The message is clear: Americans want the right to repair.
Whether it’s their mobile phones, their printers, their computers or their vehicles, Americans have watched product manufacturers raise the prices of new products and close off avenues to consumers who want to repair what they already own.
Congress has begun to notice. In June, Rep. Jean Schakowsky (D-IL), chair of House Consumer Protection and Consumer Subcommittee, asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether automakers are impeding vehicle owners’ right to repair, and whether federal agencies were doing their part to protect consumers.
Two bills aimed at ensuring vehicle owners’ right to repair have been introduced. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced the bipartisan SMART Act in 2021, and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) sponsored the REPAIR Act earlier this year. Clearly, this is a bipartisan issue.
Why is congressional action necessary? Because consumers have been threatened with their product warranties being voided if they attempt to repair their products or use non-manufacturer parts to do so. On a parallel track, because so many of today’s products generate data about us, consumers have found they don’t have the ownership over their own data that they deserve.
Put these two factors together and Americans have been left feeling frustrated and limited on options — and lighter in the wallet. Repairing your products rather than buying new ones is obviously less expensive. Further, if consumers can use repair parts not made by their product manufacturers – often called aftermarket parts – they can save money.
Many product manufactures, such as automakers, don’t want consumers to have these choices. When their vehicles are involved in a collision, for instance, automakers work hard to steer car owners toward automaker-affiliated repair shops and use automaker-manufactured parts only – a combination that often results in higher repair bills and longer wait times for consumers.
And, because there is almost no “simple car part” anymore – even the humble windshield is embedded with technology – auto manufacturers have been making it harder for aftermarket parts makers to compete. Automakers have denied independent repair shops access to data contained in the very vehicle they are trying to fix – even if the owner allows it.
Thankfully, the right-to-repair movement is gaining rapid momentum, thanks to the efforts of consumers, aftermarket parts manufacturers and key figures in the government, from President Biden to Congress to federal agencies. And it’s the rare issue that Washington seems to agree on.
In July 2021, the Federal Trade Commission adopted a right-to-repair statement, voting 5-0 to increase enforcement against restrictions that limit consumers’ right to repair, including the auto industry. The FTC wrote: “The Commission uncovered evidence that manufacturers and sellers may, without reasonable justification, be restricting competition for repair services in numerous ways.”
In January of this year, President Biden tweeted his support for right-to-repair, saying, “When you own a product, you should be able to repair it yourself.”
One month later, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he “strongly support[s] the right to repair your own vehicle, your own car, your own truck…and get whoever you want to repair it. That’s a fundamental question of individual liberty and individual property rights.” If President Biden and Sen. Cruz agree on an issue, you know it has widespread support.
We have seen the right-to-repair movement flourish at the state level. A 2020 initiative in Massachusetts passed a statewide vote by 75 percent, despite automakers spending millions of dollars on advertising opposing the initiative. A similar initiative was put up for a statewide vote in 2021 and passed with 86 percent of the vote.
These tallies consistently match the results of national polls.
A November 2021 nationwide poll conducted by YouGov found that 78 percent of vehicle-owning voters support a new law that allows consumers to choose where and how to repair their cars, that would reduce the patent enforcement time and would make vehicle data more readily available to owners.
Further, 85 percent of respondents said vehicle data should be made available to owners and any repair shop they choose and a whopping 92 percent of respondents agreed that consumers should be able to choose between manufacturer parts and aftermarket parts.
The evidence is clear: Americans want the right to repair the products they own. Massachusetts has the right idea, but federal legislation is needed to prevent a patchwork of regulations and unequal consumer protection. Now is the time for Congress to pass the REPAIR Act and the SMART Act and for President Biden to sign both into law.
Christopher Northrup is CEO and Managing Partner of Professional Parts Group, a distributor of automotive collision-replacement parts.