla vehicles.” The proposed class action in both instances would be open to anyone who has paid for Tesla repairs or parts since March 2019.
Right-to-repair, or the right for owners of products to be able to fix and fiddle with their own belongings, has become a hot-button issue in recent years—but legislation surrounding the issue remains thin.
As a legal basis, the suits reference the longstanding, antitrust Sherman Act, which broadly outlaws monopolization—though the act has been determined by the Supreme Court to only prohibit unreasonable restraint of trade. The lawsuits also cites the 1975 Maguson Moss Warranty Act, which can force refunds where consumers have been made to pay extreme prices under anticompetitive conditions.
In 2021, the Librarian of Congress approved U.S. Copyright Office changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act intended to expand consumers’ rights to attempt maintenance and repairs on software-enabled devices. Although Teslas (and most new vehicles) contain some software, these 2021 changes wouldn’t apply to mechanical issues within cars.
Federal attempts to implement nationwide legislation focused on motor vehicles have failed. At the state level, just Massachusetts has passed a right-to-repair law for cars. However that legislation, originally passed via ballot initiative in 2020, still hasn’t gone into effect thanks to an aggressive campaign by automakers opposed to the law. The state finally announced it would begin enforcement of the bill beginning June 1, assuming a federal judge doesn’t halt it.
Teslas, like many electric vehicles, are frequently only repairable at certified, company-owned service centers. Parts too, often must come from Tesla manufacturers. Yet even outside of EVs, right-to-repair is a longstanding issue. Many other motor vehicle makers have faced suits, like Harley Davidson, which was hit with a class action in summer 2022.
In January, John Deere, the farm equipment company, became one of the first motor vehicle manufacturers to reach a right-to-repair agreement, after a protracted fight by the American Farm Bureau.