What Is The Right To Repair?

Understanding The Right To Repair

Once upon a time, if your toaster broke, you could open it up with a standard screwdriver and repair it yourself with parts from the local hardware store. If the machine was a little more complicated, such as a clothes dryer, you could call a general repair person, who was often able to fix it in one house call, unless the technician had to order a part that wasn't readily available.

Nowadays, repairs have become far more complex and, in some cases, impossible. Complicated computer chips have replaced many mechanical moving parts, leading to the kinds of repair frustrations we have all experienced — from not being able to open a device because it’s glued shut or fastened with proprietary screws to not being able to replace a dead battery because it’s just as expensive as buying a new device.

Enter the “right to repair” movement. In essence, right-to-repair advocates are seeking legislation that requires manufacturers to release repair instructions and information, make necessary tools available to third-party repair shops, allow device unlocking for aftermarket repairs and modifications, and design their devices in such a way that third-party or customer repairs are possible.

The fight for the right to repair is picking up steam. A Canadian bill (C-272) that takes aim at “technological protection measures” (TPMs), a key issue for advocates of the right to repair, was passed unanimously upon second reading by Parliament. This is confirmation of the growing momentum around the right to repair in Canada and marks a significant moment in the fight to establish the right to repair as a reality for all Canadians.

In the US, right-to-repair laws have passed state legislation. For example, Massachusetts was the first to pass the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair in 2012. In June 2021, US Rep. Joe Morelle (D-NY) introduced the “Fair Repair Act” to Congress, which was the first far-reaching federal right to repair bill of its kind. 

So, what does the “right-to-repair” movement mean for auto repair and maintenance? Well, the story is a familiar one. Automobiles have become more difficult to repair as they become increasingly computerized, and vehicle owners are now, in many cases, compelled to take their cars to the dealer for any engine-related or automated services. While there’s nothing wrong with having a dealership service your car, it can be significantly more expensive, and the wait times for appointments are often longer. And the bottom line is that vehicle owners should have the choice of seeking alternative ways of repairing and maintaining their vehicles.

Some consumers are focused on saving money, while for others, playing an active role in the upkeep of their vehicles is an essential part of what it means to be a vehicle owner. It goes without saying that they prefer to have some choice when it comes to where they take their vehicles for repair work. In order to maintain this level of consumer choice, laws, and regulations will have to keep up. For instance, third-party auto repair shops might have to be assured better access to vehicle telematics systems to keep consumer choice truly alive.

Opponents of the motor vehicle right-to-repair movement, such as MIT research scientist Bryan Reimer, say that without proper safeguards, open access to the telematics systems in modern vehicles enables methods for cyber terrorists to put vehicle occupants and operators at increased risk (Forbes). However, the Federal Trade Commission has reviewed the materials submitted by right-to-repair opponents and determined that “there is scant evidence to support manufacturers’ justifications for repair restrictions” (New York Times). 

Putting the power of choice back in the hands of the consumer is a positive step forward for consumer rights. Car owners everywhere should consider the right-to-repair movement a boon; we just need to do our part, as always, by being well-informed, cautious decision-makers.

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The right to repair originated in the United States after the Motor Vehicle Owners’ Right to Repair Act of 2012 compelled manufacturers to provide important documentation and information so that everyone could have the right to repair.
The New York State Legislature in the United States passed the first right-to-repair law in 2022.
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Eric Smith
Right To Repair Advocate
A DIY geek, Eric combines his passion for automobiles and his deep engagement with right to repair issues to empower vehicle owners everywhere.