“Everything’s computerized now. The backyard mechanic is a thing of the past!”, I recall my father declaring more than 20 years ago while leaning over the open hood of my mother’s Ford Windstar. He was referring to the relative simplicity of repairing the largely mechanical systems in automobiles from the 1950’s and 60’s versus those of the early 2000’s that were equipped with digital sensors and a central processor. Of course, today’s plug-in EV’s, advanced driver assist systems, 360-degree cameras, and “guardians” like General Motors’ OnStar make my mom’s old minivan look like an Anglia in comparison.
But to father’s point, must complexity equate to non-repairability? Or restricted and expensive repairability? In other words, we all know that technology will march on. But does that forward progress necessarily eliminate motivated owners from diagnosing and repairing their own vehicles? Are the designers and manufacturers of complex systems intentionally boxing out owner so their “authorized service centers” can scoop up some extra profits? These are the types of questions asked by those supporting the “Right to Repair” movement.
On July 9, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order directed at the Federal Trade Commission which included a provision to “make it easier and cheaper to repair items you own by limiting manufacturers from barring self-repairs or third-party repairs of their products.”
Today, many manufacturers of automobiles, farm equipment, cell phones, tablets, appliances, and more limit the distribution of parts, diagnostic tools, and repair instructions, reserving these items for the dealers and service centers. Even though a significant percentage of engineers, do-it-yourselfers and technically adept owners of these complex systems are fully capable of understanding technical instructions and operating diagnostic equipment, they are often forbidden to do so because of existing corporate policies.
Right to Repair policies essentially give equipment owners and third parties like independent repair shops the tools, manuals, and components necessary to repair products they’ve purchased instead of depending solely on manufacturers. These policies not only offer the technically savvy equipment owner a repair option, but also open business competition in the repair space. Remember the TV repair shops that used to replace tubes and power transformers? Increased accessibility to tools and components may make them a reality again.
Truth told, codifying this directive into practical laws and regulations may take years. But undoubtedly Biden’s executive order will expediate the process Right-to-Repair advocates have been promoting for years and encourage voluntary compliance among the more proactive and forward-thinking manufacturers.
Ray Harkins is a manufacturing professional and online educator. He teaches a variety of low-cost, high-quality manufacturing and business-related courses at Udemy.com. Click on the following coupon codes below to receive substantial discounts on his courses.