Is It Illegal to Fix Your Own Gadgets?
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.
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 iFixit.org 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…
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 14 Sep 2020
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is It Illegal to Fix Your Own Gadgets? (Posted: 14 Sep 2020)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved