The Big Lie Most Hardware Makers Tell You

Category: Hardware

If you try to fix, upgrade (or even dare to look inside) your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other gadgets, does that act 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...

Is It Illegal to Fix Your Own Gadgets?

Last week, 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 $175. 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.ur.

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; you can’t replace your smartphone’s broken screen (a relatively trivial task that requires only a sharp knife, a hair dryer, and a pair of tweezers). You can’t take it to a local repair shop and get it back the same afternoon. You have to call for an RMA (Returned Merchandise Authorization), ship the device to who-knows-where at your expense (and, sometimes, enclose a check for return postage), then wait weeks to get it back. 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 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.

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 Dell for being "repair friendly." And rethink-it.org has compiled a repair scorecard, showing the best and worst products for repair. The list includes smartphones, tablets and laptops. The Fairphone, designed specifically to allow for repairs and upgrades, scores a perfect 10. The LG G4 and G5 both got scores of 8. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S8 got the worst marks, scoring 3 and 4 out of 10, respectively.

In 2012, the Aftermarket Automobile Industry Association successfully passed the Automotive Right to Repair Act in Massachusetts. Very quickly, other States began drafting similar laws. Faced with the prospect of 50 different laws to comply with, the Auto Alliance negotiated an informal, nationwide agreement with their aftermarket counterparts.

The Repair Association, iFixit and other grass-roots organizations are fighting for a similar treaty 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 "The Big Lie Most Hardware Makers Tell You"

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
12 Mar 2018

According to the Magnuson-Moss act, a manufacturer has to prove a repair or alteration you made was the direct cause or contributed to the cause of the product failure to be able to void a warranty.

In the real world, where most of us have to live, the manufacturer will claim that a repair or alteration was the cause of the failure, then it is up to the product owner to prove otherwise. This usually means going to court, which can cost more than the product repair by the manufacturer would have cost (even if using small claims court), maybe even more than replacing the product would have cost. The results of going to court is a crap shoot at best. Once you have a judgment, collecting on that judgment can be a whole new fresh heck if the manufacturer decided to just not pay up.

I just avoid using companies that willfully violate Magnuson-Moss whenever possible unless the product is inexpensive enough to render pursuing a warranty more hassle than it would be worth. Will it punish those companies or coerce them into cleaning up their act? Unless a few hundred thousand or millions of other potential customers do likewise (like that is ever going to happen), absolutely not. But it will prevent me from having to deal with the problem should a warranty adjustment ever be needed.


Posted by:

John Reeder
12 Mar 2018

A situation to consider is the small engine repair business. I took my small Honda tiller to my local repair shop and was told that he could no longer fix it because federal laws had been passed prohibiting him from repairing any small engine device that he did not sell or act as a authorized repair station. He could repair my Echo chain saw, but not my Honda brand devices or any other brand that he did not sell. He soon went out of business (in a small town) and I have to drive about 40 miles to drop my Honda off at an authorized repair station. I now order my repair parts off the internet and do the job myself.


Posted by:

JP
12 Mar 2018

Typo: "... my son did the repair himself in about an hour.ur."


Posted by:

Dick Myatt
12 Mar 2018

Dear Bob,

As always your column is informative; the March 12 column is definitely focusing on the very real financial burdens of electronics. Companies used to 'nickel and dime' us to death, today it is measured in tens of dollars.

I am part way through Bob Sullivan's "Gotcha Capitalism" wherein he discusses the myriad ways we are dinged on a regular basis, it is an eye opener and a call to read the 'Mouse Print' beyond the boilerplate of the agreement. It is not a level playing field.

Again, thank you for helping to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Sincerely yours

Dick Myatt


Posted by:

Mac 'n' Cheese
12 Mar 2018

Bob, you wrote, "The Aftermarket Automobile Industry Association successfully passed the Automotive Right to Repair Act."

I think not. That association is a lobbying organization, not a legislative body.

Perhaps you meant to say, "The Aftermarket Automobile Industry Association successfully lobbied for the passage of the Automotive Right to Repair Act."

Mac 'n' Cheese >:)


Posted by:

Chuck
12 Mar 2018

I remember asking the service manager about lowering, my then new, 96 GMC pickup. He stated that his would void my warranty on the vehicle. I asked him why changing some suspension parts would void the drive train warranty. He backed off that position. SEMA (Specialty Equipment Manufacture Assn) was a big supporter of the Magnuson-Moss act and actively published copies of the act to those in the automotive aftermarket business. But Lady Fitzgerald was correct that it can be expensive to be right. Without the weight of a major association behind you, it can be very difficult to win.

I did not know about the law John Reeder referred to. Another example of government overreach.


