Should You Be Able To Repair It? We Think So.

You own it, you should be able to fix it. So much equipment on sale today has either been designed to be impossible to maintain, unnecessarily too complex to maintain, maintainable only with specialist tooling only available to authorised service agents, or with no repair parts availability. It’s a hot-button issue in an age when sustainability is a global concern, so legislators and regulators worldwide now finally have it in their sights after years of inaction and it’s become a buzzword. But what exactly is the right to repair, and what do we want it to be?

Is It Designed For Repair?

A Nestle Dolce Gusto machine
For some reason, pod coffee makers are especially resistant to repair. Andy1982, CC BY 3.0

The first question to consider is this: does it matter whether or not you have the right to repair something, if it’s designed specifically with lack of repairability in mind? Consider a typical domestic pod coffeemaker such as a Tassimo or similar: despite being physically quite a simple device, it is designed to be especially complex to dismantle and reassemble. You just can’t get into it when something goes wrong.

Should it be the preserve of regulators to require design for easy repair? We think so. There are other forces working on the designers of home appliances; design-for-manufacture considerations and exterior appearance concerns directly affect the firm’s bottom line, while the end users’ repair experience is often at the bottom of the list, even though the benefit at a national level is obvious. That’s what laws are for.

Are Other Laws Being Misused To Curtail Repair?

John Deere tractors are notroious for their dodgy DMCA
John Deere tractors are notorious for their dodgy DMCA. Bahnfrend (CC BY-SA 4.0).

In many cases there’s no such thing as a lack of a right to repair. Oxford Hackspace’s coffee machine may have been difficult to repair when it broke, but I had every legal right to do so.

Turn to the poster child/villain of many right-to-repair stories: John Deere. Because the machine itself is designed to be worked on, it seems obvious that a farmer should be able to wrench on their tractor.

Here, Deere turned to the DMCA, a piece of 1990s legislation born of music industry panic over piracy, that sought to prohibit the circumvention of copy protection mechanisms. Similar to the methods used to neuter refilled printer ink cartridges, Deere tied a software component that had to be linked to and authorised by a Deere computer. While the farmer could repair their tractor, it would no longer work after an unauthorised repair. Only Deere or their agents could perform the software portion of the repair, and circumventing it would fall foul of the DMCA. Should regulators have the power to prohibit the curtailment of repairability by tying the process into other legislation? We think so.

Is Needless Complexity Hindering Repairability?

It’s all very well having something designed for repair and unencumbered by legal impediments, but there are other ways that a manufacturer can hinder the repairability of their products. When an otherwise simple product is made unnecessarily complex it both increases the likelihood of a fault and increases the cost of a repair, in the interests of the manufacturer who wants to sell a new product but not in those of the consumer. Those Deere tractor parts yet again provide an example, in which an otherwise simple part carries a chip; where previously there was only a simple mechanical or hydraulic part there is now an unnecessary electronic accoutrement.

Anybody who has maintained motor vehicles made in the 1980s alongside those made a decade ago will understand this; where the former simply has a bulb and a switch for its lighting the latter now does exactly the same task with microcontrollers in both switch and lamp. Those prepared to defend this practice with a description of the virtues of a CAN bus should reflect on the current chip shortage and its causes in the unnecessary proliferation of automotive microcontrollers. Should regulators be asking questions about needless product complexity in order to hinder repairability? We think so.

Are Small parts Being Hidden In Modules?

Electric motor brushes
Are these brushes available separately, or only as part of the motor? Dvortygirl, CC BY-SA 3.0

Given a product that’s simple enough to repair and easy enough to get into, we turn to the question of parts availability. It’s a favourite trick of domestic appliance manufacturers, to render their older products obsolete by taking spare parts ranges off the market, and this practice has come under the spotlight with the EU’s approach to the issue.

They require the parts for example for a washing machine to be available for sale for a decade after it was made, but it’s worth considering for a moment: just what is a part? Common sense dictates that any part which has the capability to fail should be available, but that’s a definition which is open to interpretation.

Picture for a minute a motor in which the brushes have failed, you might expect to go to the parts store and buy a set of replacement brushes. But an unscrupulous manufacturer can designate the motor as the part rather than the brushes, meaning that a few-dollar part becomes a many-dollar part. Other examples of small consumable parts which are subsumed into much more expensive parts assemblies include bearings which can not be replaced on their own, or seals. Should regulators have the power to require that replaceable wear items be made available separately instead as only incorporated in larger assemblies? We think so.

Is There Enough Information To Repair It?

Finally, it’s understood that many devices today are by necessity computerised. We may have complained about unnecessary overuse of microcontrollers in motor vehicles for example, but it’s undeniable that there are many functions in a modern car that are only made possible by the use of a microcontroller. SInce their diagnostic functions form an essential part of their repair it is essential that they do not present an opportunity to restrict repairability by restricting access to information, software, protocols, and error codes. American farmers are having to resort to Easter European software piracy to gain access to the systems on their Deere tractors, and even though car owners the world over can plug in an OBD-2 dongle there is still much of the information it can access that remains proprietary. Should there be a requirement from regulators that documents, diagnostic protocols and software be made available to all? We think so.

This article has come close to a manifesto in its stating of the key points we think should be considered when evaluating a right-to-repair proposal, but we think that it’s important to spell them out. And fortunately, we’re not alone. Following the EU’s landmark right-to-repair guidelines, the US Federal Trade Commission announced its intention to more actively pursue repair laws that are already on the books.

It’s inevitable that there will continue to be powerful industry lobbies pushing for them to be watered down, against the will of the consumer, so the greater the number of people who have a chance to discuss them, the better. Did we think of everything in our exploration of the topic? Please let us know in the comments.

163 thoughts on “Should You Be Able To Repair It? We Think So.

  1. First step, mandate replaceable batteries. I have multiple devices ( watches, phones) that are not designed to allow battery replacement. The life of the device is engineered to be gated by the life of the battery. I say ‘designed’ because the battery “can” be replaced, but only by melting the ‘permanent’ glue holding the screen then replacing it.
    I am ok with some level of compromise / complexity in battery access to preserve design, but batteries should be replaceable in minutes by anyone with the right tools, with no loss of functionality or warranty. Oh, and those ‘right tools’ do not include tools or training that are unique to the device.

    1. In the other hand, hidden parts can be a great deal for hackers.
      I bought a home trainer with issues for a tenth of the original price.
      Just have to replace the brushes.
      But sometime, internal parts choosen by manufacturer turn me mad.
      One day, I had to fix a coffee maker.
      The only mistake done by the owner was to turn it on without water.
      The thermal security cut the warming circuit but it was a no resetable device. The only way was to open the coffee maker (quite hard wihout broken a part) and to change the part.
      The manufacturer of this security part has a resetable device in his range ! Tell me why, the coffee maker don’t have this model ?
      Just to grab few tenth of cents ? Are you serious ?
      Or just to sell a brand new machine ?

      1. Often this non-resetable fuse issue is due to a UL requirement. Good-intentions like those proposed in the above article make short sighted broad laws which tie the designers hands behind his back.

        1. Or NEC. Both are quite strict about current limiting fuses and don’t accept soft current limiting or sometimes even resettable fuses. We do industrial installations, and despite it being little more than a relay, because the current goes through our board, on a positive output system we have to have a 256A fuse just in case for some reason every single output is on and overloaded and the customer didn’t fit the fuses they were supposed to. Never mind that this would be pointless and is just a waste of hardware, we HAVE to add it or we can’t sell the product.

        2. I have tiny stand-alone hard-boiled egg maker. You set 7 eggs in a little carrier, dump in a few ounces of water, and cover them with a clear plastic dome. When you plug it in, a heating element comes on and boils the water, steaming the eggs.

          Mind you, there is no timer.The element remains on until all the water boils away. At that point, the element temperature soars, the appliance detects this condition, and shuts off the element.

          If there is no regulatory reason to bar this feature/behavior in an egg cooker (where the element is purposefully driven to boil to the dry state), there should be no reason why the same behavior couldn’t be added as a safety feature to a coffee maker, where the lack of water in the reservoir might occasionally occur by accident.

          No, I think Hugo’s coffee maker problem is poor design, not a concession to regulation.

    2. While replaceable batteries for phones (although I wouldn’t go as far as requiring tool-less replacement, just non-destructive one), watches or laptops are a great goal, I wonder how feasible it would be to make batteries in something like TWS earphones (Airpods, Galaxy Buds etc.), especially in waterproof variants and how much capacity would it cost.

      1. I have a pair of QCY T1 earbuds. One of them has a broken button. But they can be opened and batteries are ridiculously small. As for waterproofing, I have a Garmin Vivofit 3 band that uses non-rechargeable battery which requires replacement once a year. The back can be unscrewed (there are brass threaded inserts, too) and seal is provided by silicon rubber gasket.

        All smartphones used to have replaceable batteries with no problems. But it’s better for the manufacturer when your phone breaks 5 minutes after warranty ends. So all major manufacturers started to make unfixable phones and claimed with straight faces it was for better, flatter design, not because they hope everyone will be replacing their phones when batteries die. And that’s what happens in the USA and in Western Europe. Besides, consumers don’t care as long as they can buy the newest toys from their favorite brands. Some of them will tweet about saving the planet from their iPhones, Galaxies or whatever they fancy, but as soon it breaks or new model comes out, they will throw away their current devices, not caring, what happens with them…

        Right to repair is good for the hackers and those who can’t afford to replace their stuff. Everybody else doesn’t care…

        1. Phones that eliminated their replaceable batteries saw an increase in sales. This means the market didn’t value replaceable batteries. So companies selling phones with a replaceable battery were LOSING money due to an undesirable feature.

