U.S. Watchdog Digs in on Automotive Right to Repair: Repair Roundup Week of June 27

U.S. Watchdog Digs in on Automotive Right to Repair: Repair Roundup Week of June 27

While federal repair legislation is hung up in Congress, a key U.S. Government watchdog is making plans to research and recommend action on automotive right to repair.

Each week, we will bring you the top repair news from around the world, curated for iFixit by the folks over at the Fight to Repair blog.

The Big News: 

Congressional watchdog to look into auto repair restrictions.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) announced that it will be studying the right-to-repair issue in light-duty vehicles. While the research will not begin until the end of this year, the end product will result in research and recommendations on these issues submitted to congress, which could potentially inform auto repair legislation.

The announcement comes after Rep. Jan Schakowsky, chairwoman of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee, penned a letter requesting the GAO to examine the efforts to secure the right to repair, the auto industry’s capacity for self-regulation, and the broader repair market for consumer vehicles. The main motivations for this study mentioned by Schakowsky are:

  • Consumer choice: If consumers do not have different options for repairing their vehicles, they can often be forced to pay higher prices due to the lack of competition. Legislating automotive repair could drive down repair prices for consumers.
  • Cybersecurity: Schakowsky cites safety concerns related to cybersecurity but notes that cybersecurity protections should not “unduly restrict access by repair shops” to key tools for repairing cars.
Replacing the front springs on a Volvo 240.

A federal right to repair your car?

Roughly 90% of households in the U.S. have access to at least one car or vehicle, and consumers in 2021 paid a median cost of $375 for a single “check engine light-related” repair.

Thanks to Massachusetts voters, there has been hope for more-affordable repairs across the US. After Massachusetts approved a ballot measure creating a right to repair automobiles in 2012, automakers signed a memorandum of understanding that effectively made it the law of the land, giving vehicle owners and independent repair shops access to the same tools and diagnostic equipment as dealer-authorized service centers.

Laptop perched on a car engine
Increasingly, diagnosing and repairing cars requires access to telematics—which manufacturers are reluctant to give out.

“Smart car” technologies complicate auto right to repair

But technological advancements are undermining that hard-won right. Specifically, the growing use of telematics systems is shifting the locus of diagnosis and repair of vehicle problems from repair shops to cloud-based servers owned and operated by the automakers, themselves. Under the terms of the original Massachusetts law, however, automakers were not required to provide access to this data. A second ballot measure, passed overwhelmingly by voters in November 2020, expands the right to repair law to include that data, but the implementation of that law has been delayed by an auto industry lawsuit that still awaits a ruling from a federal district judge. Fortunately, the REPAIR Act, introduced this term in Congress, makes telematics a key pillar for repair. It requires that “all tools and equipment; wireless transmission of repair and diagnostic data; and access to onboard diagnostic and telematics systems needed to repair a vehicle” be accessible to repair shops. That said, there is currently no date for a vote.

These lessons go well beyond just cars. Internet-connected devices are spreading to every corner of our daily lives, with U.S. households owning an average of 16 connected devices. The trend of companies limiting repair spans tractors to ice cream machines. An automotive right to repair has the ability to set a trend and shine a light on the importance of software right to repair in a world where devices are increasingly embedded with computers.

Other News:

Federal judge delays decision on state’s auto right to repair…again (Boston Globe)

Massachusetts car owners who thought they won the right to access vehicle telematics data for their cars when they voted overwhelmingly to expand the state’s automobile right to repair law in November 2020 will have to wait a bit longer to see if that comes to pass. That, after federal judge Douglas Woodlock said he needed two more weeks to consider the case before issuing a decision. Woodlock said he needed time, among other things, to consider the recent Supreme Court ruling limiting the regulatory powers of the EPA, though he declined to say how that ruling affected the case before him, Alliance for Automotive Innovation vs. Healey.

