"Nix the Fix" campaign highlights how manufacturers stop you from repairing electronics and autos: Internet Scambusters #978
Supposing you want to repair or replace a component in your car, phone, or other electronic device.
In some cases, you won't be able to do it yourself or use a cheap repair shop because of either warranty or physical restrictions imposed by the maker.
A new report, called Nix the Fix, aims to put a stop to that, but it'll take time. In the meantime, we'll tell you what you can do to avoid the costly repair route and defends the right to repair your own products or to have repairs done by companies not directly associated with the manufacturer.
Let's get started…
How to Spot Costly Repair Restrictions Before You Buy
If you've ever been baffled or angry to learn you'll have to pay through the nose for a product repair, you'll be pleased to learn about "Nix the Fix."
This a campaign, which will hopefully be backed by new laws, to stop manufacturers or retailers from insisting you can only get your repairs done by them or an authorized shop. You can't do it yourself or pay an independent repairer.
You've likely already come across this issue. You buy something like a smart phone, home appliance, or even a car; something goes wrong; then you discover that unless you pay the maker or supplier to put it right, often using costly, branded parts, you'll void the warranty.
Some manufacturers go a step further by making their products inaccessible without specialist tools or using parts in such a way that they cannot be removed and replaced -- for example, by gluing in or soldering batteries or making parts physically inaccessible without risking further damage.
Furthermore, it's well known that many products these days include components with a limited lifespan. If you keep it long enough, the parts will stop working properly. And even if you're "allowed" to do the work yourself, you discover there are no instructions or diagnostic software to help you troubleshoot it.
Most consumers usually learn about this the hard way -- when something fails or breaks.
Since you're left with little or no choice, you have to fork out whatever they say the repair or replacement will cost, using only the parts they specify. When you think of it, it's actually a form of price fixing. Hence, "Nix the Fix" to stop them doing that.
The issue has been bugging the US consumer watchdog, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for more than 40 years. So, the agency has just filed a report to the government urging action to stop the practice.
Naturally, the manufacturers claim that their experience, equipment, and diagnostic software means that only they can do the work properly; in other words, they're really only doing this to protect the consumer!
But the FTC says that although manufacturers have offered numerous explanations for their repair restrictions, they're mostly not supported by evidence.
Whatever the truth, a study by Pew Research this past March concluded that, during the current health crisis, getting things fixed has become even more difficult because some retailers, who were previously authorized to do repairs, have shut down their facilities.
Additionally, a number of specialist small businesses who might have been permitted to do the work more cost-effectively have also folded during the past couple of years.
As a result, returning items to manufacturers for repair not only potentially increases the cost but also leads to long waiting times.
Some existing laws, notably the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, already exist to stop car makers voiding warranties when an auto is fixed by someone else -- known as "anti-tying" -- but there are still huge gaps in protecting consumer rights.
"… technological developments have introduced new challenges that warrant a reconsideration of whether the anti-tying provision has kept pace with the evolving consumer goods repair market," the FTC argues.
"Even when a warranty does not explicitly require that repairs be performed by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) using OEM parts, many manufacturers restrict independent repair and repair by consumers…"
For example, certain car manufacturers are now capable of tying a control module in a car specifically to its VIN (vehicle identification number) so that a replacement would need to be programmed especially just for that vehicle.
One car maker is said to have implemented security against hacking in such a way that makes it impossible for a third party to repair.
And, in the computer industry, a major manufacturer refused to allow firmware updates (software driven changes to actual components) unless the buyer also takes out a maintenance contract.
Do Your Research
Unfortunately, there's no timescale for Congress to act on the report. And we all know how long it can take to introduce the necessary laws.
In the meantime, it's important to take these types of restrictions into account before you make a buying decision. This means doing your online research.
Look for information, often found in reviews, about the expected lifespan or a product, the most common failure and repair needs, and how difficult or otherwise it will be to get the necessary work done.
It's also worth knowing that if you do make repairs yourself or use a non-authorized repair shop, you can't be penalized by the manufacturer if something else goes wrong that's unconnected with the original problem. That's against the law.
"If you're told that your warranty was voided or that it will be voided because of independent repair, we want to hear about it," says the FTC. You can report it a www.ReportFraud.ftc.gov
Download the full FTC report (PDF), Nixing the Fix: An FTC Report to Congress on Repair Restrictions.
Clearly, there's still a long way to go in protecting consumer rights to get repair access to some products, but "Nix the Fix" is an important step in the right direction.
Alert of the Week
Did you get your Wi-Fi router -- the device that controls your home network -- in 2015 or before? If so, security flaws mean you could be at risk of being hacked.
The flaws enable hackers to gain full access to your computer to install malware. They've already done this in some places, linking infected computers into a giant "bot" network that allows them to use these machines to send out spam and spread the malware.
Some devices have been fixed via upgrades, but not all.
To see if you're at risk, see this list of affected devices on computer enthusiasts' site, Tom's Guide: Hundreds of Thousands of Home Wi-Fi Routers Under Attack — What to Do.
The site also links to information to help you update your router if it's possible. If not, it's time to buy a replacement.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!