Is It Illegal to Fix Your Own Gadgets?

Category: Hardware

If you try to fix, upgrade (or even dare to open the case of) your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other gadgets, does that act violate any law or void the warranty? Read on to learn the truth about “warranty void if sticker removed” and other dire warnings you may see on the things you own…

The Big Lie Most Hardware Makers Tell You

Last year, my son dropped his expensive iPhone on the floor, shattering the screen into hundreds of tiny shards. He checked with the Apple Store, and found that the repair would cost about $279. We did a little digging, and found a variety of repair kits selling for $25 to $30 on Amazon. The kit arrived two days later, and with the help of a Youtube video, my son did the repair himself in about an hour.

But did that do-it-yourself repair void the warranty on his phone? The screw holes and case seams of many laptops, game consoles, and other devices are often covered by little stickers bearing the even littler warning: “Warranty void if removed.” Additionally, large vendors like Sony, Microsoft, and Apple either explicitly state or strongly imply in their warranty agreements that your paltry year’s worth of protection against manufacturer’s defects is null and void if you try to fix the device yourself, or even if you have a third-party repair service do it.

Yes, that’s right; vendors say you can’t replace your smartphone’s broken screen (a relatively trivial task that typically requires only a sharp knife, a hair dryer, a screwdriver, and a pair of tweezers). And you can’t take it to a local repair shop and get it back the same afternoon. Otherwise, your manufacturer’s warranty is void.

Warrranty Void - NOT!

This situation is ideal for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). Repair work is very lucrative, especially when you have a monopoly on it. The only problem is, this whole “warranty void if sticker removed” business is entirely illegal. But OEMs are fighting hard to shut down small businesses that sell parts and make repairs.

So says The Repair Association, formerly known as The Digital Right to Repair Coalition. Whether you are a DIY hobbyist, a repair service business owner, or a recycler of obsolete electronics, The Repair Association claims to represent your interests in Washington DC and State legislatures; your main interest being the right to open up and fix what you own. And that includes more than just computers -- your right to repair extends to game consoles, cameras, household appliances, automobiles, medical devices, lab equipment, farm tractors and more.

Your Right to Repair and The Law

The claim that warranty terms which prohibit independent repairs are illegal rests upon a section of the 1975 Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act that forbids “tying” consumers to specific repair services or specific types of parts. The MMWA is what allows you to take your car to an independent repair shop instead of the ludicrously expensive dealership that sold you the car. Likewise, you have the right to take your PC to a local repair shop, or to fix it yourself.

But big OEMs tell big lies, and tell them so often and skillfully that “99.9 percent of consumers have no idea of their actual rights,” according to Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of the Repair Association. “Apple and others have crafty attorneys that know darned well that Magnuson-Moss exists as do anti-trust laws against ‘tying agreements.’ The contracts are very clever and appear to be within the law—but are anything but in practice,” he told the Motherboard tech news site in an interview.

Apple changed its policy on screen and battery replacement a couple years ago, so your warranty won’t be voided if you replace a failing battery or cracked screen, but there’s a caveat. Even slight damage caused by third-party repair shops will void Apple's warranty. Any other repairs performed by a repair shop that’s not an Apple Authorized Service Provider will void your warranty.

Samsung warns that your warranty is void if you to crack open the case of your device, or even replace the factory-issued software by rooting your phone.

And some products are designed with such demanding standards for weight and thickness that they are almost impossible to repair. In a teardown of the latest Microsoft Duo, iFixit came to the conclusion that "the thin, premium, category-creating Duo is not something meant to be repaired, maybe not even by Microsoft." That seems to fly in the face of their recent public commitment to "Zero Waste."

In 2018 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission warned companies against using unlawful and misleading statements in their warranty clauses. They specifically called out language like this:

“The use of [company name] parts is required to keep your . . . manufacturer’s warranties and any extended warranties intact.” “This warranty shall not apply if this product . . . is used with products not sold or licensed by [company name].” “This warranty does not apply if this product . . . has had the warranty seal on the [product] altered, defaced, or removed.”