          1. So we agree that there’s a market imperfection that skews the firm’s incentives from society’s. How do we correct this?

            Econ 102 answer: impose the full environmental costs on them in the form of recycling taxes, or force the firm to comply by law. There are pros and cons to each approach. Discuss.

          2. Pepper Copperpots, the phones with integrated batteries sold better because they WERE MARKETED as superior ones. Marked demand is shaped by advertising and manipulation. Just buy few major influencers and you can convince people to buy just about anything, even if it’s piece of junk. 3 months ago in my country one infuencer said that particular brand of ice cream tastes good and suddenly every kid wanted them. To the point that some people bought them in bulk and sold them at 10-30 times the normal price. The punchline is that kids didn’t really like the taste of that ice cream brand…

            Elliot Williams, forcing companies to pay for recycling will not work. For example if enforced recycling increases the price of device by 5%, company will increase the price by 10% or more and then blame the government. Also lobbyists will try to block any such change. Just see how hard tobacco companies tried to keep any tobacco health issues away from the public. Or how oil companies fought with anything related to global warming and global climate changes. One of them had accurate climate models predicting current situation in 1982. And they did nothing…

          3. This is a faulty way of thinking because you never have 2 identical models with only that one feature being different.
            I may want a replaceable battery but since that is just 1 factor out of maybe 20 when deciding for a phone, I cannot vote with my money and signal to the manufacturers that I want a replaceable battery.

          4. Elliot,
            Nope. The consumer’s desires and company incentives ARE aligned. The customer is paying for what they value. It’s just not something you or their might kids value.

            Lets be clear, repairability and sustainability are NOT ONE issue. 99.99% of people who buy repairable products will not get them repaired and instead buy the new thing. The 1% repaired will not offset the additional ‘repairable’ material added to the 99% in landfills. So mandating repairability will INCREASE the amount of material ending up in landfills.

            I agree that sustainability is a problem and charging companies to discourage wasteful buying might be a solution. The cost will justifiably land on the consumers, but its a better idea than directly increasing disposal charges to each consumer. That is harder to police and would just encourage illegal dumping.

            Repairability, on the other hand, is not an issue because consumers are still buying this crap. If a significant percentage of consumers cared, they would not buy the product. They might want repairability, but they’re not willing to pay +$x for it.
            Consumers today are effectively the ‘night guy’, you’re the ‘morning guy’.
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-Cz-LK16g4
            You’re asking for the government to save you from the buying habits of others.
            Displaced accountability and an authoritarianism mindset.

          5. electrobob,
            Just because two models aren’t EXACT, save a feature, doesn’t mean you can’t influence them.

            Apple’s headphone jack removed in 2016, Samsung had similar phones for two years, didn’t start removing it until 2018 and only in one model at first.

            You can call or email companies to tell them what you think. You can actually NOT buy a product too, a concept lost on most today. Companies already know what you’re willing to buy and how much you’re willing to pay for it though. They spend massive amounts to find out.

            People just get upset because companies don’t make cheap products with the niche features they want and those people are not willing to pay the large premiums for those features. They don’t appreciate that adding a feature might not increase sales enough to justify or offset the increased product cost for the vast majority who wouldn’t pay. Creating an entirely new product for 0.1% of their customers would also require that the product cost more than even the 1% would be willing to pay for it.

          6. @Parvez Nagi
            > ‘repairability and sustainability are NOT ONE issue. 99.99% of people who buy repairable products will not get them repaired’

            Even if that is really true – Which I would argue it isn’t, almost nobody replaces their car for a faulty headlight etc – the cost to repair is tiny the cost of a new one is huge!!!, but assuming it is true and the original owner never repairs anything, some repair shop will, and then sell it on to those who can’t afford the brand new one anyway…

            If things can be repaired for anything less than the cost of buying a new working one some of them will be fixed, and the cheaper the repair gets the more failed units get repaired! There is money to be made for the repair shops selling refurbished used if they can actually repair stuff! Plus plenty of customers that can’t afford new – and even if you assume nobody in StuckupsNewStuffOnlyVille will buy second hand there is a whole world of folk rather less well off than nearly everyone (if not everyone) reading this website, and they would probably like some functional product (whatever it may be), and if they can do the repairs the ‘cost’ is vastly reduced because the value of labour in most of these nations is bugger all, though so is the basic cost of living…

          7. I had a lot of fun irritating my son by buying donor phones off eBay to keep my flip phone working as long as possible. When I switched to smart phones, I got low end Samsung’s for $150, I have not replaced my phones battery yet, but I have replace the battery in two tablets.

          8. “You can actually NOT buy a product too, a concept lost on most today. ”

            This. Right here. I totally support legislation addressing the egregious examples of planned obsolescence and designed unrepeatability, but none of that will matter if the consumer maintains a “shut up and take my money” attitude.

          9. Lots of people get their “non-repairable” smart phones repaired anyway, now, so this theory that nobody cares and less than 1% will do it is rather… odd.

            There are businesses doing this repair full time, as their only service. It is difficult and experience really helps. They’re “not repairable” because you can’t just follow instructions and have success, there is some skill required that is not required for devices that are designed to be repairable.

            When my wife breaks her phone she doesn’t ask how much a new one will cost, or how much it will cost to repair it; she doesn’t even care. The cost of the phone is irrelevant. She wasn’t ready for a new phone yet, she wants to know if I can fix it.

            If the answer is, “No, you have to buy a new one” a lot of people do not care. It doesn’t drive their decision-making. And yet, many of them will have it repaired if they can, because it is the normal and good thing to do.

      2. Yes.
        The author and many of these hardware enthusiasts do not appreciate what engineering is. Ninety nine times out of one hundred, real engineers are not intentionally designing products to be difficult to repair.
        In any market where 99% of customers wouldn’t pay the price premium for a replaceable battery, adding one is the path to bankruptcy.

    3. I say first step is to mandate an environmental fee on the manufacturer of half the retail price if the product is deemed disposable. To adjust their attitude about what will be “too expensive”

      1. This is it. Or you make the manufacturer responsible for recycling to some mandated extent. Or…

        The point is to put some of the cost of disposal on the firm doing the design, so that they have to at least think about it a little bit.

        (Still, the gummy-glue-as-seal solution for cell phones is a very good one. Except that it kills serviceability. If you can solve these two at the same time, you’ll have a real impact on the world.)

      2. Everything you mandate as a kind of fee for a manufacturer will be added on the retail price. That is an unwritten commercial law. So if you add a fee of $50 to a device of $100 it will cost $150. He manufactures the device in such way that it is repairable and say it will cost him $10. He wins $40.

    4. I am actually perfectly fine with the physical act of replacing a smartphone / most other modern device batteries. I would love it to be easier, but as it is now, not too bad.

      What I am not OK with is binding a unique ID to the battery in software so that it can’t be replaced without the software limping the phone, “because you didn’t get an authorized repair”

  2. Fifty years ago, we had two tv sets in the house, both “portable” and both black & white. A cheap stereo that was more like a record player with external speakers. And a few radios. Maybe some houses had more of each, but there wasn’t much more electronics for the home.On each, it was an important decision to buy, because of the cost.

    Five years later, there was a whole lot more electronics available. Calculators, LED watches, TV games, home computers, microwave ovens becoming more mainstream, some level of video revording (but a drizzle, but a wave a few years later). ICs made a lot of things viable.

    First iterations were expensive, heavy and repairable. Or maybe, because you spent so much, the cost of repair didn’t seem so bad.

    People wanted this stuff, but not the price, not the bulk. So streamline manufacturing, take out the metal that made it sturdy. Keep doing that over time, so that $500 printer or $1000 VCR in 1980 is $50 thirty years later, unless superceded by something newer. And the performance and capability was better. Meanwhile, labor costs rise, and labor has always been a big factor in repaire, taking something apsrt, and finding the problem. That inkjet printer is disposable because people don’t value it at fifty dollars.

    Before circuit boards, tube equipment was hand assembled, adding to the cost, but making it fairly reversible. ICs and circuit boards were way easier to machine assemble, and the need to lower costs made assembly the priority, not repair.

    Fifty years ago, most people couldn’t repair tv sets. There was the illusion, since tubes could be tested and replaced by user. Those portable tv sets weren’t so repairable, no easy access to the board without disconnecting wires, and all that high voltage. There may not be much you can do for an LCD set, but if they are like LCD monitors, it’s really easy to access the board(s).

    Some of this “right to repair” is from people who never know about electronics, or troubleshooting. They are carried along by a mantra, and a belief that “repair” is following instructions on the internet so they can replace a cracked screen, or battery. They wre dependent on others, tbey just don’t want to pay them.

    I needed to open my Radio Shack Color Computer in 1984, because it onky had tv out, and I only had a monitor. I traced out the analog board in the Mac Plus when I was given one in 1993, mostly because I could. So yes, “right to repair” for us is different from the consumer.