Posted by:

Paul S
12 Mar 2018

I have a pair of Bose Quiet Comfort headphones purchased in 2004. In 2011 I replaced the ear muffs as the cushioning had deteriorated. Bose sold the replacement muffs. In 2017 I contacted Bose to either repair or replace the cushioning on the headband as it was deteriorated and crumbling black bits all over my head. I was told by Bose they don't repair that part. I contacted two independent headphone repair services; both told me replacement parts were not available to them. Mind you the audio functionality has not failed after 14 years, but it is unpleasant to wear the headphones now.


Posted by:

Darcetha Manning
12 Mar 2018

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.
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 Dell for being "repair friendly." And rethink-it.org has compiled a repair scorecard, showing the best and worst products for repair. The list includes smartphones, tablets and laptops. The Fairphone, designed specifically to allow for repairs and upgrades, scores a perfect 10. The LG G4 and G5 both got scores of 8. The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S8 got the worst marks, scoring 3 and 4 out of 10, respectively.
In 2012, the Aftermarket Automobile Industry Association successfully passed the Automotive Right to Repair Act in Massachusetts. Very quickly, other States began drafting similar laws. Faced with the prospect of 50 different laws to comply with, the Auto Alliance negotiated an informal, nationwide agreement with their aftermarket counterparts.
The Repair Association, iFixit and other grass-roots organizations are fighting for a similar treaty with electronics makers and their “authorized service centers.” It’s a battle well worth fighting, and supporting.

You're right Bob, in stating that we should support grass-roots organizations such as The Repair Association and iFixit.


Posted by:

Michael Arentoft
12 Mar 2018

Bob - I generally avoid warranties on items that are not 'big ticket' for all the reasons above. But sometimes it is a good idea. I bought a big screen TV from Costco a while back and was glad to see that they added a year to the maker's 1 year warranty at no cost to me. I then added another 3 year warranty from the vendor that Costco recommended. Sure enough, just before all warranty coverage ran out the TV developed a vertical 'smudge' on the screen. After talking to Costco and providing pics to the warranty people the TV was replaced at no cost to me with the latest version of the same make/model! Wow! Was I pleased. Also when I asked if I had to send the old TV back somewhere, they said no so I kept it and gave it to friend for his elderly parents. Note - No warranty coverage was offered or available for the replacement. So, sometimes a warranty is a good idea if the seller and the warranty are 'good for their word' on an expensive item. On the other hand I almost never buy a warranty - or try to use a 'free' one - on lesser priced or easy to repair items because those warranties are usually for 1 year and not worth the trouble of getting their coverage applied. It also helps to be 'handy (I am) or to have access to someone who is. Thanks for (another) good article.


Posted by:

Robert A.
13 Mar 2018

Costco offers an additional year of warranty coverage on top of the typical one year parts and labor manufacturer's warranty on most, if not all TVs. In addition, Costco offers an extended warranty from third-party warranty provider Square Trade that gives three additional years of coverage, for between $50.00 and $100.00, depending on the price of the set. In addition, if the purchaser uses the Costco Visa card, the carrier will also add in an additional year of coverage. That's a deal you probably can't beat anywhere.

Best Buy once-upon-a-time offered warranty repair service, provided the non-functioning product was brought into the store within expiration date of the manufacturer's warranty, and the original cash register receipt. But, apparently, no more. BBY will only accept service repairs only if the owner purchased an extended service plan. Otherwise, they tell the purchaser that the defective product must be sent in to a manufacturer's service center, at the owner's expense. And, of course, the product specialists in the store very rarely, if ever, inform the buyer, before the sale, of such warranty stipulations.


Posted by:

cal67
13 Mar 2018

It is my opinion (and I would argue backed up by increasing evidence) that most major manufacturers would like to move to a subscription model, not just for software but for physical items. Hence the increase in claims that you don't "own" but are "authorized" to use an item. As more items are connected and software controlled, the manufacturers will increasing use "intellectual rights" to control what you can and cannot do with items that you have paid for the privilege of temporary stewardship.


Posted by:

Peter
13 Mar 2018

Is there a corresponding Canadian law to the Magnuson-Moss act or something similar?


Posted by:

Misterfish
13 Mar 2018

There are lies, damn lies and manufacturers' invalidation of guarantee warnings.

Not only are we warned not to attempt repairs to our hardware (and motorcar engines with "tamperproof seals") Microsoft takes over our computers to force updates & restarts when we don't want them. Whose
devices are they anyway?

I've never found a device repairable or replaceable under guarantee so ignore all such warnings and fix things myself.


Posted by:

mr zee
13 Mar 2018

Peter you might want to check with your provincial Ministry of Consumer Affairs.


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