Right to Repair

Right to repair

This summer (2021), a new UK law brought about by the Right to Repair movement was introduced. Its aim is to force manufactures of the stuff we buy, to make their items more repairable. Primarily aimed at electronic items and appliances such as white-goods, it makes it a legal requirement for manufactures to provide spare parts and documentation to aid in their repair.

You may think when you go out an buy something, be that a washing machine, smartphone, car or even a combine harvester, you own that item and can do with it as you see fit. The manufacture on the other hand sees things very differently. Every item we own is an order of magnitude more complex than it was even twenty years ago and generally no longer repairable with your basic tool kit you have on the self in your garage. This is understandable, we live in an age where tech makes our lives easier, it’s just progress. However, what if companies who deign and manufacture these items actively prevent them from being repaired?

Right to repair - Repair vs replacement cost

So how do they do this?

So in what ways can they do this? Inflating the cost of spare parts is one way. If you’ve ever gone to your car dealer to get a price for a spare part you’ll know what I mean. Another way is to make the parts only available to authorised outfits. This gives ultimate power to the OEM. The most extreme method is to not offer any parts at all, or only for a very limited time period.

Software

Software is another front in the world of right to repair. Lets face it, pretty much everything that uses power has some sort of software embedded into it. Your TV, central heating controls, your new Shimano Di2 equipped bike, even those smart light bulbs you see for sale. Some also require the use of cloud computing services such as Amazon, Google or Microsoft. What if these companies decide to drop support of these items, as was the case with the Sonos wireless speakers last year https://www.zdnet.com/article/why-is-sonos-dropping-support-older-speakers-and-does-the-reason-hold-up/. John Deere, the company that produces the farm machinery has been in the spotlight over recent years. You can read more about it here but the summery is the software that controls their machinery has increasingly been harder to access by anyone other than John Deere. Diagnostics data and settings are being actively locked by encryption.

I my line of work, I have started to have difficulties obtaining parts. Around a year ago I spoke to the UK distributor of a OEM who will remain nameless, about the possibility of purchasing of parts for a broken item. Even with the part numbers in hand, I was told they do not supply them to customers. The reason? “The manufacture considers the item far too complex to repair.” I’m always embarrassed to say to customers that I’ve found the fault and have the faulty part here but cannot get a replacement. You’ll have to pay for a complete unit.

For and Against

So what are the arguments against Right to Repair? Although OEM’s won’t point this out, the most obvious one is their loss of revenue, either though official dealer repair or simply getting you to buy a new item. Some of the reasons they do state are:

  • Security – Exposing details about a product could in theory compromise its security. This is mainly for electronic items such as smartphones.
  • Safety – They might require specialist tools or skills. The worry is damage might occur by unskilled users attempting a repair, making it unsafe or injuring themselves in the process.
  • Intellectual Property (IP) – No company wants to hand out their trade secrets.

There is some truth in these but most have now been debunked by people for the movement. There should always be a way to make something secure and safe whilst also being repairable. I hope this law also comes into force for all items, including bicycles.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-56340077