Users modding Steam Deck storage get warning from Valve (PC Invasion)

Game device maker Valve has issued a warning to Steam Deck owners looking to mod the internal storage, warning that replacing the storage could reduce the useful life of the device.  The company has been pretty gracious to users who want to mod the Steam Deck up to this point. The manufacturer allows consumers the right to repair and made it easy to get into the machine and replace components. However, user efforts to swap in third-party storage devices “will reduce the life of your Steam Deck,” the company warned.

South Africa celebrates one year of auto right to repair (Times Live)

July 1 marks the first anniversary of the coming into effect of the Guidelines for Competition in the South African Automotive Aftermarket. While there is still a lot of progress to be made, Kate Elliott, CEO of Right to Repair SA, says significant progress has been made over the last 12 months making the automotive aftermarket a fairer place to do business.

“We have seen some great strides in compliance from the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Special mention goes to Volkswagen SA who have really lead the way in embracing the guidelines, in both offering the consumer more choice, and supporting independent service providers with technical information so that they are able to properly service the VW vehicles that are brought to them,” she says.

She confirms there has been absolutely no backlash against any of the complainants who have laid a complaint against an OEM or dealer and all complaints that have been resolved so far have been settled on an amicable basis. Complaints are being settled anywhere between a few days and a few months confirms Elliott.

Where France goes, will others follow? (Mondaq)

As the right to repair movement gains steam and advocates are emboldened by ongoing progress, a look at France offers a glimpse into what the future may hold for manufacturers. The size and wealth of the French market makes it attractive to sellers, and in many cases will justify the added cost of compliance.

French repairability scores, in a row
These scores are required to be displayed at the point of sale for five product categories in France.
  • Providing Information to Consumers: Sellers offering goods in store must inform French consumers regarding whether spare parts are available for their product.
  • Enforcement: French consumers benefit from extended legal warranties under the EU Sale of Goods directive and from specific additional protections covering repaired products. Warranty periods are thus suspended during any repair, and a 6-month warranty applies to a repaired product.
  • Incentive: To incentivize repair over replacement, France will introduce a repair fund by the end of the year. Similar to a polluter-pay framework, manufacturers will work with accredited environmental organizations to finance and manage a fund to cover 10% on average of total product repair costs.
  • Influence outside France: In context of European policy, French industry advocacy groups favored a strategy that protects consumer rights and put an emphasis on the need for a balanced EU-wide approach that preserves EU manufacturers’ competitiveness.

Repairing Google Pixel phones is now easier with genuine parts now available to order (EFTM)

Fixing your Google Pixel phone using genuine parts is now easier, with iFixit in the US now offering parts and tools to repair your device. The availability of parts is in response to a growing right to repair movement in the US as well as other countries, which has seen companies like Apple respond by making parts, instructions and tools available to repair agents in the US late last year. It’s a real boon for Australian Pixel users, who previously have had to send phones to the official repair agent CTDI in Singapore, with the option to now perform the repairs themselves in their own homes – or at their repair agent of choice.

Broken Pixel Phone? We’ve got the fix.

Genuine Google parts for Pixel 2 through 6 Pro.

Gadgets not lasting as long as you would like them to? Welcome to planned obsolescence (Down to Earth)

Do  you feel that your electronic products are not lasting like they used to? What if I tell you that they are designed not to last long? Enter the concept of planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is a trick used by companies to turn you into a repeat customer, with or without your knowledge. The idea of planned obsolescence is not new; it was first written about in 1928 by the American marketing pioneer Justus George Frederick. He stated that it was necessary to induce people to buy an ever-increasing variety of things, not in order to use them but to activate commerce and discard them after a short period.

As far as hardware is concerned, the tricks used by companies are to use inferior parts designed to decrease the life of a product to 2-3 years. Some products are inherently designed to make repair difficult or even impossible, for instance the use of glues that make opening up the case non-viable or use of special screws that cannot be opened with the help of a universal screw-driver. In terms of software, products are designed to lose functionality by excluding them from the software/ operating systems upgrades. This keeps your device physically functional, but does not support applications that are programmed to be compatible only with the latest set of upgrades, forcing you to discard your fully functional device.