For hundreds of years, consumers have been free to do whatever they wished with whatever they purchased. But in recent decades, manufacturers have imposed upon that right with contractual agreements that limit who can repair their products, which they presume remain “their products” forever. The Repair Association and other activist groups fight back against this arrogant threat, and they have won in a very big consumer product category.

Groups like are also advocating for the right to repair the things you own, and to unlock or "jailbreak" those devices if desired. They also underscore the importance of having the same manuals and diagnostic tools that the manufacturers use for repairs. Many of those companies claim that information is proprietary and have tried to shut down independent repair shops.

iFixit does give kudos to certain vendors for being more "repair friendly" than others. Their repair scorecard shows the best and worst smartphones, tablets and laptops for repair. Topping the phone list was the Fairphone 3 (2019 model) which scored a perfect 10 for repairability and upgrades. The reviewer mentioned that “Visual cues inside the phone help with disassembling and replacing its parts and modules.” But sadly, no phone released in the past 5 years scored an 8 or 9. The 2017 OnePlus5 scored a 7, and several recent iPhone and Google Pixel models scored a 6.

The Repair Association, iFixit and other grass-roots organizations are fighting for your repair rights with electronics makers and their “authorized service centers.” It’s a battle well worth fighting, and supporting.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Is It Illegal to Fix Your Own Gadgets?"

Posted by:

Jay R
14 Sep 2020

It is so gratifying to know that there are those actively opposing the many sphincteric terminations of the gastrointestinal tract. Personlly, I find it very offensive when I encounter a product that looks to be put together in a fashion that appears to interdict my repair. Having collected SS for nearly a decade, and not being senile---yet, I can distinctly remember that most people fixed their own stuff or had a neighbor do it.

Posted by:

14 Sep 2020

From the days when companies actually cared about their customers.

In the 1970s I had an HP 45 calculator. I spilled some coke on the keypad and it went inside. The calculator still worked but the keys had trouble going up and down. I figured that HP wouldn't repair this. So I took it apart. It took a little work to find the screws that were hidden under the HP metal label. I had to damage that label to get it apart. I found that HP had designed it cleverly so that the keys pressed actually pressed through a plastic sheet that then pushed on the actual contacts. So the coke just dried on that plastic sheet and didn't do any damage. I just wiped off the dried coke and put it back together. Then I wanted to replace that HP label. I went to the HP repair place and asked them if I could get that label. They told me no because that was how they knew if you had opened the device. But they told me they would have repaired it for free anyway had I brought it to them. And if I left it, they would check it out and replace the label, all at no charge.

Posted by:

14 Sep 2020

(I wish there was a way to edit a comment when you realize later that you have some typos.)

Posted by:

Ihor P
14 Sep 2020

I'm all for having the "right to repair" things that you've purchased -- as long as you don't expect the manufacturer to fix your botched repair attempt under warranty. I watched a YouTube video on repairing a iPhone 8 screen. You need some specialized tools, there are a lot of tiny screws, and things have to be disassembled in a specific way and order. Even if you follow the video very carefully, it's possible to damage a related part (like a ribbon cable connector) if you're not careful. If you put everything back together again and it still doesn't work, you shouldn't expect to be able to send it back to the manufacturer and ask for (possibly free) warranty repair.

Maybe the manufacturers should put a sticker on their devices that says: "Go ahead a try to repair this device yourself. BUT, if you mess up the repair, don't expect us to correct your mistakes for free."

Posted by:

14 Sep 2020

I have to say it-never I have cared about it remove what I have too, fix it and move on. Have been doing my own repairs for over 50 years will as long as can do it

Posted by:

14 Sep 2020

Charley: There is a way to edit. Re-read your comments and change what is wrong BEFORE you click on the Post Comment button. While this works, the sad fact is, not many do it not even myself from time to time and, sometimes, even Bob himself has this problem from what I have seen on occasion.

