Repair Restrictions Harming Consumers, FTC Finds

James R. Hood
James R. Hood

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found “scant evidence” that manufacturers’ restrictions on product repairs are. necessary. In a report to Congress, titled Nixing the Fix, the commission said repair restrictions are clearly harming consumers.

“The bipartisan, unanimous report is yet another indication that Right to Repair isn’t a partisan idea, but rather common sense. People need to fix things, and manufacturers’ behavior toward repair is damaging and unacceptable. The FTC report strongly supports our argument that there is no good reason for companies to keep blocking repair access,” said Nathan Proctor of U.S. PIRG.

The report reviewed comments from both Right to Repair advocates and manufacturers. It also reviewed regulatory tools at the FTC, and pending Right to Repair reforms in the states, which could be used to address those restrictions.  

The FTC report clearly laid out that repair restrictions are harming consumers, and concluded, “there is scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions.” 

“I hope the FTC will act quickly on the steps they have identified. We were encouraged that the FTC said it would enforce existing requirements based specifically on comments submitted by U.S. PIRG that they said had ‘raised serious concerns,” Proctor said. “After their 2019 Nixing the Fix workshop, it took almost two years for the FTC to report back; we hope that taking action to protect consumers’ right to repair happens much faster this time.”

Warranty fears hamper repairs

Consumer advocates say many consumers avoid repairing their appliances and electronics for fear of voiding the warranty, a fear that is often justified.

A recent survey from U.S. PIRG Education Fund finds that all 43 appliance manufacturers surveyed would consider voiding the warranty if a device had “unauthorized” repair, despite a 2018 warning from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Three years ago, the FTC warned six companies that placing stickers saying the “warranty would be void if removed” on their products is forbidden under warranty laws.

A U.S. PIRG Education Fund report at the time found that 45 of 50 appliance companies also were voiding warranties for independent repair. Since then, appliance companies haven’t made things any easier, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simple repairs are not only cheaper but are often better for the environment, advocates say.

“Repair provides us with an opportunity to breathe new life into our old and broken devices,” said Claudia Deeg, CALPIRG Associate. “Instead of buying new gadgets every time our old ones give us trouble, we should turn to our communities to meet our repair needs. This approach is what’s best for both our society and our pocketbooks.”

James R. Hood

Jim is a publishing entrepreneur and journalist. He founded ConsumerAffairs in 1998 and earlier was the founder of Zapnews, after holding executive posts at the Associated Press.