    1. While part of your argument is true, being that improvements and technology have made possible the lifestyle of today, there are things that a manufacturer should not do.
      The john deere example is just that, if the truck belongs to me then I should be able to do whatever I want with it, and even more so be able to fix it.
      A couple of ago a case of a tesla model s that broke a tube connector was made famous. Tesla repair shop was asking the owner to pay for the whole battery instead of just replacing the connector. Why wouldn’t they sell that instead? Who knows, but the fix was made by a third party by just U$S700 instead of 16000.
      Even more is the case of a worn out mmc memory in a tesla car, that for replacement needs to remove a lot of parts, just because they do a lot of logging (make it swappable, how much can it cost an user replaceable connector?)
      Apple and its products is another good example. With the latest macbook you can’t replace the ssd, nor the memory nor the processor. Bought it and stick to whatever you were able to pay at the moment.

      1. I’ve been the free tech support and I’ve looked at how to do things on the internet. Being able to use collective knowledge isn’t a bug in right to repair, it’s a feature. The goal is to avoid unnecessary costs and waste, not necessarily prop up some repair shops. If repair shops increase and thrive, that’s a positive side effect of stopping the madness, but it’s not exactly the goal.

    2. But repairable does always mean by the consumer. In high school I got a job repairing car stereos and CB radios (I had my 2d Class FCC license). My classmate got as job repairing TVs.

      But yes, in some ways the technology in 1980 (or 1990 for that matter) was different. Companies like MCM had thing like VCR heads and magnetrons in their catalog.

      Repairing boards with SMTs are a whole different ballgame. I saws one of that in the USAF (we stated to become “card pullers”) and saw that continue when I worked for the Va Stare Police in the 90’s are new equipment was all SMT. Most stuff was sent back to Richmond to repair at HQ

      I finally found a job as an engineering tech, then manufacturing engineer. So now I see both sides of the issue.

  3. “Should it be the preserve of regulators to require design for easy repair? We think so. … That’s what laws are for.”

    ARE YOU JOKING? I am sympathetic to the Right To Repair movement; but, it would be a huge mistake for regulators to start dictating how products are designed. What constitutes “easy to repair” anyway? …those components are too small! …that glue is too strong! “no room for screws – we don’t care!”

    I find your authoritarian mindset disturbing.

    1. Agreed. The amount of “mandating” enthusiasm on HaD is strange and rather contradictory for a hacker mind-set. Or is it?

      There are plenty of places where we can’t repair things. You can repair basically nothing on your private plane. Not the engine, not the instruments, not the hinge on the rudder, and not the way the seats adjust. And this isn’t because of the manufacturer. There are municipal and national codes about how you change or repair your house power wiring or connect to the grid. The same for the plumbing. Mandates can go both ways.

      1. Au contraire. Everything on an airplane is repairable. Maybe not by you, but by the independent flight mechanic of your choosing. And there are easily available (if costly) spares for nearly every part.

        It’s not like trying to get an iPhone or John Deere tractor fixed.

          1. Nor does a certified Electrician or Gas person – but at some point you have to for the safety of others make getting the install certified by a qualified person a legal requirement. Maybe don’t actually have to them do the work just certify it, but its definitely got to be right when lives that are not the hackers are at serious risk if its done wrong…

    2. It’s sort of like when my town put in a rule to limit satellite dish size. It had everything to do with visuals, and nothing to do with proper reception.

      There’s a loud voice here, but much of it knows nothing about electronics, so they want laws based on what they want, without reality fitting in.

    3. There is a huge difference between legal requirements such repairs are possible and making them onerous and impossible enough that nothing can actually be built, or is fragile with the glue designed for removal, massively bulky with all the screws now required etc..

      As companies are all about forcing you to buy their new product, or more commonly now buy into their ecosystem so they own you forever, and can charge access fees or sell your data, just so you are allowed to keep the crap you paid for working… Not providing spare parts at all in many cases they need a serious kicking…

      1. A good point here. You’re already being forced into deals you don’t want so the corporations that build crap can make a profit. Why can’t we force them to do something we want to decrease our costs? The only difference is corporations use their dollar power to force us into things and we use our government to force them. This is how governments are supposed to work: for the citizens. Crippling government until it can’t help anyone isn’t the same as liberty. Something libertarians often overlook.

    4. I think the following would be a reasonable start:

      – Require schematics & mechanical drawings
      – Require BOMs to be published
      – Eliminate IP protected/unsourceable part numbers
      – Allow customers to sue manufacturers if a DRM/Suicide device damages their property when attempting a repair
      – Add repair tools and replacement parts provisions to existing price gouging/anti-trust protections to prevent unreasonable mark ups
      – Expand existing warranty protections from automobiles to all products so that “unauthorized repairs” aren’t immediate grounds for voiding warranties

        1. There is a massive difference between schematics and mechanical drawings that allow you to find compatible parts and take things apart without breakage and every single detail of its operation being revealed!

          Unsourceable part elimination doesn’t require them to give up IP either – just commit to making the damn thing available and purchasable by anybody, or bare minimum detail what functionality is lost without and alternative compatible parts that can provide some level of function. When even the professional repair shops can’t get the parts things are really screwy, and that is the way the world is now…

          Obviously I would prefer truly open, but there is a reason why I use a Raspberry Pi for many, many tasks as my default – and it isn’t really because I like their educational philosophy (though I do), it is almost all on the level of documentation and support with certain long term availability they supply! The great community they have built helps too, and makes the closed elements of a Pi acceptable. All together it makes them a far better option even when there are some cheaper or more powerful etc choices that could the job!

          Get companies to follow that model and provide long term part availability, and not hide the real part numbers of bits on their boards. Or the motor, bearing, other generic component specs – why should I have to buy a whole new device, or send to the company for stupidly expensive repair because they won’t sell me or the local repair shop a replacement motor, carbon brush, polystyrene anti-flood float (yes I’ve had that happen in a washing machine the thing got a bit wet once, warped and thus shut the machine down to prevent a flood that wasn’t actually going to happen as it wasn’t leaking!) at the right price!

          1. @Software guy: there are plenty of open source products that sell just fine. That’s not a very good argument, but I’ll bite and say they don’t need to release the source to the firmware, just a stock firmware. If you want to fix a bug, you can code your own firmware or ask the company to fix the bug. Routers wouldn’t sell very well if the firmware were never updated. Open source firmware hasn’t decreased router sales either aside from functional units remaining in service longer than if they were crippled by the manufacturer, which is what we’re hoping for with right to repair. At this point, if you’re against the right to repair, you’re probably somehow profiting from the exploitation of consumers.

          2. From an IP protection point of view, there’s no difference between giving customers a BOM/Schematic vs the source code.

            Both reveal IP and in doing so, incur risk/liability, increase labor cost to maintain that documentation, and mostly just help competitors while not being valued by the majority of customers.

            Everyone here is just mad that other consumers make stupid buying decisions. It’s ourselves that are to blame 99% of the time and laws are rarely EVER the answer. Not enough customers repair their stuff to justify companies investing in a store that loses money selling small parts. Based on what I see, company/consumers would rather that money be spent in advertising to convince them that THIS shitty washing machine will not break like the last one they bought from the same company.

          3. @Oswald Copperbottom
            > ‘From an IP protection point of view, there’s no difference between giving customers a BOM/Schematic vs the source code.’

            Bollocks there isn’t, a schematic doesn’t have to go down to every bloody atom of detail – its enough to show opening the case, removing failed IP filled module as a whole lump – suddenly the product is largely repairable as long as each module is available. The schematic won’t show anything at all your patents (if any) don’t in terms of IP – or at least to be useful from a repair standpoint they don’t need to…

            3rd party modules that are mostly comparable and compatable via reverse engineering will exist anyway – If I want to build a Dyson-a-like or part for a real Dyson for sale, guess what I buy a bloody heap of Dyson to find out why folks like them, how them work, which consumable parts are goldmines – doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to me if there is a schematic of any detail or not, I was basically going to destroy them down to the smallest parts to see what my company can do cheaper/better in some fashion.

            Having the basic blown up dissassembly diagrams so widget A goes back in the right way up when doing a repair matters not a fig in sharing IP – anybody interested will buy one of your products and take it apart to know what bits came from where and how it functions, and not care if they do so destructively. But the guy trying to repair one of your products needs to be able to say ‘thingamee labeled x on the schematic is cooked, can I have a new one please?’ – and to get to that point needs to know which screws should never ever be removed first, where the long screw came from etc etc so they can take it apart enough to find and replace the failed bits..

            In the same way some chunks of the Pi are closed source still, so any software or hardware magician wanting to alter or interface with the closed chunks of it in a way not currently allowed either needs to work damn hard reverse engineering it or get given access to the documentation… But a great deal of the Pi is open, so tinkering around that can be done freely – opening up the bits they have doesn’t magically reveal all the secrets in the bit that is still closed – at the very worst from their point of view it might make it easier to figure out some of the closed stuff, but its not giving away the keys to that kingdom, at worst its a blurry photo of the key…

          4. I wonder if a useful model can be found in the AR-15 industry. Regardless of your opinion of firearms, having a standardized platform has spawned a multitude of small manufacturers that build compatible pieces. There could be an open platform for a number of different kinds of products. I think laptops might be one. Phones. What other kinds of things would this work for?