As to today's topic, if I purchased it, it is mine not the company that made it. I wonder when software companies are going to have to change their licensing documentation to eliminate the statements that they own the software (you are just leasing the right to use it) and you can't change it or transfer the license to someone else. You paid for it and possession, as they say, is 9/10ths of the law!

This post has been thoroughly edited and I approve of this message! :-)

Posted by:

Dave Moran
14 Sep 2020

You don't own it if you can't open it! I can see calibration stickers as a seal so that the next user can be comfortable that the calibration, if not expired, is valid. In some cases lives could at risk. But repairs unless they, the manufacturer, intends to do it without any costs to you should be your decision. This is why I will no longer buy John Deere products and never a Tesla. Also withholding the sale of repair parts for you to DIY should be illegal as well.

Posted by:

Frank Buhrman
14 Sep 2020

Yes, these corporate types are thoroughly disgusting people, but the pressure making them such lowlives comes from someone you see in the mirror. If we didn't demand max profit margins for our retirement/savings plans, they could act nicer without fear that their stock prices would drop to $0.59/share if they miss a quarterly goal. We'd like to have it both ways, of course. . . .

Posted by:

Robert A.
15 Sep 2020

What is the factory warranty period for a typical smartphone? Six month? A year? In any event, most folks seem to keep their phones anywhere from three to six years, if not longer, as long as it still seems to be working, or, at least, two to three generations from their current unit. By then, the warranty has been long expired, so taking it to the local phone repair shop, for a screen or battery replacement is a no-brainer!

And unless one is an ultra phone snob, or is a commissioned sales rep for one of the Big 3 phone company stores, virtually no one, as least that I know of, really cares, or is interested in the specs of my, or someone else's phone. About the only new "must-have" feature in smartphones, for some folks, these days, is 5G. Other than that, a replacement phone has increasing minute improvements over it's predecessor, with slightly larger or higher definition screens, improved photo capability, or a longer-life battery, which are not in the "gotta-go-out-and-get-it-right-now" category. If it ain't broke, don't worry about it, but if the phone is fixable, have it repaired and keep it until you really think it's time to upgrade.

Posted by:

15 Sep 2020

I replaced an iPhone 5 (needed a battery) 2 years ago that I certainly could have fixed. But no more software updates (including security updates) meant that it was time to replace the phone. Sometimes it isn't worth it to fix it.

Posted by:

James Mills
15 Sep 2020

I was much later than most to begin using a smartphone, having had mine only about a year. My smartphone allows for insertion of a micro-SD card for extra storage, but I have to open the case to put it in. I wonder if the manufacturer considers anyone inserting such a card as voiding the warranty? Or, for that matter, when I got the phone I had to open it to put in that little chip-on-a-card thing for the phone to work. I wonder if they think it voids the warranty to put in the chip without which the phone won't even work??? It seems more likely they would differentiate between a feature and an "illegal" repair. I wonder if they insist on replacing your battery for you... eventually... or if they expect you to buy a new phone instead of getting a new battery? So many questions... and it's all REALLY because they're greedy company execs who want to lord it over both customers and those that they consider penny ante competitors. Just my thoughts.

Posted by:

15 Sep 2020

Thanks Bob for editing my comments. I usually double that I didn't leave any typos but screwed up this time.

On the original topic, people should know that most credit cards (most Amex, Visa, MC) extend warranties up to a year. I have had to use that a couple of times. So I always purchase anything with a warranty on a credit card.

Here is a summary of the warranty extensions.

Posted by:

Les McMillan
17 Sep 2020

I live in Canada and wonder if there is a similar law to MMWAct for us Canadian DIY guys to use. I used to be able to fix most car repairs, including engines, but the new cars now with fancy engines run by computers are beyond most of us. A lot of devices we use can many times be done at home, especially with all the You Tube videos available. Of course, manufacturers would like to keep the repair business to themselves by warning us of dire consequences if we dare try to help ourselves!!
Thanks Bob for giving us this great information

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