Despite consumer protection laws, companies routinely elbow out independent repair, highlighting need for pro-repair reforms
Boston, MA — Six months after the FTC warned six companies their “void warranty if removed” labels are forbidden under warranty laws, a survey by the consumer group U.S. PIRG Education Fund found that the vast majority of appliance manufacturers continue to oppose independent repair. Of the 50 appliance manufacturers surveyed, 45 automatically void the warranties if the device had “unauthorized” repair.
“It’s time for companies to respect our right to repair our products,” said U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Right to Repair Campaign Director Nathan Proctor, who authored the report. “By canceling warranties if consumers chose another repair provider — even if that repair was done properly — they are undermining both our consumer rights and the repair marketplace.”
“We are tired of companies ignoring rules that should protect consumers from being forced to use ‘authorized’ repair providers,” said Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. “I really hope the FTC looks into these practices, these kind of tactics hurt independent repair businesses.”
Fifteen companies had warranties that clearly conditioned against independent repair. For example, a Bosch warranty reads: “If you choose to have someone other than an authorized service provider work on your Product, THIS WARRANTY WILL AUTOMATICALLY BECOME NULL AND VOID.”
But many of the other companies only clarified their stance after speaking with customer service. For example, a Bissell vacuum cleaner warranty seemed to only disclaim coverage from damages caused by repair: “Damage or malfunction caused by negligence, abuse, neglect, unauthorized repair or any other use not in accordance with the User’s Guide is not covered.” It would seem that as long as the repair provided did not damage the unit, the warranty would remain intact. But customer service explained a different approach:
“This is really confusing for consumers — the warranty might say one thing and customer service says something else,” added Proctor. “It’s outrageous that a consumer could even read the fine print and then discover later that they lost their warranty.”
“Consumers benefit when they can choose where to take their electronics for repair. This important report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund reveals that some manufacturers may be duping customers into believing the warranty requires them to use only repair services that the manufacturer authorizes. This is contrary to the law. We urge federal authorities to investigate and take action to ensure consumers are getting the full and accurate information. We also urge states to pass their own Right to Repair laws to expand consumers’ options for getting independent repair,” said Maureen Mahoney, Policy Analyst, Consumers Union.
Conditioning a warranty to forbid independent repair is generally understood to be a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, though there are exceptions. The survey recommends that the FTC should investigate the warranty practices of these companies and explore further enforcement action. It also supports “Right to Repair” reforms, which provide access to critical parts and information needed for independent repair.
“Many companies are in effect monopolizing repair, and displaying hostility toward independent repair,” added Proctor. “When manufacturers get to decide what gets fixed and what doesn’t, it adds to waste and consumer costs. We should pass Right to Repair reforms in order to make sure people have choices when it comes to repair.”