        2. Well, i still have the schematics somewhere that came with my back wall projector TV from Sharp i had back in the noughties. So yes, not that uncommon to have schematics with your products.

          1. You still get schematics with all of the products you buy, just not in an easily readable form. The device itself is a 1:1 representation of it’s own schematic.

            Desolder all components, measure/read markings on parts, scan the board and then go to town with a continuity tester and check every single pair of pads. Now you have a BOM and a netlist, what more do you really need? I’m betting you could write some image recognition to find locations of pads and buy/build a double sided flying lead tester to automate the measurements.

    5. There is too wide a range of products that are designed with obsolescence as the main feature. I disagree with your statement about regulators dictating design. I think the author surmises that regulators need to require easy repair as the design choice over non repairable design choice. That in no way dictates the design itself other than the approach of how it is designed. What constitutes the “easy to repair” is the litmus test that judges will surely be inundated with just like every thing else in our litigious society. At any rate these mega corporations are only interested in their share holder happiness so they can keep the charade of contributing to the economy.

      1. Have you paid attention to how governing bodies legislate things?

        They have no experience in a topic, yet pass laws about them.

        I don’t trust them to codify good design, because they wouldn’t know it if it bit them in the ass.

        1. Have you actually read the FTC’s report on right to repair? They _definitely_ know what they’re talking about.

          And the extant consumer protection laws are fairly modest in scope. They’re not trying to tell anyone how to design anything, but they are saying that you have to be able to fix it.

        2. Indeed, that I can agree with law makers are generally self important arses that think they know best… Even if they do consult the experts and start from there by the time its all wrapped up in legalese and presented on the bed of bovine excrement it bears no resemblance to what it started out as..

          But some simple concepts put into law to force companies to sell parts at sensible prices, keep parts available for years, easy enough to write, little or no change forced on them in how they design the device – it will all be self driven as if they are now supplying the repair components the thing better be repairable more than 1 in 1000 times – It would be bad publicity to sell the replacement part only to make the device impossible to open without destruction more often than not so that part can’t be used…

    6. What are you talking about, regulators dictate limitations in design all the time and have for decades. There’s self governing bodies who certify products and government regulations on everything from high voltage power dissipation to product weight and colour.

      You’ve clearly never designed a product for sale in the last 30 years because the red tape grows and grows. It’s not “authoritarian” to require that designers take into consideration that difficulty of repair by end users that’s nonsense

    7. I don’t think regulation is a good answer either. The last thing we need is more expensive, useless bureaucracy telling us what we can and cannot do.

      Instead, I think we need something akin to the open source movement that inspires companies to build cool products that are easily repairable. Heck, there are tractor designs from the 50’s that have absolutely no patent coverage. Take those designs out of mothballs and take them to market. Refrigerators, all kinds of things, are just sitting out there in the public domain. Find some investors and compete. If your product is better, less expensive, or something people want, you will find a market.

      1. I wonder if you could even sell those 50s designs today, emissions regulations have changed and probably apply to farm equipment? Usually if something seems obvious but hasn’t been done there’s a hidden barrier to entry.

        1. In farm equipment I think its simply the scale – 50’s tractors were for smaller fields, these days a small field is so large it will take days for the smaller tractor to work it…

          When commercial interests drive something profit is the goal, and bigger fields making larger machines practical, able to do the work faster and with less humans to pay…

          Emissions etc may be a thing, but updating a 50’s design with modern metallurgy and manufacturing tolerances can easily be done and bring it more inline with modern stuff.

    8. The law concerning warranties is old and predates the current efforts. The reason was that previously the manufacturer could assert that whatever was broken the consumer broke it. The law moved it so the maker, employing people who understand the design, had to prove that the consumer broke it, which is a positive defense. Requiring the consumer to prove they didn’t break it when the consumer has no baseline design to work from, is so expensive as to be impossible. Right to repair recognizes, if you break it you own it – but if you take a cover off to see that a chip is now blackened with soot, that should not void the warranty.

      Much of the rest is due to several companies, Apple and John Deere, going far over the line with their presently designed products from being easily repaired. Example: Apple commisioned a common power management chip be redesigned to change the pin-out and included a non-compete clause with the maker so that no one outside of Apple can buy that chip new from the maker. There is no functional benefit to the computer the chip is used in to enforce that contract, but they do so anyway. Instead of a $5 chip, the Apple suggestion is a new computer. John Deere has decided to incorporate DRM chips in most everything, chips that appear to have the sole function of driving business to John Deere dealers or trying to driver farmers to buy entire tractors rather than repair them.

      I assume you believe that seat belts, airbags, mandatory education, and cleanliness requirements in restaurants is also fascist.

      The fact is that representative governments, such as the US has, tend to act when a large enough segment of the populace has a decided dissatisfaction with something and will act. When you get conservative farmers angry about something, the representatives tend to pay attention. When the thing they are angry about is becoming a pervasive drag on many people, the representatives start drafting laws.

    9. If product manufacturers think they can dictate how buyers use the things they buy, I think we can get the government to tell manufacturers how they *can’t* design products, as they already do. Manufacturers can’t make all kinds of illegal products. What’s a few more guidelines that protect the majority of the population?

    10. While we could argue who should be able to fix the product (hacker, certified technician or somebody else), the right to repair should be forced to companies.

      Examples:
      In the second day of your 2 week summer vacation the screen breaks on your phone, and local mobile phone shop in the village you’re in in Tuscany has a repair service and they have the part, but the phone won’t start as the change was unauthorized. This is what one fruit based company does..

      Coffee maker broken. I need coffee now. There is an official company which would do it within warranty, but it’s 100 miles away. I can take it there, or .. I could open and replace or override some sensor or other part. Losing warranty, but it should be possible to open the case, inspect the elements, fix it (or destroy it in the process, but that’s my risk).

      Car breaks down, while driving on a dirt forest road. No cell phone reception, nobody around for miles. You can make a make-shift repair to civilization, but the computer doesn’t recognize your pantyhose belt replacement as valid, unless you connect via OBD and reset the error. Now imagine the same but plane motor stalls and you land in some tundra…

      So yes, I would expect the companies to build products that could be fixed. Not important who will do it – independent certified mechanic, independent non-certified technician, or the user (hacker) himself, there should be such option to repair it, without needing to go to only certified repair shop or in worst case – throw it away because the product is unrepairable and disposable.

      Yes, in some cases, there should be regulation for some industries (eg. aviation), but those are already mostly in place. The quick fix on the John Deer tractor should be possible in the field, wouldn’t hurt anyone and then we can do the certified fix after the work – the day should not be lost while waiting 10 hours for the John Deer technician.

      And yes, I can understand the miniaturization and customer wishes do make products smaller, lighter and harder to fix. But if somebody can open a mobile phone, has an original part from another same type product, and then the fixed product refuses to boot up due to unauthorized replacement, that’s not cost reduction or problem of miniaturization, that’s greed and lock-in.

    11. I agree that regulation is not the solution to all of the problem (although federal law was required for manufacturers to maintain car parts stock). Clearly, consumer eduction is an obstacle, both for the entirely ignorant consumer and the educated consumer that wants to know what they are buying.

      It seems like an opportunity for a non-profit organization to provide a trademarked badge with options that clearly convey information to the consumer like: user replaceable battery, third party serviceable, replacement parts available, repair manuals available, etc. Manufacturers could pay a small fee to use the logos on their packaging or product pages, and all of the money would go to consumer education.

      Hackaday, this is your opportunity to be the change you want to see in the world!

      1. Laws are also for preventing and punishing negligence that leads to harm. For example, heating elements without fuses or vehicle safety standards. Laws are also for the public good. For example, banning Freon and other CFCs due to ozone depletion. Essentially, all laws are passed by a society, for the larger overall benefit for that society.

        I’d argue that right to repair legislation like mandatory replaceable batteries is very similar to refrigerant laws. It’s to prevent companies from making intentional design choices which cause slow but obvious harm to the society, writ large. When a non-replaceable battery dies, the product as a whole must be discarded. That means wasted original material costs to the environment and disposal or “recycling” environmental costs, plus a slow and unnecessary drain on the economy into the coffers of the companies that purposefully made that design choice.

  4. There’s also the people who think repairing things is pointless and will argue until their dying breath that you should just buy a new one. And when things get too stressful, you should go to your vacation house in Mexico.

  5. Another issue is requiring account login.

    My ooler just failed (after 6 months) and I’m considering tearing it apart and installing a RasPi, rather than deal with sending it back and getting a “refurbished” unit.

    The ooler is a water cooled matress pad that absolutely won’t work without an account logged in to the vendor’s web site, for no good reason. The mattress pad app also needs to know my location before it will work.

    Also of note, everyone and their dog seems to require an app to control their device, instead of throwing up a web page. This results in a cell phone with a zillion apps – each of which doing something trivial – with inherent security issues for each app. The app controls would easily be done inside a web page, and the browser would provide a uniform interface and better security. In a browser you could sort the links alphabetically and see them in a list, or make subfolders named by function.

    And of course, when you want to do something you then have to paw through hundreds of apps looking for the one that does the thing you want.

