A giant John Deere tractor and a pocket-size Apple iPhone have something important in common: The cost of repairing either one is too high.
The two companies, and many of their peers, use a variety of aggressive tactics, including electronic locks and restrictive warranties, to push customers with broken equipment to seek help from their authorized repair facilities — or to give up and buy a replacement.
This is unfair to consumers who might be able to obtain, or perform, lower-priced repairs. It’s unfair to independent businesses that might do the work. And it’s bad for the environment, because the high cost of repairs leads people to toss devices that might have been fixed.
Late last month, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, proposed a national right-to-repair law for farm equipment. The idea is based on a 2012 Massachusetts law that requires carmakers to provide the information necessary to perform repairs and to sell any special tools needed to do the work. The law also phased in a requirement that new cars be compatible with generic diagnostic tools.
Ms. Warren has the right idea, but she did not go far enough. The owners of consumer electronic products deserve the same protection as farmers.
The potential savings are considerable. A 2011 study found that customers who used independent auto repair shops spent about 24 percent less on repairs each year. Similarly, Apple charges $279 to fix the screen of an iPhone X, while a repair store in downtown Washington, D.C., quoted a price of $219 — although the lack of Apple support makes such repairs riskier.
“Right-to-repair” is a bit of a misnomer. The owner of a device generally has the legal right to repair it. The issue is whether the manufacturer allows people and independent businesses to obtain the necessary information, tools and parts to do the repairs.
Until recently, cars, tractors and even most consumer electronic products were relatively easy to fix, without any help or permission from the manufacturer. Parents taught their children to make basic auto repairs; teenagers built their own computers.
The growing complexity of electronic devices, however, means that people need help from manufacturers. And companies have taken advantage of that shift in power