Why You Should Have the Right to Repair Your Own Devices

Break out the screwdrivers

Key Takeaways

  • The growing movement to force manufacturers to let users repair their own gadgets got a recent boost from the White House. 
  • Experts say that many manufacturers make repairing devices intentionally difficult. 
  • Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently endorsed the right-to-repair movement.
Someone repairing a smartphone.

Jokic / Getty Images

The DIY gadget repair movement is growing, thanks to some help from President Biden. 

Last week, the White House issued an executive order aimed at anti-competitive practices. It includes a provision that would give you the right to repair your own cell phones and other devices. Many manufacturers make repairing devices difficult. Experts say that such measures are unfair to users. 

"When you buy a product, you own it, so this means you should be able to do with it what you want," Lauren Benton, the managing director of Back Market, a marketplace for refurbished electronics, told Lifewire in an email interview. "But, this isn’t always the case with our expensive cell phones and laptops and other electronic devices today."

Locked Down?

Tech companies impose restrictions on self and third-party repairs, "making repairs more costly and time-consuming, such as by restricting the distribution of parts, diagnostics, and repair tools," the White House said in a statement announcing the executive order. 

The order encourages the Federal Trade Commission "to issue rules against anti-competitive restrictions on using independent repair shops or doing DIY repairs of your own devices and equipment."

Device manufacturers often make it hard to find parts and repair information, Benton said. Apple uses a proprietary screw that makes it difficult to open the iPhone, for example. Some manufacturers say they are protecting customers from hurting themselves or that their repair manual is proprietary information. 

"This just does not make sense and only serves the interests of the manufacturers who make more money from us when we have to go back to them for a repair or to replace the non-working item," Benton said. "The right to repair is about giving users the freedom to own and operate the items they buy and is an essential element to enabling a robust market for refurbished electronics."

Growing DIY Movement

The right to repair movement is flourishing around the world. This year, the French government began requiring tech manufacturers to list a repairability score on items like cell phones and laptops. In the US, more than a dozen states are considering right-to-repair legislation.

Users are embracing the movement as well. The company CGS recently conducted a study that found that 71% of consumers were fixing items on their own, partly resulting from the pandemic, but also because of the inconvenience of returning an item for repair. 

"Consumers have become much more aware of ecological damage done by throwing away old or damaged goods that could have been repaired," Steven Petruk, a division president at CGS, told Lifewire in an email interview. "Yet, more than 60% said that they threw away a household appliance in the past year." 

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak recently endorsed the right-to-repair movement. In a post to the YouTube channel of Louis Rossmann, a right-to-repair advocate, Wozniak said that he was "totally supportive" of the cause.

Someone repairing a cellphone.

krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images

Helpful or Harmful?

But not everyone is praising the president’s order. Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said in a news release that the White House is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

"Our sector is strong and growing, and our people are benefiting," he added. "Unfortunately, there are those who want to erode our competitive advantage with archaic tax policies. They threaten to undo our progress by undermining free markets and are premised on the false notion that our workers are not positioned for success."

Biden’s order could lead to an FTC rule that gadget manufacturers can’t enforce warranties that limit where gadgets can be serviced, Daniel Crane, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School specializing in antitrust law, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"That might lead to lower prices for consumers," he added. "But it also could mean that consumers would start taking their equipment to third-party servicers that don't fully understand the technology or have full access to source code or other aspects of the manufacturer's 'secret sauce,' and therefore harm the equipment."

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