Why Germany’s Push for 7-Year Repairs and Spares Is So Important

It could even reach the US

Key Takeaways

  • Germany wants the EU to extend spare-part availability to seven years.
  • Security updates, too.
  • The right-to-repair isn’t just about fixing things yourself.
iPhone opened for repair work on a workbench

Kilian Seiler / Unsplash

Germany has urged the EU to force mobile device makers to ensure seven years of security updates and spare parts availability.

Recently, the European Commission proposed a five-year minimum for the same things, but Germany wants to go longer. That’s no surprise for people living in Germany, which already has a minimum two-year warranty period for new purchases, and a one-year warranty for used goods. But will this seven-year plan actually make repairing our gadgets easier? Will phone and tablet designs have to change to accommodate it? Or will nothing really change?

“The European Commission's work could put significant pressure on smartphone and tablet makers to make screens and batteries easier to find, buy, and install,” Kevin Purdy of repair advocate iFixit, told Lifewire via email. “Batteries are the one thing everybody will need to replace eventually; screens are the first thing to go when accidents happen. Having spares available, along with service guides for them, is a wonderfully high base from which we can climb even further.”

Upgrading the Law

The current EU proposals require updates and spare parts for five years, and six years for tablets. Those parts should also have their prices published, and those prices should not be raised later.

“Where Germany's suggestions really could have an impact is the demand that spare parts be available ‘at a reasonable price,’” says Purdy. “Modern OLED screens are often so expensive to buy, from any source, that a new phone is the more logical purchase. If manufacturers have to make more spare screens, and are discouraged from artificially encouraging upgrades with premium prices, that's a win for everybody.”

Germany’s federal government also wants to guarantee fast deliveries for those spare parts, so companies like Apple and Samsung can’t drag their heels to derail independent repair shops. Unsurprisingly, the manufacturers, represented by the DigitalEurope trade group, only want three years.

Who Wants To Use A 7-Year-Old Phone?

iPhone with cracked and spiderwebbed screen

Ali Abdul Rahman / Unsplash

Maybe you don’t see the point of this legislation. After all, you probably ditch your phone every 2-3 years and buy a new one. But there are advantages even then. For a start, when you break the screen during the first month, or run down the battery in a year, replacement will be easy and fast. 

“Germany's push for seven years of updates and repairs is more of a good thing,” said Purdy. “Even if the majority of people are likely to upgrade their phone before seven years' time, older phones that are still working, and secure, can find interesting new uses.”

iPhones make excellent hand-me-downs. If their batteries can be replaced, then they easily can last for seven years, especially if they are supported with security fixes. But phones in general don’t have to be obsolete at the end of a notional “upgrade cycle.” 

“This will force Apple to continue supporting older versions of iOS for longer and make sure their repair technicians know how to work with older models of iPhone, but I don't see it significantly changing their product release cycle. They can continue to drive demand for new iPhones through effective marketing and software updates,” Devon Fata, CEO of mobile app design consultancy Pixoul, told Lifewire via email.

That’s Fine For Europe, I Guess

Street sign that says "Mobile Repair" under an Apple logo

Prateek Katyal / Unsplash

What about the US? The EU, and Germany especially, are hot on consumer protection, whereas the US tends to trust “the market.” What are the chances of similar laws appearing there?

Germany's push for seven years of updates and repairs is more of a good thing. Even if the majority of people are likely to upgrade their phone before seven years' time, older phones that are still working and secure can find interesting new uses.

“We're working on it, says Purdy. “iFixit and its advocacy partners have seen much success lately, with both President Biden and the FTC making official statements that repair in the US is not a fair market, and that manufacturer restrictions are largely to blame.”

Biden’s backing of the right to repair movement seems the best chance at getting fair laws for repair and maintenance, although the US also has power lobby groups with an interest in changing nothing. Right to repair is especially important now that almost everyone carries a pocket computer with them, and almost every gadget and appliance has a computer inside. Here’s hoping that the EU—and the US—listens to Germany.

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