    1. Totally agree in general. Want to quick point something out, though, because ui choices don’t make it clear often. Meant of these iot apps that seemingly needlessly ask for “location”, are actually trying to ask to use Bluetooth LE (or a direct wifi connection). However, because this involves listing reachable devices/networks, and because companies can (and do) build databases inferring your location from nearby wireless, giving BLE access (at least on Android right now, not sure if a different API could provide connectivity without this enumeration weakness) is effectively revealing your location. Not as easily as just using location apis, but equivalently for privacy.

      I really hope somebody comes up with an API design for BLE that does not have this vulnerability. I see so many app reviews, etc complaining about apps asking for location for no reason, when it’s because of this BLE privacy thing and the ui just doesn’t explain it before the prompt.

  6. I am all about being able to repair stuff. My current project is my garage door opener which has failed. We will see how that goes, but it is all about some plastic bushing that has deteriorated and broken in garage heat, and spare parts are no longer available I am told. But we have a lathe and a mill and very well may be able to make replacement parts.

    I do think about this from the side of the manufacturer. Most users aren’t even going to consider repairing something, nor do they have the skills. So up to a point, you can’t blame a manufacturer for maximizing their bottom line (that is what business is all about after all) and simply optimizing their manufacturing to get things out the door.

    Now intentionally making things that are hard to repair is very different from just not paying any attention to it. Now my hair is standing up and I am ready for a fight. And batteries that aren’t user replaceable, that is evil — unless the unit is sealed for water “resistance”.

    Look under the hood of many modern vehicles and you will find endless examples of “not made to repair”. There have even been vehicles that pretty much had to have the enginer pulled to replace sparkplugs. And repair manuals for vehicles have gone radically downhill. My Toyota manuals that I paid good money for are mostly extended documentation for computer diagnostic codes. Not much about bolts, torques, and procedures to replace objects.

    You do have to consider that “right to repair” will increase costs to the end user, and can even lead to less reliable products. Everything has trade-offs. An assembly that snaps together and is also glued at the factory may be less expensive and more reliable than one held together by screws. Cheaper too.

    1. “Look under the hood of many modern vehicles and you will find endless examples of “not made to repair””

      This one really hits home. There is one car manufacturer whose products I will not longer buy, not because they are bad products, but because they’ve made it too difficult to do basic maintenance. From having to take off the front bumper to change a headlight to having to drop the engine to change the serpentine belt. What finally did it was having to call AAA because we couldn’t find the battery terminals when the car battery died.

        1. When the manual was 10 pages it was reasonable. When the location of the battery terminals is on page 380 of a 600 page manual that mostly covers such things as how to interact with the 45 steps to set the time on the clock then that smugness is unwarranted.

          The battery information could be printed on the underside of the hood, the first place people look for a battery. There is already other information right there.

    2. Full-size vans have always had the most obnoxious engine bay geometry, but in the mid-late 80s, the ‘doghouse’ was a removable cowling in the cabin. our c.2000 full-size van does not appear to have a removable doghouse, mandating as mentioned, pulling the Whole Damn Engine to reach the rearmost (Big V8) sparkplugs.

      it helps but does not fix the issue, in that modern sparkplugs have a much longer working life than they did even around 1990 due to improvements in metallurgy, as evidenced by the abovementioned van being 20 years old, over 200k miles, and never having a sparkplug replacement. I don’t know if it has a transtributor or coilpaks, but the ignition system has never been a source of trouble.

      The Transmission, OTOH, we’ve had two large repair jobs on. On balance, that is a meant-for-repair [by a specialist] major subsystem in a vehicle, especially a RWD

      1. The trick is, after filling the transmission with fluid, to carefully weld the front cover in place and have no other vent or drain. This will prevent idle hands from messing with it. /s

  7. Use the consumer’s mightiest weapon: don’t buy that overengineered, non-repairable stuff in the first place. There are alternatives for nearly everything, often better and cheaper.

    1. Point of history – until the 1950s there were mom and pop small motor repair shops everywhere. Then the motor makers started laminating with epoxy so the motors could not be repaired. It cost a bit more to do that, but it increased sales of motors sold as complete replacements. There is no “cheaper and better” alternative.

      1. the epoxy keeps the windings in place…without it, the wires are free to rub through the enamel and short circuit, borking the motor.
        Big motors are still being rewound AND epoxied after the fact to this day.
        The small ones became so cheap and the labor costs kept increasing so that rewinding didn’t financially make sense.

  8. You want the laws and hence the government to solve the problem. Solve it on a consumer level. Stop buying the products. That’s what I did. John Deere? I had a mower. Availability and cost of parts was unacceptable. I will never buy another. Toyota? My mechanic said he couldn’t read an airbag service code. Took it to a dealer and they wanted $185 to diagnose but not fix the problem and wouldn’t just tell me the service code. A 3-minute job. I would have paid the 5 bucks it was worth. Now they have lost a customer. I will never buy another Toyota. Enough people stop buying Deere they will stop being predators or go out of business. This unfortunately requires an educated and active consumer. It’s easier to just throw the problem at the government.

    1. I see several comments saying similar things, but I don’t see many recommend which brands to use instead. What do you recommend people replaces John Deere tractors/equipment with?

      Maybe Skoda is better than Toyota with repair information access, but there is a big difference between brands and products there… What did you replace your Toyota with? Did Toyota change their policy as a result of losing your business (do they even know they lost your business)?

      What do you do when all brands in a certain industry/area are using the bad repair tactics to milk customers? Do you just get out of farming (or whatever) to teach them a lesson?

    2. I can see both sides of this issue. A lot of what manufacturers are doing is because of product liability laws. Suppose you upload a new piece of code into a car and it causes a crash, a fire, or it flunks pollution control tests. Guess who pays – whoever has the deepest pockets and are in the position of proving that it is NOT their fault. Suppose you install a third party control module in your car and it does the same thing. Again, a liability mess. Somewhere, a compromise will need to be found, and I don’t see how legislators can be technologically astute and wise enough to find it.

      Messing around with airbags and their control systems is a good example of where a car manufacturer definitely does NOT want the casual servicer to be.

      I don’t know the particulars of Deere, but I do know that farming is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. The equipment that is used in farming is inherently “unsafe” – high powered, motorized, sharp whirling blades, etc. I wonder if the complexity of this equipment is 90% interlocks for safety.

      1. I do also know that safety and regulatory reasons (FCC, etc) often get claimed as reasons for lack of repairability. What they usually mean is, it’s not worth enough to us to spend time and energy being as creative in solving the problem of repairability without compromising other requirements, as we are when faced with other problems we put large investments in to overcome.

        This stuff isn’t impossible. The knowledge and creativity is there. It’s just not being applied to these problems, because it’s not required, and it’s not worth enough in incremental profit.

      2. Nope. John Deere is apparently putting custom DRM into things like wheel speed sensors – like the hall effect items that detect wheel movement. Buy a genuine JD sensor and install it and the tractor will not work. Instead the custom internal serial number that is in that particular sensor has to be authenticated to the tractor computer before the computer will allow the tractor to function.

        The problem isn’t from below average or just average consumers ignorant of repairs digging into things. It is for skilled and liable third parties with access to new or working recovered parts finding that even though the part is fully functional, the system refuses to work or works in some degraded way. If a third party repair leads to a lawsuit, that won’t be the manufacturer on the hook.

        The funny thing about safety is this – if the person is desperate to repair an item and has no access to the design or repair information or to a known-good source of parts – it is far less safe a situation than when they do.

        Also, no one looking to alter the programming code needs any of this. The software can be disassembled or a replacement controller installed to get by any of this. The people who want this are, for the most part, looking to restore original equipment function.

        I say “most part” because JD was selling tractors where the difference in model was a software limit on the power the engine would produce – identical in all other ways: cooling, transmission, engine, air intake – just artificially limited to give the farmer a chance to spend more money to get the exact same machine.

  9. I’m a bit leery of the idea of legislating that manufacturers cant purposefully make items that are hard to repair. It feels like a step a little bit too far into the realm of telling people what they can and cannot make.

    It would be great if the market would do it instead. If consumers would just stop buying short term items that are meant to become tomorrow’s landfill. But they won’t. Because people suck. And if the market was going to fix this problem it would have never gotten to this point in the first place.

    The people commenting here who think they are already making a difference boycotting this or that company are funny. Are the companies they are buying from instead really any better or have they just not had something need repaired yet? Even if they are better… for how long will it last before they get to be just as bad? The mere handful of people actually making buying decisions this way are nothing to a major manufacturer.

    Stripping back the DMCA protections that these manufacturers hide behind would be a great first step though that wouldn’t really be telling anyone what to do. Just let us come up with the workarounds and post them freely.

  10. I want a phone that is built like a handheld multimeter.

    Thick, plenty of room for replaceable parts, a swapable battery and held together by screws. Give me a full-size USB host port, a charging port that doesn’t pull out or wear out and a headphone jack too. Assemble it with heatset inserts please, none of that self-tapping screw directly into plastic rubbish that is only good for so many assemblies before it’s stripped beyond use.

    I don’t care what it makes my ass look like when I stick it in my back pocket. Not that I would put it there anyway. Consumers these days are crazy sitting on their $1000+ iPhones. Everyone is walking around with a cracked screen. Must be cracked brains.

  11. There’s another area that doesn’t get mentioned much and that’s repairing the software.

    I have seen instances where GPL2+ software is (rightly) disclosed on a manufacturer’s website, but you can’t build it with a bug fix and install it on a product, because the uboot includes a signed check against a key blown into SoC fuses.

