After buying a car, grill, phone, generator, or just about any other product, the general assumption is that you can then do whatever you want with the item in question. However, many companies limit the consumer’s right to repair their products, making repairs costly and time-consuming. To combat these limitations, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently took action against well-known grill maker Weber-Stephen Products LLC. The claim against Weber stems from Weber’s product warranty terms which restrict the right to repair by stating that the warranty is void if customers use or install third-party parts on their grills.
Consumer rights are also limited when manufacturers refuse to sell parts to small businesses and fledgling repair shops, or if repairs can only be performed by specific businesses associated with the manufacturer. Read on to find out what you and all DIYers need to know about the right to repair and better understand the potential benefits of this movement.
What is the right to repair movement?
The Right to Repair movement supports government legislation that aims to give consumers the ability to modify or repair a product they have purchased in any way they see fit without restrictions imposed by the manufacturer. For example, you should be able to take your smartphone to any local phone repair shop instead of being limited to repair shops that are authorized or otherwise affiliated with a specific brand or manufacturer.
The first successful step forward dates back to 2012, when Massachusetts passed the first right to repair law for the automotive sector in the United States. Yet many companies continue to prevent consumers and businesses from repairing or modifying products as they see fit. In fact, the FTC is taking action against Harley-Davidson Motor Company Group LLC and MWE Investments LLC (maker of Westinghouse brand generators) for unlawfully restricting customers’ right to repair. Both companies stipulate that their warranties would be voided if customers use independent dealers for parts or repairs.
Such restrictions increase the cost of repairs, increase wait times and also increase the amount of e-waste generated. Additionally, the FTC notes that higher repair costs fall disproportionately on low-income households and communities of color, a burden that has only been exacerbated by the heavy reliance on technology during the pandemic.
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Potential benefits of the right to repair
In 2019, the FTC convened a workshop to address the right to fix, then wrote a report to Congress called “Nixing the Fix.” This report includes a detailed breakdown of the benefits of the right to repair movement as well as specific statistics and references to support these claims. Issues highlighted by the report include the impact of these restrictions on the timing and price of repairs, the health of small businesses and the environment.
The report argues that lifting consumer and business restrictions on repairs increases competition in the repair market, leading to lower repair costs. Additionally, an increase in the number of repair businesses leads to a decrease in the time a consumer would have to wait for a repair to be completed. Keep in mind that repair restrictions aren’t just imposed on individuals. Restrictions put in place by product manufacturers affect commercial businesses and even the military.
Additionally, by controlling spare parts, repair manuals, and specific tools required for modification or repair, manufacturers are contributing to the growing problem of e-waste in the country, as devices and accessories are discarded and replaced at the place to be repaired. These restrictions also negatively impact independent repair shops and workers by limiting these companies’ ability to compete with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and authorized repairers.
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Reasons for Repair Restrictions, According to Manufacturers
The FTC’s “Nixing the Fix” report not only articulates the views of proponents of the right to repair movement, but it also explains why manufacturers believe repair restrictions are necessary. A frequently cited factor is the need to protect intellectual property. According to the manufacturers, if they allow individuals or independent repair shops to access information, parts, tools and equipment, it could significantly increase the risk of technological hacking and could also expose sensitive customer data. on phones, tablets, computers and even the automobile. GPS to unreliable sources.
The manufacturers also argue that the repair restrictions are intended to protect workers from ill-advised repair attempts with limited knowledge, which could result in injury or property damage. Although no empirical evidence has been provided, the manufacturers argue that these situations could lead to liability lawsuits and reputational damage.
Similarly, OEMs and industry trade groups that represent OEMs claim that certain physical restrictions that make repair more difficult – for example, components that are glued instead of mechanically fastened – are the result of consumer demand for smaller or lighter products. The right to repair would impose design restrictions on manufacturers, forcing them to create products that are more accessible for DIY or independent repairs.
Finally, manufacturers question the quality of repairs carried out by non-approved repairers and independent repairers. OEMs claim that authorized repair centers provide superior service, although support for this argument is largely anecdotal.
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What future for the right to repair movement?
The future of the right to repair movement looks bright as action continues to be taken against companies and OEMs in an effort to uphold the right of consumers and independent businesses to repair or modify products. . FTC policymakers or law enforcement officials may increase the extent to which existing requirements under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act are enforced, declare certain types of repair restrictions illegal, or pursue regulation by under the FTC law.
Industry self-regulation is an option, although the wide range of industries and products involved can make it difficult to create a single self-regulatory system. Yet the auto industry has proven that it is possible for an entire manufacturing sector to create and successfully implement a system of self-regulation. It should be noted, however, that this only happened after Massachusetts passed the first right to repair law for the automotive sector in the United States.
Rhode Island, Indiana, and California already have limited right-to-repair laws, and right-to-repair bills have been introduced in at least 20 state legislatures, so State-specific right to repair might be one way forward. Existing laws here and abroad could provide guidance. For example, to limit safety risks, EU right to repair laws distinguish between repairs that can be carried out routinely by the average do-it-yourselfer and repairs that should only be carried out by professionals. .
The FTC hopes this move will lead to greater consumer awareness of repair restrictions and their effects, since customers typically do not receive information about repairability at the point of purchase. A possible remedy for this is the creation of a repairability score or rating, which would require manufacturers to provide a baseline estimate of a product’s repairability so that consumers can make an informed decision before purchase. .