    So unless you can sign the binary, you can’t install in on your own device.

    This of course goes for iphones etc too.

    So I drive a 1989 car because I can (and do) maintain it myself. My gas boiler is 1970’s. My house is 400 years old, so even I can learn the technology needed to repair it, and to a standard of at least an apprentice.

  12. All too often we talk about rights and leave out responsibility.

    Assume a mains appliance breaks and then is fixed by someone one this site. During the repair, some safety critical part was replaced by something that doesn’t meet the specification. This then catches fire and takes the house with it.

    “Ooh, I’ve seen this repair done on Instructable, I’ll have a go!”

    Yes, I should have the right to repair something, but I also need to have the capacity to know what is and isn’t outside my skill set (not everyone does).

    1. True, but a lot of the time we buy a better part than the one that broke, that exceeds the specification/shoddy manufacturer/beancounter cost cutting, because why put the same one in that broke in the first place? So it’s swings and roundabouts.

        1. On the other side of that coin: I’ve seen clothes washing machines that _must_ be designed to keep the repairman employed. Where you have to take off the bottom to clean out the return pump filter, for instance.

          This is a once-a-month maintenance that’s made onerous, so that the machine will fail when it inevitably clogs up. You will not be surprised to hear that it has a diagnostic code that flags this event, which is of course hidden from the consumer in a service manual that’s only available to the trade…

          Many of the pros will have their livelihood depend on this kind of shenanigans, and may not be entirely forthcoming about ti.

          1. What I check for in the shop – that I can access the return trap on the washing machine pump, before I buy.

            Also that fridge shelves are glass and not plastic, which cracks in 2 years.

    2. ECU swap on an engine – hours no longer logged, it now runs hotter than desinged for. defeat emissions control device without a trace

      Plenty of reasons for manufacturers and policy makers to be concerned

      1. Didn’t some manufacturers get caught doing that exact thing, making more powerful engines and defeating emission controls, and defeating the controls to make sure emission controls are true…

        Yet, the consumer/end-user is made out to be the villain….

    3. Did the item that broke fail according to the specification or was it shoddy work from the maker? Most of the problems I have encountered with repaired items are from “qualified” repair people who work for an “authorized” repair facility. These “authorized” facilities are incentivized by the manufacturer to get people to buy a full-cost replacement rather than actually repair the item.

      Right to Repair is about getting information to third party shops – the kind that if they fail to fix the item won’t get a reward from the maker for doing so. They are not motivated to do shoddy work and be exposed to massive liability. They are motivated to have the repaired item last a long time so the owner tells all their friends and when those other items break those friends recall that experience.

      In some cases repairing an item yourself makes sense. I have a pair of monitors, one of which failed to wake up one day. So, because information was available on line, I saw the common problem was a couple of capacitors and a tiny fuse. I ordered the parts and it was simple to remove the back cover, remove the circuit board and replace the three components. No repair shop is going to touch that for less than $50. It was, maybe $5 in parts for both. And I replaced the capacitors in the second monitor so I did not have to replace the fuse. This avoided sending the pair to a dumpster as they are matched; buying a single replacement would not have been acceptable.

  13. I feel like for retail sales (and other regular sales as defined by the UCC), that tacking on additional licensing, agreements, or contracts shouldn’t be possible. The loop hole right now is that there are technological tricks that can be used to prevent people from easily repairing it. And there are armies of company lawyers that go after anyone that sets up a business that offers to repair things for people.

    Now if a transaction is more complicated than waiving money under someone’s nose while pointing at the thing I want to buy. Then sure, all sorts of contracts, NDAs, and what have you can (and should) be made to legally protect the interests of the manufacturer. These would be a pretty special case though, and signing contracts means both sides get something in exchange. (I’m trying to show that the system doesn’t break if we provide some consumer protection and return to them their right to repair)

    1. This is probably most likely the route the manufactures will take. Lets let NDAs and service agreements account for the serviceability of a product. If I dont have an agreement in place, I dont have the right to repair it. There is also another part of the industry where the manufacturer is also the service provider and to protect their product ecosystem you must be a registered tech within their community and have a dedicated service region (so as to keep out other techs). Only these techs can modify the settings and add or remove peripheral devices (think home automation companies). Do we really need a truck roll for an electrician and the home automation tech just to fix the wireless remote turning on the butler pantry nook lights? *cough cough* Lutron, *cough cough* ELAN home systems

  14. Instead of right to repair, how about putting emphasis on the full lifecycle of a product, specially disposal.

    We just throw stuff away when it’s broken beyond repair or just decide buy something newer/better for whatever reason (cell phones). Almost everything just goes to the dump. We should implement a disposal/trash tax on products based on their composition and complexity. The idea behind this is to shift consumer preference towards products that are more recyclable by making them more affordable compared to conventional alternatives. I suspect this would also incentives consumers to repair existing items instead of just buying a replacement.

  15. This really is not an easy dissertation. Most readers of this block care (or at least have an understanding) for maintenance/repair. But clearly this is not that obvious for the vast majority of people.
    For sure we want to be able to repair, and probably one day we will have to do so. For the moment carburant is cheaper than labour but this might eventually change. And we might rethink how we build things.

    Also, sellers wants to make money and it is unfortunately much more easy to sell you a 50 bucks printer that needs 100$ Cartridge to work than sell you a 500$ printer you can refill for 10$.

    As already said, I think things are more done to be sold en masse for cheap, than durable and easy to repair.

    Laws might be a way to go, maybe not the best one.

    Most companies sees you as a consumer, and if they want you to consume, they will always provide something a bit more appealing than the thing you already own. If you follow that logic, repair becomes obsolete…

  16. As the article says – it’s not just digital.

    Take my 2004 VW Touareg as an example. The suspension ball joints are manufactured directly into the control arms. This saves time and money during manufacturing and assembly but means I have to buy nearly $500US of control arms to replace the ball joints when they fail due to seal failure. They don’t have grease fittings to replace the factory installed grease so even if I replace the seal, I can’t re-grease the ball joint. The control arms are fine, it’s just the $25 ball joints that are bad.

    Am reasonably sure some of my fellow geezers remember putting two pumps of grease in every Zerk fitting while engine oil was draining. If a ball joint failed, you just bought a new one for $20, changed it and got an alignment – but only if it pulled too much.

    Since it’s not all about me (as my beautiful wife often tells me) – a friend has a 2014 Outback. Headlight went out. Subaru dealer wanted $200 to change it and $400 to change both headlight bulbs. Because – you can’t change them from the front. The headlight assembly is designed so that the bulbs are changed – wait for it… From the wheel wells!!!! You have to remove the pins and pull down part of the wheel well liner to replace the headlight bulbs!!!

    Maybe the Touareg isn’t so bad after all. The headlights pop out in 10 seconds with a little screwdriver like tool from the toolkit and it takes another 60 seconds to replaces the bulbs. Of course the wiring is bunk and turns to powder and the headlight release mech is made of plastic that rots in the engine bay heat.. but hey.. it’s actually designed to be easy to do. It’s just – not. ROFL

      1. My wife parked her 2011 Outback at an airport parking garage once.
        When she returned a few days later, one of the fog(?) lamps was missing.
        It was easy for the thief to “unzip” the wheel well cover and remove it (no screwdrivers/wrenches needed).

        1. I’d take a guess that your wife’s car has a faulty ground (or other connection) some where causing a higher than expected draw on the lights causing premature bulb failure. (Could be other things as well, like a bad batch of bulbs, but ground issues are fairly common.) The stealership is probably happy to replace bulbs rather than fix the car properly.

  17. Wow. Just wow at how many are bitching that possibly using regulation to prevent companies like JOHN DEERE from being able to screw over customers is a big NO-NO. It’s OK in these peoples minds that the corporations can act unethically but by God the people best not be allowed to curtail how unethical these corporations can act.

        1. Yep, and this is where I think the law / governments can and should be involved, ensuring some diversity of supply (monopolies & mergers commission could do better though IMO!)

      1. Agreed.
        Every law is one step away from freedom.
        A healthy free market creates products that are easy to repair, IF the market values such products.
        Apple’s market doesn’t value such products. Buy from them to encourage the trend.
        Just because you want it, doesn’t mean a company should be forced to make it.
        Software copyright/patent hampers healthy free markets and creates monopolies.
        These laws should be abolished.

        1. There is no free market. It’s an idealized concept, like a massless string or a lossless circuit trace.

          Perhaps the best functioning market in the world is the NYSE (and other stock exchanges). Open, visible prices for homogenous goods. High trade volume guarantees that these prices reflect valuations. Etc.

          This “free” market is supported by billions (trillions?) of dollars of transaction fees, and hundreds of millions of dollars in “free” regulation courtesy of the SEC. It ain’t free as in beer.

          There is neither free lunch nor a free market.

        1. When I see other people acting ‘crazy’ I try to empathize with them and assume there’s actually rationale behind their stance. I don’t want to be like the people in the ‘news’ today who incorrectly summarize a viewpoint in a weak strawman argument to make it easier to ignore or ridicule. That kind of mental laziness would make me embarrassed.

  18. Coffee makers. That reminds me of an old co worker. A bit of a background here. I worked for a big company, the first bunch I worked for, bought a new bunn machine every few years. I would take the old ones and clean them and gift them to friends who drank coffee around the clock. The next group I worked with bought the $9 specials at Walmart and they lasted about a month. One guy there grabbed the dead ones. I had no interest in a dead $9 coffee pot. One day I asked him what he did with them, and he told me he fixed them and the fix was amazingly simple, there was a diode in there that went bad, but they worked fine if you just jumped it. I had him show me as I had a pretty good idea of what was going on and sure enough he was jumping the thermal fuse. I tried telling him that be he would not listen, and even worse, he was cleaning these up and gifting them out to people. You could not tell this guy it was not a fire hazard, and the part was not a diode.

    So, if one of these burns one of his friends house down, where does the spotlight shine first? I wonder if there would even be enough of the thing left to see that it was my friends handy work and not a defect from the manufacturer.

    I like the ability to do repairs, but at the same time, badly done repairs can cause big problems and the folks who make the product can get unfairly dragged into the middle of things.

    1. Many/most appliances used to come with a schematic either in the user manual or printed on a label inside the item.

      That they no longer do this is a large part of the present problem.

      Your buddy might believe it if the schematic on the label said “Over Temp Protection” for that right on the coffee maker. It’s likely there is a temperature limit printed in tiny type right on the device.

      It is curious that they would fail so regularly.

      Anyway, arson investigators will be able to tell the difference, though I wonder how he came to the conclusion it was a diode and what he thought the not-a-diode was intended to do.

      1. “No user serviceable parts inside” is not a command, but a warning. No sense opening this up because there’s no tubes to change.

        We’ve got a cute slogan, but few want to examine reality. Most people know nothing of electronics. So “repair” has nothing to do with the “evil companies” but because repair requires skill. The guy bylassed that “diode” because he knew nothing.

        I remember tube lineups in radios and tv sets. Maybe I remember tiny schematics in transistor rsdios, I definitely saw tiny schematics in manuals from Radio Shack. I never saw a schematic attached to a toaster or electric kettle.

        But even if that was common, schematics are now more complicated, and it has less relevance today. If you’ve got the skill, you can trace that transistor radio, and find replacement parts. But what use is a schematic if there’s one IC, obvious withiut a schematic, and you can’t get that IC?

        People are acting like nothing has changed since the days of tubes. Or that companies conspire to keep us out, when there are layers and layers of change that is done for other reasons.

        Repair is a special skillset. Knowing electronics helps, but it’s more than that. But so much of this is about Johnny Nobody feeling entitled without knowing enough about electronics to understand the problem.

      2. He would not know a schematic from a hieroglyphic and to him the fact it worked again was proof he was right. The reason they burnt out all the time was because it was a company and it was no ones job to turn the thing off ever so they things would run all night unless someone turned it off, and there were no set hours so people came and went all the time. The things boiled dry all the time and thermal fuse kept them from catching on fire.

        I break rules all the time but I try and limit the scope to just me. I would never give anything that I fixed in a dangerous way to someone else, at least without warning them and making sure they were smart enough to be able to comprehend the warning.

        Perhaps the answer is thin titanium seals instead of the paper seals we have now, so the seal will survive a fire and if it is broken the mfg is off the hook.

        It opens up lots of cans or worms. The oft cited JD tractors, they can do a lot of damage to people and property if they go nuts. If some one “fixes” one and it kills some one, the first headline you see is not joe moron botched a repair job, but a JD tractor went nuts and killed somebody. I can see why JD may not be happy with that..

  19. I think Hackaday and other organizations serving the community should run a quarterly survey for their members and let member votes determine the shape of the right to repair laws. Then once a quarter send the results of their surveys to all the senators and congressmen email addresses. In addition send the results to the major television news stations, CBS, NBC and CBS with the notification that this movement has sent these same opinion results to the Senate and House. We at one time had a law that companies had to provide replacement parts for 10 years after discontinuing a product. Manufactures got around that law by making products with “no user replaceable parts inside” statements. Time for politicians to fix this growing problem and force designers to create products that can be repaired by anyone. This would bring back the independent repair person/shop and give them a way to make a good living.

  20. As far as software and “unauthorized” repair we have the computer infrastructure to make chips and ordering software so that when a part is ordered it is recorded with the serial number and the responsibility for proper funcitioning shifts from the manufacture to the repair service. In the case of software we have chip capability that once a tractor is bought a service tech burns the name and address of the owner into a rom on the piece of equipment and until the equipment is sold all parts orders require the units serial number which will be linked to the owner. Then responsibility for the quality of the part becomes the responsibility of the part supplier.

  21. Being able to repair something doesn’t matter anymore. Once a company has lured you into a ball-and-chain subscription-based model, your hardware is going to be deprecated whether it is still compatible with the company’s services or not. Proof in-point. I have a two and a half year old Motorola X^4 smart phone. AT&T just notified me they are going to turn off my service in February 2022 because my phone is no longer compatible with the services they will provide thereafter. I have spent many hours on the phone with AT&T trying to understand what my phone does not do that they need it to do. There are two things AT&T doesn’t like about my phone: 1. It doesn’t support 5G. 2. It doesn’t support “HD Voice”. Well, I don’t need or want 5G, it’s too expensive, doesn’t even exist in my area, and it chews up battery capacity. I’m perfectly good with using AT&T’s existing 4G LTE service, which will not be discontinued. And as for “HD Voice”, my phone supports it 100%. Motorola (Moto / Lenovo) has confirmed this and is actively trying to get AT&T’s list of banned phones corrected. Unfortunately, AT&T isn’t listening. So that’s it. All they have to do is “declare” your hardware is incompatible, even if it isn’t, and then you’re banned. Bye-bye AT&T – forever.

  22. Having driven RC cars many years ago I’d think it should be possible for manufacturers to make a good profit form selling parts. Buying an RC car as a complete kit was relatively “cheap”, but replacing it part for part as you crashed it and broke something was quite expensive. I bet the car sold as parts would cost 5-10 times more than the kit.

    Also, buying from manufacturers that build things that last is cheaper in the long run (but understandable difficult if you’re pressed for money at the time of purchase); a $1000 appliance that lasts 10 years is a lot cheaper than getting one that cost $700 and last only 5 years.

      1. I see something similar on eBay…
        People, instead of outright junking an appliance, will strip usable parts off and offer them on eBay.
        I bought a replacement blower blade for a shop vacuum cleaner, and a refrigerator shelf that way.

        1. In “antique” radio circles too. The problem becomes, at which point is a radio a junker, to provide parts to keep others going, and when is it a radio that needs parts?

          Selling the parts may bring in more.money, and no need to package a radio for shipping so it doesn’t break (and become a junker).

          Heathkit would sell replacement parts, I think everything (though I don’t know how long they kept parts after stopping a product). People woukd buy cabinets and knobs and build matching equipment.

          Almost fifty years ago, I asked the price of one filter, and found it “expensive”. And that seems to hold. Buying replacement parts will be more expensive than buying the radio in the first place. And that’s when something is current. How much is a reasonable price to keep stock after the run? Can lrices go up as time goes by to incorporate storage fees?

    1. That is true of anything. I can take an antique tractor that was abandoned in a hedgerow decades ago and get a couple of grand in parts and pieces on eBay. I have seen antique square nuts going for better than $10 a pop. It is amazing what pieces from stuff many people would just toss out fetch on eBay for the DIY folks.

  23. A good article for pondering on big questions with many implications. My initial thought, most consumer items have a point at which their evolution is complete or near completion, small stuff like pens, pencils, paper, etc. There are larger items like smart phones, automobiles, certain tools, really a multitude of items that are there or near the end of their ‘evolution’. Sure, items like automobiles change frequently, but these changes are mostly aesthetic, perhaps safety or effeciency related, with the last two in tiny increments. The automobile industry is under regulation as well which complicates this a bit, I think this is where canbus came from, to save on wire or something. Anyway, what is a company to do once a product nears or reaches it’s pinnacle? Less items mentioed above. They still have to make money, generally lots of it to satisfy investors, some board of people, some such entity. Can we have a decent economy, meaning a job that can support the things that need supporting, after all, without people having a decent job what type of economy can you have? Granted, if your country simply consumes stuff and not build stuff, you will have a different economy (an obvious gloss). A thought might be this, what if all products were like the lowly pencil in practice, meaning you go here or there and the pencil is nearly the same wherever, about the same price, built about the same, act in about the same manner, and so on. What would happen. You could think this would be great for right to repair, as once a product reaches its pinnacle that parts for reapair would be around longer, known issues well documented leading to ease if repair (if proprietary stuff is tackled), leading to linger lasting products and all That encompasses. Not the end of that story however, there is always another side to a fence. Good article, you have given me something else to think about in more detail.

  24. Since a ‘repairable product’ requires more material for things like screw bosses, resealable debugging ports, etc…….and more non-recyclable features like fiber reinforced plastic and embedded seals….. and since 99% of users will not repair the item, instead throwing it away for the new hotness… and the units that are actually repaired will not offset the additional ‘repairable’ material being thrown away….wouldn’t the total waste increase?

    What do you propose to force people to repair their earbuds five, ten, fifteen years out?

  25. Right to repair has been an issue for at least 10 years now. Kind of surprised to see Hackaday running an article sporting a stance without any history, as if it’s a new thing. Yes, we all agree we should be able to repair anything, yet I’m not sure we can say that access to parts must be mandated. That would cause the costs of items to rise when manufacturers have to administer the production and stocking of all those parts. Even if they already have them now, as soon as its mandated, they’ll use that as a reason to say costs need to be increased whether they really do or not. Generally, access to parts hasn’t been a problem anyway, as there are plenty of knock-off manufacturers that actually do a good job at making replacements.

    The only thing we must mandate be illegal is when manufacturers make devices such that even when you have a genuine device and a genuine part, you can’t install it unless you have a secret code from them, and hence are one of their authorized rip-off, I mean repair, stations.

  26. Let’s not forget, however, that many (maybe most) American consumers are either lazy, busy, or ignorant of how to repair just about anything. Ten years ago, I didn’t know how to change my own oil on my vehicles. That’s not the case now (I’ve changed brake calipers, fuel injectors, ball joints, alternator, etc.), but it took quite a lot of time, effort, and some new specialized tools to do so. I think companies are correctly assuming that the majority of people want a product that performs a function effectively and will prefer to replace something rather than repairing it themselves.

    I also think that in the old days, most companies were started by people who loved to make things – they were engineers and inventors. Nowadays, most big companies are run by people who only love to make money, and will churn out disposable garbage all day long if they can turn a profit. I’m not an engineer (I raise money for a food bank), but I can imagine that most engineers hate getting the call from some stiff in a $1,000 suit that tells them, “This product is too durable. Design it to break in 3 years.” What engineer wants to do that?

    What is really needed is a stronger focus on the customer… what really benefits them. They should be making products that are beautiful, useful, and durable. Beautiful: it should be aesthetically pleasing to the senses. Useful: it should perform its intended function to the highest level practicable. Durable: it should last a long time and consumable components easily replaced. If a product lacks any of those qualities, it should be laughed out of the marketplace.

    1. I think your summation of the situation is spot on. I think though that the marketplace has been shaped by the cost-focused people, since they set the bar for what it takes to compete. The people who just want to make really great products can’t because they wouldn’t ever sell them against the cost-driven producers who always win in the marketplace. Sometimes you see a true innovator who makes something that gets enough traction that it stays afloat, but its rare. Most of the time, the people who produce those items do so in their spare time, not as their main job. The ones who manage to make a living off of a unique electronic product are truly rare indeed.

      This has been a bit of a discouragement in my life unfortunately, as I started in electronics as a fascinated kid, have learned throughout my life, but haven’t been able to identify such a product and pursue it amidst the challenges of life, family, and work at that primary job, never mind that anything I produce seems it has been or will be made and sold by China – a major cost driven manufacturing hub – for under $5 soon thereafter. I think one has to adjust to that reality and do electronics solely as a hobby just for the fun of it. Trying to turn it into a profit source is a tough road.

    2. As a design engineer, I can tell you that people are looking at this wrong. VERY few companies are in a monopoly position. They can’t just sell a product that their customer’s don’t want or value. They all try to sell exactly what the customer’s value because that’s the only way they can stay in business.

      If you don’t like the reliability of a product, that’s because the consumers didn’t value it. They bought the cheaper and cheaper versions, or prettier and prettier versions and placed no value on reliability.

      Engineering is compromise. The look, the feel, the cost, the reliability, the weatherproof-ness, the weight, the size,etc. It’s all interdependent. Apple engineers sacrifice cost for appearance and size. Medical device engineers sacrifice cost and size for reliability. Not just a little bit, but as much as the customer values. I could possibly make the Apple phone another millimeter thinner, but reliability or battery life might drop below customer expectations.

      If a part is designed to only last 3 years, it’s because the customer wanted it cheaper, lighter, prettier, etc than it could have been if it lasted longer. There are VERY few products with some hidden mechanism that causes them to fail so you buy a new one. You only find this with monopolies… and in those cases we should be looking at solving the monopoly so the fair market can do what it do.

      1. I keep saying that. In 1982, my first dot matrix printer was $500 Canadian. There wasn’t much cheaper. It was noisy, it was never close to le tter quality, it even lacked descenders. But I could print out program listings. It was working fine ten years later when I gave it away.

        But most people wouldn’t pay that much, especially not when there are endless other electronic gadgets to lure money from us. So you get a fifty dollar inkjet, and toss it away when the cartridges go empty, “the companies cheat us”.

        The only inkjet I used, it was bought used so the refill wasn’t so bad. I had lots of choices later, but I moved to a $20 HP-4P in 2004, finally replaced it in 2018.

        Used electronics means someone else paid full price, and no longer wants it. So buying used is a great way to try new things.

  27. I think it might help in some industries to have a consumer’s cooperative for technology development. Many of its member-owners could be power users who do their own repair, but small repair shops owners could also join. The latter could not only bulk purchase components for repair, but also to assemble and configure them to begin with as value added resellers. This way, they could provide repair service for clients who don’t want to do their own repair, while voting at the cooperative along with power users to ensure that it continues to produce designs which facilitate repair.

  28. I think mandating the availability of replacement parts is the easiest effective step forward. While most consumers are unfortunately naive when it comes to repair of anything, consumers are still willing to pay to have professionals repair or maintain things. Back in the day, there used to be TV repair shops in every town. We still have appliance repair shops, and of course auto mechanics. Now we also have shops in every mall that will replace your cracked phone screen. All of these options for professional repair only exist with the ability to source parts needed for the repair.

    A friend of mine bought a new Samsung refrigerator. Within a year of install, the main controller board gave up the ghost. Fortunately for my friend, it was still in warranty. However, they couldn’t source just the controller PCB. Samsung offered to send him a brand new refrigerator, and take the broken one away. He knew this meant the <1 year old refrigerator that only needed a new PCB would be going to the dump. My friend was disgusted by this proposal so he searched and searched for a controller PCB – even a used one, and was willing to put it in himself, at his cost. But nobody could source the controller board so he reluctantly scheduled the new refrigerator delivery and watched the old one get lazily tossed in a truck. What a waste – so environmentally and economically irresponsible.

  29. My two cents: I love a thin phone, I don’t care about the cost, I’m not going to be opening it up. I don’t mind paying $1300 for my 12-Pro, or the $1100 I spent on the X. When/if we have water thin flexi phones I’m not planning on fixing those either. I’ll hack what can be hacked and take my sexy tech too. I really don’t want another Motorola dynatac. Also as long as companies are not intentionally bricking devices because of age I’d say let their designers do their thing, make thin magical sexy tech.

  30. And what about firmware “lock in” ?
    A friend of mine, does have an Epson multifunctional.
    After exactly 10.000 prints, it refuses to print anything more !
    Searching the web, I did found a “hack” to reset the eprom counter.
    He is now enjoying this printer for another 10.000 prints :-)

    About 20 years ago, my first digital camera, was an HP.
    Also, after a few thousand pictures, it would refuse to take any more photos !
    (just a test-screen was shown on the back LCD, when turned on.
    I’m sure this is the same kind of “lock in”, but then I was younger, and the internet was not that “big” with info on such topics.
    Otherwise, I’m sure I was able to fix this camera also …

    Any more stories on firmware lock-in ?

  31. Eventually every item is going to “require” software updates, and then when they stop, as no one is going to write software updates for an item that is more than 3 years old, they will become obsolete. My TV is no longer plugged into the internet because I don’t want to have to wait for it to update nor enable it to send information out of the house.

    Most linux distros are 64 bits so 32 bit hardware is going to become obsolete as 32 bit os’s will no longer be updated.

    Linux is moving from X to Wayland and programmers will eventually stop developing or updating X versions of their code.

    Motor driver and high current IC’s are going to fail after about 10 years. It cost us $500 to repair a 10 year old washer. The PCB came in a plastic case increasing its cost. Turns out the average life of a washing machine is, yes, 10 years. Most people don’t spend $500 to repair it choosing instead to toss it out.

    Last week we repaired our 10 year old treadmill. We were lucky to buy a used salvaged control console. It was a different model but the connections were the same it its working fine. The manufacturer quoted us $400 for a new console.

    Earlier this year we emptied the water out of the headlight on our 2005 Cadillac STS. Then we repaired the HVAC Door Motors in a 98 Corvette. We’ve repaired numerous plastic auto parts using a 3D printer.

    The WWW makes it possible for us to envision doing the work. We don’t have enough time, energy, and money to fix everything that breaks though.

    LED lights never last 30,000 hours. Maybe that’s the MTBF for a single LED and not the whole unit. We’ve stopped buying LED fixtures. When they fail we replaced them with a socketed fixture and an LED bulb.

    And here’s the big one. NYS is going to outlaw selling new vehicles with gas powered engines. Gas will become much more expensive. Electricity supply will not keep up with demand and we’ll have rolling blackouts. You’ll have to stay home so you can charge your car to go to work. And we won’t be able to leave the state because the vehicle will only go 300 miles before needing to be plugged in. All our old gas powered vehicles will end up in the salvage yard. NYS also wants us to heat our houses with electricity instead of Natural Gas. All our furnaces will become obsolete. Luckily I probably won’t be around or driving by the time all this happens.

    Our household takes all metal scrap to salvage. All old electronics are torn apart and the pcbs go to a local electronics recycling center. We have a large pile of chemicals that needs to go to the county recycling center however it takes 3 Months to get an appointment and we usually end up with a conflict and have to cancel.

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